Fortress Catholicism vs. the New Evangelization

Fortress Catholicism vs. the New Evangelization January 29, 2013

I went to hear Fr. Robert Barron last night at Holy Rosary in Edmonds, not far from where I live.  He was, as ever, a joy to listen to.  Confident.  Happy.  Full of the best of the intellectual vigor of the Church.  Ready to proclaim Jesus Christ, crucified and risen and present in his Holy Church.  Unafraid of the challenges our culture flings at it.  Happy to have real *arguments* (not just quarrels).  Feeling no need to eye anybody darkly if they had some problem with the Church’s teaching but rather to answer them clearly from the depths of the Tradition and fully engage a world that both hates and longs for the gospel.  Made me want to walk out into the night whistling and singing.  What a fantastically rich Church we have!  How amazingly well-equipped to bring the Good News to a world dying for want of it.

Then I come to the Faithful Conservative Catholic[TM] blogosphere and world o’aggregators such as the anonymous bullies and cowards at Pewsitter and what do I find:

Catholic ex-atheist Leah Libresco comes out for gay marriage … more

So: Code red. Circle the wagons. The enemy is within the gates. The mask is off. The Faithful must huddle a little more closely together and shield themselves from the nightmare of Fake Catholics like Leah who are closing in on the Truly True Church with all their questioning and thinking and all that other modernist stuff. More evidence that the whole New Evangelization is another failure of that AmChurch liberal hero John Paul the Overrated. What this Church needs is a good purging, starting with all those converts. What we need to do is tighten the defenses on the Fortress, batten down the hatches, return to 1956 Cleveland Catholicism when everything was perfect and only allow converts in when they have passed a rigorous ideological exam created by the (anonymous) authors of Pewsitter and similar sites dedicated to the Preservation of the Fortress.

Here’s reality: The Church *exists* to evangelize. That means the Church is, in perpetuity, going to be engaged with people who don’t think with the mind of the Church perfectly and are still learning stuff and thinking it through. If you approach your faith as though it is a Fortress to be defended–as though the promise is “The Gates of Heaven shall not prevail against the world”–and your whole job consists of watching everything go to rack and ruin while you labor in vain to restore the Church to some imagined Golden Age then the joy of the gospel is going to elude you and you will become a particularly pitiable antiquarian, but not a Catholic and not a happy person.

It is, in fact, Hell that is the beseiged fortress. That’s what “the gates of hell shall not prevail” is talking about. We have a Savior who answers the deepest longings and questions of the human heart and a tradition that is, in fact, deeply intellectually satisfying. So the proper and right thing for a Catholic to do when it meets with a lithe and hardy mind like Leah Libresco’s–asking real questions out of a real desire to know and understand Jesus Christ as he reveals himself in his Catholic Church–is to give thanks for somebody who really want to know and understand Jesus Christ and then labor together to engage the questions, confident that the Faith really does have satisfying answers.

The dumb and lazy thing to do is what Fortress Catholics like Pewsitters habitually do: order code red on the Impure, batten down the hatches, and tighten the circle of Truly True Catholicism a bit more tightly to keep out yet another of Christ’s little ones, lest the Pharisees be sullied by contact with the Gentiles.

Give me Fr. Barron’s approach every time.

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  • “Happy to have real *arguments* (not just quarrels). Feeling no need to eye anybody darkly if they had some problem with the Church’s teaching but rather to answer them clearly from the depths of the Tradition and fully engage a world that both hates and longs for the gospel. ”

    And I would yell AMEN!, as long as we approach the various debates and disagreements I see within the Church the same way, not just when it’s this or that issue I’m already flexible on or other personal preferences. When we can take the serious pro-abortion Catholic and approach it the same way, with real argument, then count me in. When we approach gun control, homosexuality, the death penalty, contraception, Mary, the Bible, women priests, blue candles or any other issue that way, I’m ready to go. But we must be consistent. BTW, that also includes dealing with the Internet’s legendary ‘Them’ that we so often discuss, but seldom define.

  • Thinkling

    I am not sure what this is about.

    You had a very nice piece on Leah’s trials and discernment very recently. So this must be about Pewsitter. Your issue with them is what exactly? I ask because their one line link summaries are sometimes lowbrow sensationalistic, but I am not sure they are unbalanced in any way. I have seen link titles about a Pelosi story less flattering than AP photographs of her.

    If we wish to make PewSitter better, let’s get together and petition them to not use redirects, rather direct links, so when we scroll over a link we can see that it goes to IndignityUSA or other unsavory place, before clicking on it.

    • An Aaron, not the Aaron

      This just in from Pewsitter: “Shea Venom: Michael Voris is the new Fr. Corapi.” Is this unbalanced enough for you?

      • Mark Shea

        One gets the sense they feel a tiny measure of antipathy toward me. Having been spectacularly wrong about defending Corapi, they have decided to follow it up by pretending it never happened and, as is the custom with discernment-free folk hero worshippers, talking about the next folk hero as though any questioning of him can only be motivated by Pure Evil. Those guys never seem to learn. When you are the Voice of Truly True Catholic faith, it’s really tough to consider the possibility that you might be making a mistake somewhere.

      • Jason C.

        “Shavin’ Em: Michael Voris Southern Frat Boy Haircuts for Everyone”

    • Mark Shea

      You can’t make Pewsitter better, because they are anonymous cowards who don’t respond to correspondence or quests for civility. They are there to circle wagons and instruct frightened Catholics on who is in (a very small circle) and who is Out (the rest of us).

  • Ismael

    Although I probably do not agree with everything that Leah Libresco says or writes, I like her contribution on the Catholic Channel of Patheos, because she is not shy and she likes to engage interesting issue from a different perspective than most.

    If I am not wrong she was a LGBT-right supporter when she was an atheist and rarely a smart person changes his or her mind suddenly (even if she or he is wrong about it), since that person will take time to think it over. Perhaps in a few year Leah will change her position (or she might not), but at least she will stimulate the dialogue… a dialogue that is interesting and worthy to follow even for the orthodox believer.
    After all the orthodox believer should be well informed regarding the critiques on the doctrine he/she believes and only in that way he can answer accordingly (and that is what the Church Fathers and the Scholastics did, after all).

    Without being mean to protestants, I think anti-intellectualism started with Protestantism, especially Luther, who upheld a form of fideism, where faith was the bases of everything even if it went against reason (of course there are Catholics that committed similar errors as well).

    I guess I have a soft spot for Converts From Atheism… since they have a deep insight on how an atheist thinks and what king of arguments are the most compelling. If someone has always been Catholic or always been Christian (or even always been a believer in God in a form or another) then he or she might have a blind spot for the arguments that are more engaging to people who come from life-long atheism.
    Arguments from philosophy and especially related to philosophy of science and mathematics (which are in a way the ‘pantheon’ of the contemporary atheists), I suppose can be very engaging to them.

    To be fair, having read several conversion stories, I saw that many different things can bring a atheist to God. With Leah (if I recall it correctly) it was the issue or morality and the fact that she refuted the widely accepted ‘pure relativism’ that often (but not always) goes around in the atheist scene (if I got it wrong Leah, I apologize!), with Antony Flew it was arguments that combined Aristotelian teleology with modern science, with Edward Feser it was a gradual understanding of Aquinas’ arguments and with others it is just the sense of intellectual and spiritual emptiness they felt in atheism (I wonder if all atheists struggle with those feelings? I dare not say).
    Also I think faith SHOULD in some measure satisfy the intellect as well (that was the position of Augustine and Aquinas and many others too). Since I am a physicist as well, so I live in a world where I am surrounded by positivists (which are the most close minded of all intellectuals IMO…) I suppose I always feel compelled to always seek proof and reason… within reason (and every scientist does so too, since being overly skeptical will never amount to any result, since science is in the end a tentative process as well).

    ok… this was a long…. ‘rambling’ I would say… cheers!

  • Jason C.

    …as though the promise is “The Gates of Heaven shall not prevail against the world”…. It is, in fact, Hell that is the beseiged fortress. That’s what “the gates of hell shall not prevail” is talking about.

    Whoa. The phrasing of the verse was always right there and I never noticed that: Why would the reference be to Hell’s gates if it weren’t Hell under siege, if it weren’t Hell whose gates would not be permitted to be opened catastrophically against Christ’s Church, the Church that is besieging Hell? Thanks, Mark!

    • Arnold

      That quote brings to mind a question I have long had: What does the phrase “gates of hell” mean and how can a “gate” prevail? Does the word have a more ancient meaning I am unaware of?

      • Mark Shea

        It’s an image from seige warfare. The Church is the battering ram. The gates cannot prevail against it.

        • Oregon Catholic

          Metaphorically, Catholic Church as battering ram doesn’t work for me. We’re not trying to get into hell. There is nothing in theology that says hell will be destroyed, only that it won’t prevail (triumph).

          • DTMcCameron

            Maybe as a sort of hostage-rescue mission? The powers of Hell are wont to bind and shackle as they will; it doesn’t seem far fetched to me that they should also put up walls and barriers and gates in *this* world, round our people.

        • DTMcCameron

          Do you reckon, Mr Shea, that it could be said that it is for us, in a way, to be the Harrowing of this world?

        • Ben

          If the Church in this image (Mt 16:18) is a battering ram, how can it be described in the very same sentence as being built on a rock?

        • Ben

          If the Church in this image (Mt 16:18) is a battering ram, how can it be described in the very same sentence as being built on a rock? It seems truer to the passage maybe to say that two opposing cities are being pictured.

          • Here’s how metaphors work – they aren’t literal. Even in Scripture. So the Church is a battering ram and the Church is a rock and the Church is the Body of Christ and the Church is the Bride of Christ. All of these images capture aspects of what the Church is and what she does. And whether the Gates of Hell are the gates of hell itself or the gates of the Earthly City, either way the point of the metaphor is that the Church is to be offensive, not defensive.

            • Mark Shea

              What are you saying? What do you mean? You artistic types are so confusing.

            • Ben

              I know how metaphors work. But often their authors aim at plausible consistency at least within the same sentence. Otherwise we get what’s called a mixed metaphor! Not saying Jesus couldn’t possibly have used a mixed metaphor, but looking to see if there’s a more natural interpretation before moving on to that one. (After all, the ‘battering ram’ image isn’t exactly forced on us by the text!)

              Anyway, the Church is obviously meant to be both offensive and defensive, battering ram and city built on rock. There is no shame in defense, depending on circumstances, Sometimes it’s quite useful!

  • ” The Church *exists* to evangelize. That means the Church is, in perpetuity, going to be engaged with people who don’t think with the mind of the Church perfectly and are still learning stuff and thinking it through.”

    I’ve long thought that the fact that the Church practices infant baptism means the Church is, in perpetuity, going to be engaged with people who don’t think with the mind of the Church perfectly and are still learning stuff and thinking it through.

    • Mark Shea

      Yeah. I love your line about how a Church that practices infant baptism is not a Church with rigorous entrance requirements.

      • Jason C.

        Yep, Tom, consider that one pretty much stolen by everyone here. 😉

        • About time.

          (I’ve been waiting for my “he drinks like a fish on fire” to take off for decades.)

  • Ismael


    I agree Mark, we, the Church, should be on the assault, rather than on the defense.

    By “assault” I do not mean the aggravating, verbally violent, often stupid and obnoxiously aggressive way of the vocal ‘New Atheism’ (like Dawkins or PZ Myers, to be clear) .

    I mean we should be the ones engaging the culture, indeed the atheists as well, with questions and issues. Rather many Christians (Catholics too) have grown too soft in the Christian western world (soon to be post-Christian, if it’s not so already) and have only remained on the defense.

    I remember (from history lessons) that the Church went on the intellectual offensive after the reformation with the Counter-Reformation, which produced a lot of interesting intellectual works.
    We ought to do the same. As the ‘militant Church’ we are supposed to come out and challenge the world around us, instead of being on the defensive.
    In a way some already are doing this, like Ed Feser or John Haldane and Patrick Madrid… but we cannot rely on the ‘few’ alone.

    In a way I would suggest to reform the way we teach the young people about the faith. It should be mature and engaging. Preparing them for tough questions and giving them the reasons and arguments why we believe in what we believe.
    These days young people, and perhaps adults as well, are not catechized properly… The same goes for seminarians. Too often priests and even bishops fail to deal with certain issues.

  • Robert

    I agree with you, Mark, with a BUT (“Everyone has such big buts” – PeeWee Herman)…

    You tend to use language and approach to those at PewSitter in the same fashion they us against Catholics such as Leah Libresco. I struggle with the same in my arguments. As a convert who went through RCIA in a conscience-emphasized Church where issues like abortion and birth control were okay if you really prayed about it and you’re conscience led you to believe it was okay, I always have to keep in mind where I came from.

    The influences of many good Catholics have helped me grow in my faith. Part of what brought me to a better understanding and fidelity were the blunt corrections from traditionalists and conservatives. Even those who today deride my tendency toward conservatism in the same manner as PewSitter derides liberalism , help me think.

    Not everyone can be a Chaput, Barron, Hahn, etc. I hope, someday, to get there….

  • “Catholic ex-atheist Leah Libresco comes out for gay marriage … more
    So: Code red. Circle the wagons. The enemy is within the gates. The mask is off. The Faithful must huddle a little more closely together and shield themselves from the nightmare of Fake Catholics like Leah who are closing in on the Truly True Church with all their questioning and thinking and all that other modernist stuff. ”

    It seems that Pewsitter is accurate here. St. Paul did not immediately start preaching after his conversion. But Leah moved directly from the atheist to Catholic portal. I don’t mind that she is questioning things, and I expect that because of her intelligence, she will come deeper into the truth of Catholic teaching. But I also think that the red flag should be thrown up, so people know this strays from the truth. Hopefully, Catholic teaching will be a charitably presented, but then again this here is the Interwebs where lack of Charity is the norm. It’s a shame the Church is so full of sick people.


    • “It’s a shame the Church is so full of sick people.”
      Well, if only Jesus and His Mother were in the Church, it’d be a bit empty, no? The rest of us are all sinners.

      • Thanks for picking up on that. 😉

        • Thanks for having an intriguing blog….

  • deiseach

    I’m pretty sure that, no matter who you are or how faithful you think you are, that there are doctrines of the Church that when you come up against them, would make you go “Hmm. Yeah. Not too sure about that one.” I’m pretty sure that somewhere, in the vast depths of the Magisterium and the Tradition, there are elements I haven’t personally encountered yet that would evoke such a reaction from me.

    The question is: when we hit those points, do we go “No! My conscience is afflicted/my reason tells me this is wrong!” and become a “I’m Catholic, but…” or do we go “Okay, I don’t quite see the reasoning behind this but I’m willing to accede in obedience until I do – or if I don’t ever, then find a good reason to disagree (that is a good reason, not just ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘It seems mean’)”?

    • Oregon Catholic

      I agree. I really don’t think we need bloggers on the Catholic portal that are blogging in blatent opposition to Church teaching. There is a difference between Leah QUESTIONING (as Mark states) and posting a headline where she STATES her support for gay marriage. She certainly has a right to her opinion and to blog about it, I just don’t think it belongs on the Catholic channel. Or are they going to make room for someone who wants to write about how conflicted they are on abortion too? Maybe they need a channel for those who are still not sure what they believe.

      I also have to agree with another poster that there is more than a bit of hypocrisy in Mark’s calling the kettle black. It seems the standard for defending someone you might disagree with is whether you like them or not.

      • hmelton

        ” It seems the standard for defending someone you might disagree with is whether you like them or not”

        You are correct sir.

      • Mark Shea

        “It seems the standard for defending someone you might disagree with is whether you like them or not.”

        I’m trying to decode this sentence, but it makes no sense. If you mean I don’t defend people I find dislikeable then how do you account for this and this.

        Consider it possible I defend people because I think them defensible and I particularly think Inquisitor Catholics eager to kick people out of the Church are a much more serious problem than eager converts who are trying to seriously understand the Church’s teaching.

  • David Norris

    But the thing is your ARE losing the battle over marriage equality. Catholics will either in the future have to change their backwards looking homophobia or be relegated to the same status as the Ku Klux Klan.

    • Robert

      Ku Klux Klan? Sheesh. At least relegate us to Amish or Haredi. There is nothing hateful about the Church’s understanding of Marriage.

    • People smarter than you have predicted the decline of the Catholic Church before. The best predictor of future results is past results. Persecution will only make us grow.

      • David Norris

        I don’t have to predict it, it’s already happening in the most advanced countries. The cathedrals of Europe are practically museums and the United States is only a generation behind but moving in the same direction rather rapidly.

        • Define “advanced countries,” please. What I see are sclerotic, decadent countries, and a vigorous, growing, increasingly Africa-centric global Christianity.

          • David Norris

            Countries with high rates of material prosperity, democratic constitutions, and long life expectancies. You know, places where people aren’t so desperate and impoverished that they need religion and its promises of pie-in-the-sky when we die.

            And the same progressive forces which are reshaping western attitudes towards LGBT rights will eventually influence the African countries, just as they already have Latin American and Asian ones. Hollywood and TV are pretty powerful stuff.

            • So your thesis, Mr. Norris, is that high rates of religiosity are caused by extreme poverty? If so, how do you explain the differences in religiosity between the Arabian Peninsula (mostly wealthy outside, e.g., Yemen) and the United States as compared with China or Eastern Europe? (Please give an answer that doesn’t just assert that Marxism is a religion. You know, an interesting answer.) For bonus points, feel free to explain why Victorian England and/or the colonial U.S. had higher living standards than ancien regime or Napoleonic France, and yet were more religious.

            • wPwPwP

              Hi David Norris,

              By “long life expectancies” in those “advanced countries,” do you mean life expectancy at birth or life expectancy at conception?

              Thank you.

            • Jedinovice

              “Countries with high rates of material prosperity, democratic constitutions, and long life expectancies. You know, places where people aren’t so desperate and impoverished that they need religion and its promises of pie-in-the-sky when we die.”

              Ok, I’ll bite on this one.

              It’s simple. But to make it clear I’ll bullet point it.

              *Every* single atheistic society (one which active promoted atheism and closes down religion as opposed to a secular society which does not officially promote any particular religion) has been a blood soaked tyranny with the Christians (among others) ALWAYS shot and buried in mass graves. (OK, in Pol Pot’s regime they didn’t bother with the burying but no biggee.) No exceptions. Every single atheistic society has had secret police, thought crime, tyrants in charge and then collapsed into an economic and social ruin a few decades later – if that. So every single atheistic society has produced *utter* ruin.

              The West was once the powerhouse of the world – it’s prosperity just happening to coincide with heights of Christian belief (OK, just as atheistic ideologies were being germinated, mind.)

              Oh look, as Christianity dies out we see the lights of both freedom and economic prosperity disappear.

              So it’s simple. People who have been through the atheistic experiments have to learn to pray again amongst economic ruin and destitution. Then their society is rebuilt slowly. The boated, spoilt ones at the end of their Christian civilisation are about to recreate the atheistic nightmares they once fought against with ALL the associated consequences. So why do the poor pray? Because they have often been made poor by lack of prayer and know it!

              Doubt me? Just wait ten years. Then tell me what a glorious, advanced civilisation you live in freed from the curse of a God. I’ll be interested to know. Me? I jumped out of the West altogether. I know my history. (For the record, after eight years of discernment!)

              • Jedinovice

                OK, I didn’t really bullet point it in the end. But I think my point is clear. 🙂

        • Mark Shea

          It may come as a shock, but Europe and the United States do not constitute “the world”. Nor do they constitute “the future”.

        • Oregon Catholic

          You’re right there. But something is rushing to fill the religious vacuum in Western Europe and it isn’t liberalism, it’s Islam. If you think Catholics are backward and homophobic you have a very unpleasant surprise in store. Thank goodness, here in the US the in migration is largely from Catholic Mexico and South America. I pity Europe.

          • David Norris

            LOL you’re completely wrong. Under-35 Muslim kids, the ones who were born in Europe–not immigrants–are just as secular. They’re more interested in American hip hop and baggy clothes than the Koran. “Islam” to them means abstaining from pork and that’s about it.

            I have extensive experience living in France, trust me on this.

            • Oregon Catholic

              The secular muslims are not the ones undergoing a population explosion. Do some demographic study.

            • So, are you familiar with all the research on how more demanding forms of religion tend to thrive, while mainline Protestantism and liberal Islam and Reform Judaism tend to be just way-stations on the road to complete secularization? Those lax Muslim kids aren’t going to be the “Muslims” of tomorrow. They’ll just be Europeans. But there will be Muslims. And Catholics. Not as many perhaps. At first. But far more serious about their faiths.

        • Al

          Greece is an advanced country…

    • Mark Shea

      Well. No. Rather, the people who seriously claim the Church is indistinguishable from the KKK will somebody be as well-remembered as the Bogomils and Ebionites. Gain some perspective.

      • David Norris

        This doesn’t seem to be happening in the west, especially among the under-35 set. The culture is ALREADY now, at least in the cities but increasingly elsewhere, more tolerant of LGBT rights than they are of homophobia.

        Just look at the Boy Scouts and what they’re considering right now. I like to think I had some small part in it–about a year ago I came across some cub scouts selling popcorn at a local event, and I quite calmly and politely told the adults why I would not buy their popcorn, basically because I would not want my money going to bigots. One of the cub scouts looked like he was about to cry and blurted out to hsi father “But I don’t want to be a bigot!”

        • You brought a cub scout to the brink of tears. Wow. That is some serious activism, man.

          • Robert

            Bravery at it’s best. :p

          • That comment just brings me to tears?

            Exactly what were you trying to prove?

            Ever thought there was that rule in the BSA for not allowing homosexuality, for the same reason that most parents don’t want co-ed camping?

            Mean while in Massachusetts, we may have gay marriage. But the Department of Revenue still recognized heterosexually only in its public policy.


            “Why is it important to establish paternity?

            IDENTITY – When parents establish paternity for a child, they both say, “Yes, this is my child.” This gives a child a sense of identity and connection with both sides of the family. Knowing both parents can improve a child’s chance of success in life.
            HEALTH – More and more, medical research shows how important it is to know about any diseases or physical problems or characteristics that may have been passed down from both sides of someone’s family. Knowledge of both parents’ family medical history will help doctors treat — or even prevent — medical problems that a child might have inherited.
            FINANCIAL SUPPORT – Families with children who are supported by two parents are more likely to have enough money to meet their needs than families supported by only one parent. By establishing paternity, both parents make a commitment to support their child to the best of their abilities.
            BENEFITS – When parents establish paternity, they make their child eligible for coverage under either parent’s health insurance. If anything should happen to the father, the child may also be entitled to receive Social Security, pension, veteran’s and inheritance benefits.
            PUBLIC ASSISTANCE – If a parent receives public assistance, he or she is required to cooperate with the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) to establish paternity and a child support order. If the parent does not cooperate, his or her benefits may be reduced.”

            This is bigotry?

        • Mark Shea

          Way to go bullying a kid! That took courage.

          • David Norris

            I was talking to the adults, the kid merely overheard the conversation, but the point is a powerful one–people don’t want to be seen as bigots.

            • Mark Shea

              That is a penetrating psychological insight! People also don’t want to be eaten by monsters. Most adults aren’t easily peruaded this is likely. But kids can be. Clearly then, the Wisdom of the Children tells us that being eaten by monsters is a live possibility if you managed to scare the crap out of some kid into believing it could happen.

            • Oregon Catholic

              I talked to the mom of a Girl Scout selling cookies at a supermarket- and told her that I wouldn’t support the organization’s feminist policies and support of Planned Parenthood. However, I made sure not to inflict my politics on the little girl selling the cookies – that’s between her and her mom.

            • Robert

              So, you see us as “bigots?” Cool.

              “Our true worth does not consist in what human beings think of us. What we really are consists in what God knows us to be.”

              ~St. John Berchmans

              I try not to get to worked up over those who spew hatred. While I’m not always successful, the miscellaneous rantings from someone I don’t know on a blog are pretty easy to ignore. 🙂

              • Pattie, RN

                ….and for some reason, the uber-atheists are not content to evalgelize the world in general, and its gazillions of blogs and message boards, but are drawn, like moths to a flame, to Christian sites. While sane believers try to dissect matters of faith, these folks insist on bolting in, screaming of our intolerance, stupidity, and immenent disappearance from the earth.

                It is sad and pathetic…and annoying. Maybe the latter IS the intent??

                At any rate, the western world has tilted on its axis into an alternative universe, where life is death, sick is healthy, lies are the truth.

            • Al

              David I don’t know if your aware of this but some organizations do not have genital stimulation practices as a recognized component of their charter or mission statements. I know your side is busy organizing society along this front but to others the question of relevancy must be asked. I look forward to observing more of your arbitrary meta-psychological/zoological org experiments…once you guys finished categorizing everybody what’s the next part of your plan?

              • Patrick Thornton

                I would just like to say that Al’s comment is quite possibly the greatest internet comment of all time.

                Let’s all just take a moment to gaze at its brilliance.

                Well done, man.

    • Are Catholics are on the wrong side of history? Don’t think so, but in any case, better to be on the wrong side of history, than the wrong side of reality.

      • An Aaron, not the Aaron

        “better to be on the wrong side of history, than the wrong side of reality.”

        This should totally be on a coffee mug. Love it.

  • Can we discuss issues instead of personalities?

    I have this problem. I get the distinct impression that when people convert to the Church, they’re not told about fidelity to Magisterium and how you’re SUPPOSED to accept Church teaching as a kind of emanation of the Holy Spirit.

    If the Holy Spirit said it, it must be true.

    I’ve run across this before: converts who are very surprised to learn that this or that is Church teaching, and they’re aghast that they have to accept it, and they don’t want to. What? Did you not come to the Church as the fount of Truth?

    I can get that people new to Catholicism (as opposed to the Church) might have intellectual problems (as opposed to doubts). But…. shouldn’t the first intellectual doubt to be ascertained before the conversion process be that the Church is infallible in her teachings? Shouldn’t the priests in charge of these things make it a priority to make sure converts know what they’re signing up for?

    • Good point! Thanks.

      • So, uh, Ben. If I may be a juvenile ass for a moment:
        Your blog looked really interesting when I went to check it out. However, I went to check it out b/c, in the context of debate about SSM, your commenting pseudonym is . . . confusing?

    • Robert

      Some converts don’t fully understand fidelity to the Magisterium. My wife was a moderately catechized cradle Catholic, and we were deciding whether we should go Catholic or go with a church of my choosing. I liked the local Catholic Church, so I we decided on Catholic. My conversion hinged on the smallest of things – the RCIA instructor told us that who goes to heaven is up to God and gave examples of some non-Catholics who might very well be in heaven; Martin Luther King, Jr, Ghandi, etc.

      I had accepted the reality of transubstantiation, so that wasn’t an issue. I was leery of Marian doctrine, but accepted it. The instructor and priest explained that Marian devotion is optional. I was very much pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-birth control, etc. It was explained that these things are a matter of conscience.

      A traditional Catholic (not sure if he was SSPX or not, but he was very serious in his devotion) informed me of a lot of my errors. At some point, I took the approach deiseach mentions – obedience before understanding. It wasn’t easy. Understanding took a while. I’m still sorting some things out, but none of the “non-negotiables.” Patience isn’t easy in these matters, especially when we are at a different level of understanding. I would hate to think what I would say to my former self, if I met me today and started a conversation about abortion, homosexuality or contraception. I might blow me out of the Church.

      • Jason C.

        I would hate to think what I would say to my former self, if I met me today and started a conversation about abortion, homosexuality or contraception. I might blow me out of the Church.

        Powerful words for me to remember before I strap on my combox armor while wasting time at work. How quickly we forget who we were. Thanks for that.

      • Some converts don’t fully understand fidelity to the Magisterium.

        I get that. The question I’m raising is: shouldn’t they?

        But perhaps the problem is priests who THEMSELVES aren’t fully loyal to the Magisterium. Maybe they don’t get it, either.

        • Robert G

          Sure. Converts should. We should all strive to improve whatever RCIA program we have in our parish, and we should pray for our priests. Are their preists who aren’t fully loyal to the Magisterium? Yes. And, they should be charitably corrected and prayed for. Assuming it isn’t something petty, their Bishop should also be informed…again, in a charitable manner.

          For some converts (and cradle Catholics), as another post mentioned, they are obedient to the Church even thought they personally disagree with a given teaching. They are works in progress, as we all are.

    • Scott W.

      Exactly. The last RCIA session I volunteered covered the 5th and 7th commandments. Guess which one was conspicuously missing? After my presentation, I asked everyone to please read the section on the sixth commandment in their catechisms on their own. It was the best that I could do when I realized it had been omitted from the program.

    • Anson

      Okay. But have some patience with us converts. The process doesn’t really look like that. Yes we accept when we enter the Catholic Church that the Holy Spirit has worked for two millenia to build and preserve the Tradition, the Repository of the Faith. But we also have all kinds of these paradigms already built into our worldviews that we maybe haven’t had time to address with a lot of deep reflection while rushing through the RCIA curriculum in time for the Easter Vigil. These are little snippets of reality that we gradually accepted as fundamentally true of the mechanics of the world in which we live. Maybe they weren’t entirely true or maybe they were mistaken presumption. But they are incorporated into our paradigm for good or ill in an effort to understand how the world works around us.

      My mom loves me. This is central to how I have made sense of the relationship that I have always had. Now it is possible that an authority may come along at some point and disabuse me of this notion. Maybe that person will tell me that my mom was really more disinterested in me and her actions were motivated by legal obligation rather than out of love. She didn’t read me bedtime stories because she loved me and wanted to spend time with me. She did it because she thought it was the quickest way to get me to sleep so she could go back out into the living room to watch TV. She didn’t make my school lunches because she loved me and wanted me to be well nourished and healthy, but because she was afraid someone at the school would turn her in for criminal neglect. Because I have invested so much in this notion of a mother’s love and so much of the rest of the paradigm of my reality revolves I would be necessarily confused, repulsed and appalled by the information even if I trusted the authority giving me the news. Without sometime to process, to exam and explain how my paradigm will have to shift now to incorporate this new information or we will be in the unhealthy position of embracing cognitive dissonance.

      For me I have struggled with how deeply embedded in my worldview was a Lockean notion of the state of nature and how government derives its power and what limits it. I had a worldview that largely revolved around government being a necessary evil that limits a man, not as a teacher or right living, or as a bringer of justice. But this isn’t how the church sees government. The Church sees roles for government that my sensibilities find appalling and abhorrent. I know that I am obligated to think with the church, but there is a process that one goes through in discerning just what exactly is the Church is saying. Perhaps the church isn’t saying what the majority of the Catholics around me think that it is saying. The Church can teach and exhort the truth to me, but it cannot understand and learn it for me. No I am not free to accept and reject church teaching on the basis of my old preconceptions, and I am obligated to accept the truth. But there is an organic process that one goes through in making “The Faith” into “my faith”. Have some patience in the process. Please

  • I went to hear Fr. Barron speak about a year ago at Elmhurst College in IL. The term he used for a person with his kind of approach was “Happy Warrior”. It’s good imagery.
    “Who is the happy warrior? Who is he that every man in arms should wish to be? …..Whose high endeavors are an inward light that makes the path before him always bright”
    From a poem by William Wordsworth

  • obpoet

    “I believe and profess all that the Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be
    revealed by God.”

    Is it possible to just have faith that the Church has it right even when it goes against our own personal beliefs? Is not this the faith of Abraham?

  • Joe

    As usual Mark you hit the nail on the head. I know what it’s like to be one of these people you’re talking about. Their attitude comes from a lack of faith a lot of fear. They could learn a lot from Leah, particularly courage. To be willing to change ones mind about anything the feel passionate about is heroic.

  • As a revert to Catholicism (after being away for 40 years), I’m trying hard to align my thinking with what I believe to be Catholic thinking. It hasn’t been simple.

    What troubles me personally is that I find it harder and harder to understand what Catholic thinking is though some seem to suggest that it’s pretty simple.


    I don’t want to believe, particularly after reading Mark regularly, that I’m part of the Faithful Conservative Catholic[TM] blogosphere but I do find myself aligned at times with what respectful faithful conservative Catholic bloggers are saying. But maybe I have my definitions of faithful or conservative or even Catholic not quite right.

    I think it would help, when these terms are used in a way I personally take as an insult, to understand what the definitions are.

    As an example, the gun control debate.

    Nicholas Hahn III over at Crisis Magazine has written a piece he’s titled “Some Bishops want your guns”.

    I read it and agree with much of what is written. But I suspect Mark may not. As someone attempting to wrap my arms around what is or isn’t Catholic thinking on this issue, I’d like to know if Mark thinks Mr. Hahn belongs to the Faithful Conservative Catholic[TM] blogosphere and does he see him as someone who is a card carrying member of the Fortress Catholic Brigade (FCB)?

    If he does not, I’m glad because at this point, I don’t believe Mr. Hahn is but frankly, that may be driven by my fear that I may be lumped in with the FCB and forever be ostracized.

    As someone doing my level best to be the kind of Catholic I’m supposed to be, I’m finding that’s it’s a tougher row to hoe than I might’ve previously thought.

    I’d appreciate some honest and Godly guidance.

    • Robert


      I don’t know about “Godly guidance,” but I would like to throw in my two cents. Do your best to discern what the Church and her Bishops are saying and teaching. If you express an opinion based on your best understanding, then you may have someone lump you into a group or call you a clever name. Ignore the name or grouping, but do listen to what they say. You might be able to use their insight.

      I agree with you that it isn’t simple to be a faithful Catholic (no TM necessary). Not all Bishops and Priests say the same thing about a given subject. Papal encyclicals and statements aren’t usually country specific, so it is very easy to think the Pope is speaking directly about a US issue. Beware groupthink as best as you can. Put Church teaching first. Do your best to view all teaching through clear lenses – easier said than done.

    • Robert

      Oh, and specifically to the question of Leah Librescos of this world. Be patient with them. We need to take the Fr Barron approach of correcting in love. It’s the best way of fostering a true love for Christ and His Church. Again, easier said than done.

  • Thank you.

    Leah is a convert only at 23.

    I did post, but I wasn’t hostile towards her. Just my experience with father absent homes in my community, and working with around marriage public policy here in Massachusetts.

  • Kate

    As a good priest told me, “The Church is a hospital, not a country club.”

    • Not an Episcopal priest, I take it….
      (I’ll be here all week. Try the veal!)

    • Many days it feels like one.

      Leah’s situation doesn’t bother me, it is the older Catholics who have so strayed away from the teachings but can recite the Rosary with ‘a cheat sheet’.

  • obpoet

    Next year she will be 24, the age of Thérèse of Lisieux when she died of TB. How much time do you want to give Leah to say, not according to my will………..

    • Mark Shea

      Oh brother. And do *you* live out your faith with immaculate perfection? How many years have you been at it?

      • Robert

        “Immaculate perfection.” 🙂 There is a feast day for that, right?

    • Kate

      St. Therese had advantages Ms. Leah doesn’t – she came from a very devout Catholic family, was educated well by her mother and Catholic school, and was surrounded by all things Catholic and sane (even in France).

  • Elmwood

    She’s wrong just like the many GOP-Catholics who tacitly support American war-mongering and liberal under-regulated capitalism. Unfortunately, pride blinds us to the simple truths of our faith such as war is evil and should be avoided at all costs and we should love our neighbor, especially the poor and the migrant workers. These things are consistently expressed by our Holy Father and the writings of the popes but have been largely ignored among so called “conservative” Catholics.

    If these things are difficult to accept for a cradle Catholic, then how much harder for a recent convert? Even St. Paul had to rebuke St. Peter. As GKC said, “We want a religion that is right where we are wrong”.

  • obpoet

    Does scripture say give them a pass, or correct them with love? You throw time around like time on earth is an eternity. I get the point. We get mercy, but we dont get a pass.

    • Mark Shea

      How does “I disagree. Here’s why” constitute “giving a pass”?

      • Jmac

        You should disagree with more scathing anathemas and appeals to emotion. Or are you a *mainstream* dark lord now?

  • obpoet

    The deeper point, the troubling point, is that we all swear the same oath at the beginning. But how many of us really take the oath to heart? What percentage of all this chatter is about the lack of commitment to that oath? I am a Catholic, but….. It is wonderful to have discussions about what we believe, about why some beliefs are hard, but in the end we are called to believe what the Church believes.

    • Oaths? At the beginning?

      How many of us take the Our Father to heart?

  • obpoet

    It can be a vexing state, to take an oath of allegiance to the Church, and struggle with understanding some teaching or other we dont entirely agree with. But is not this Abraham’s dilemma?

    The only point I was making was in response to people saying lay off, she is only 23. I find that misguided for multiple reasons. One person’s 23 could be another’s 65. And to properly address the question of age it seems you would need two piece’s of information:
    1) How much time does she need?
    2) How much time does she have?
    Anyone know?

    Again, it all gets back to allegiance and faith. Is it so wrong to accept in faith what the Church teaches, and then work to understand what we dont fully understand, rather than say I understand better than the Church what is right here? That does not mean you cannot explore, discuss, posit, think and rethink. I just wonder how much discord is sewn by us violating our oath to the Church.

  • Becky

    I have an uncharitable suspicion that those who are up in arms about Leah’s support for civil gay marriage are those who can give you a dozen reasons they feel free to completely disregard the Vatican’s stance on gun control. I suppose none of us (self included) is immune from the temptation to focus on the specks in our neighbors’ eyes rather than the logs in our own …

  • obpoet

    Why not start with accepting all the Church’s teaching, in principle. I remember thinking, There is so much stuff, I do not even know all that She teaches. But why not start there, and then begin filling in the gaps. When we butt up against something that challenges us, something we do not understand, perhaps even something we have feeling the Church has gotten wrong, are we not meant to accept it on faith? If we reason we have it right and the Church has it wrong, is that not just taking the advice of the serpent in the Garden?

  • Kristin

    Thank you for this, Mark. As someone who is similiar to LL (24/f/geek/educated) and has found her blog incredibly inspiring as I consider Catholicism (from that den of inquitity, 😉 the Episcopal Church and then time wandering as an agonstic), it was very sad to read all the attacks about her position on SSM, especially from within the Church. This is an issue that I struggle with, too, and I was looking for a really healthy debate on it, which was there in some degree, but lacking in other respects. I can tell you as a member of my generation that SSM, abortion, and contraception are not going away. These issues are overwhelmingly (in my opinion far too much so) important to people my age. Perhaps that will change as they grow older. (I should note that the LAST thing I want is for the RCC to become the Episcopal Church, but I would like to see healthy, respectful dialogue.)
    However, as Chesterton noted in “Orthodoxy”, Christians themselves are proof positive that Christianity, with its claims to the Fallen nature of humanity, has it on the nose! I say this as someone who’s deeply aware (but never aware enough, unfortunately) of her need for grace, so no offense intended. Peace be with you.

  • Elmore

    This sounds absolutely wonderful for those of us who happen to be brash Catholic converts who make their living as professional apologists.

    That’s not most people though. Most people are bad at arguing and susceptible to the influence of the people around them. So they do better in a situation in which they can rely on the people seen as authorities (priests, nuns, catechists, etc.) to say things that are reliable, and the informal discussions they run into aren’t always calling basics into question. That may be why various apostles and epistles suggest not hanging with the ungodly.

    Is there going to be a place for such ordinary slobs/weak links in the New Evangelizing Church of the Future?