Aug 062014

In the theological turmoil that followed the Second Vatican Council, the theory of the “fundamental option” is among the most pernicious developments. Fundamental option separates specific moral actions from a more general – fundamental – orientation of life. It holds, therefore, that specific sins do not bear on the status of one’s soul, or on the destination of one’s soul after death. All that matters for salvation, in this view, is that one “fundamentally” lives for God rather than evil.

One theological casualty of fundamental option theory is mortal sin, which has long been defined by the Church as a grave wrong committed with full knowledge of the attendant evil and deliberate consent of the will. Instead, the theory holds that mortal sin is not a specific action, but an orientation that lies at the deepest level of freedom within an individual who rejects God. But given the gravity of such a rejection, the theory holds that such an orientation is nearly impossible for those of sound mind. If an individual makes the fundamental option for God, then his actions, no matter how grave, cannot be mortal sins – or damnable offenses – because, at root, the person means well.

From a post by David G. Bonagura, Jr. at The Catholic Thing

Since I first read this post it has been rolling around in my mind along with some other thoughts. It seems to me that the fundamental option theory has really become the default view. While you hardly ever hear someone speak of it by its name, you often hear a view derived from it. It sounds so reasonable to suppose that since you are generally a good person that lapses really don’t affect your salvation. Many that would not hold to universalism do hold to a personalism when it comes to salvation. Fundamental option theory has become kind of a “once saved, always saved” for Catholics. The “Here I am Lord” centrality where God is lucky to have us.

So I can certainly identify this in the culture and among Catholics. Worse though is how often I find that I can identify this in myself. That I want to bargain with God as Abraham did.

“Lord I use to have all these serious sins. Can I be saved if I have whittled them down to five serious sins?”, “No, well how about four serious sins”, “Well then, how about three grave sins?”

It becomes quite easy to transmute the Call to Holiness to the call to be good enough. To dismiss Jesus’ call for us to be holy as the Father is holy as just hyperbole. To hear the Parable of the Tares and think “Well tough luck on those tares, being of the wheat myself.” To separate out the intention to be good from my actual actions. So easy to resign yourself to the purgative way without doing much purging, much less advancing in the states of perfection. To be satisfied with spiritual mediocrity on the way to joining the Laodicean and causing a gag reflex in Jesus.

It is quite annoying to start out writing a post about others holding the heretical fundamental optional theory and then realizing that you are not immune from it either. Like Saint John Henry Newman looking at his face in the mirror and realizing he was an Monophysite. At least for him it ended well.

The fundamental option theory also seems to be the hidden hand behind the majority of homilies I hear. Going to a number of Catholic parishes in my diocese I get a fair sampling even if not statically significant. The majority of homilies I have heard are of the “Dog that did not bark” variety. What is missing is significant. Now everybody has their hobby-horse sins that they want excoriated during the homily. Hobby-horse sins are almost always those sins we hold others to have and that we think ourselves free of. I want to go more general than that. What I find missing (except in the scriptural readings) is any mention of sin, repentance, growing in holiness, and salvation. Listening to a homily I am usually totally unscathed in regards to realizing I had something to repent of. Really I am a target-rich environment for being properly scathed.

There is such a generic country club feeling to so many homilies. That we are all part of the club. More thought seems to be given to what topical joke can be used to start or end the homily than any actual serious reflection on the readings. Much less any call for conversion. That we even showed up to Mass is suppose to be to our credit instead of seeing that “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

Now sometimes we hear that the homily is suppose to “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I have even heard this phrase used in a homily. Much more comforting than afflicting going on. Interestingly the quote was first used in regards to journalism. Still I don’t want to put all the blame on the homily since it is rather silly to think that we are suppose to get all that the Church teaches condensed down to under ten minutes on Sunday.

The default theology of the fundamental option theory goes hand-in-hand with why their are lines to Communion and not to Confession (in most places and I love seeing the exceptions). If we are good enough with those good intentions not much need for the confessional. No need to repent if our sins are just not that important and besides God will understand.

Jul 152013

Part of the redefinition of terms in our vocabulary seems to be aimed at making sin more attractive and a life of virtue to be rather milquetoast. A compliment means something like “He lived life to the fullest” and “He lived a life of virtue” as a bit of a putdown for living a boring life. Event though to live life to the fullest is to indeed live a life of virtue.

I was thinking about this after reading this passage from “Meditations On Christian Dogma Volume 2” by Rev James Bellord D.D. regarding a treatise on “Virtue in General.”

III. Virtue according to its etymology signifies force. It does not consist in a lowered vitality, nor in exemption from temptation, nor in any deficiency in the lower elements of human nature, nor in a colourless tranquillity of life. It is the source of the positive energies of good, which must oppose and ultimately prevail over the negative energies of evil. A virtuous life is a life of continual activity and struggle; it must always be a matter of difficulty, and it requires great strength, courage, self-sacrifice and perseverance, beyond all the daring enterprises of natural energy. To lead an easy life without effort or conflict is always to lead an ignoble life, and generally a degraded one. “The life of man upon earth is a warfare” (Job vii. 1). Virtue that has not been tried by difficulties and temptations may be pleasant, but it is wanting in merit and in resemblance to the virtues of Jesus Christ. Remember that glory is not for sluggards: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matt. xi. 12). Let your virtue be militant and patient.

I found this paragraph to really encapsulate what virtue means and a glimpse into the Christian life. I have always been attracted to some extent to the idea of living virtuously even as I have always been really bad at it. The term said more to me than I could understand at the time. My attractiveness to this term is why I am apt to refer to myself as a “Virtue voter” instead of a “Values voter.” Everybody has values, but those values often don’t lead to virtue. Virtue is a battle over self and you just can’t walk away from the battlefield. It is no surprise how often we choose to become pacifists in this battle. To raise the white flag and say “I’m just human” or “I’m no saint” when it does not even have the merit of being a humble acknowledgment of sin. Instead these declarations just provide an excuse not to join into battle.

Note: I am currently in the process of proofreading this book for format errors from and OCR conversion. The first volume is already available on my free ebooks page.

Jan 262013

Maureen at “Aliens in This World”:

Because if we give up believing in the Trinity, everybody will like us, the Jews will admit that Christianity was right, and there’ll never be any arguments again.

Yeah, and that’s why everybody in the world is a Jewish Unitarian Jehovah’s Witness! Because eliminating theology and the Trinity is such a great recruiting tool, and produces instant Judeo-Christian unity!

Anyway, read the review. It’s a very strong takedown of the whole idea that early orthodox Christianity came up with its theology as some kind of “total global political dominion” technique, or at least of the facile way that people assume this without ever adducing any evidence. (Which is a shame, because personally I’d think such a conspiracist would enjoy making bizarre connections between imperial politics and Trinitarianism. It would be silly and not prove anything, but at least you’d have tried.)

Jan 042013

I had almost forgot about. Somewhere around two years ago Matthew Warner asked me to send in a video question for his “Ask Fr. Barron” series.

So I tried to ask a somewhat intelligent question and of course got back a very cogent answer.

One nice thing about seeing this video other than the total Catholic geek-out of having Fr. Barron respond, is that since I made that video I have lost over 60 pounds and have kept that weight off after over a year.

So while I am still what Mark Shea would call a “Jolly”, here is a more recent picture of me.

The Curt Jester
The Curt Jester

Matthew Warner’s blog Fallible Blogma

Dec 242012

Act of Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the occasion of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

…There is something else, something even more important which Mary Immaculate tells us when we come here, and it is that the world’s salvation is not the work of human beings — of science, of technology, of an ideology — but it comes from Grace. What does this word mean? Grace means Love in its purity and beauty, it is God himself as he revealed himself in salvation history, recounted in the Bible and in its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Mary is called “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) and with her specific identity she reminds us of God’s primacy in our life and in the history of the world, she reminds us that the power of God’s love is stronger than evil, that it can fill the void that selfishness creates in the history of individuals, families, nations and the world.

These forms of emptiness can become hells where human life is drawn downwards and towards nothingness, losing its meaning and its light. The world suggests filling this emptiness with false remedies — drugs are emblematic — that in reality only broaden the abyss. Only love can prevent this fall, but not just any kind of love: a love that contains the purity of Grace — of God who transforms and renews — and can thus fill the intoxicated lungs with fresh oxygen, clean air, new energy for life. Mary tells us that however low man may fall it is never too low for God, who descended even into hell; however far astray our heart may have gone, God is always “greater than our hearts” (1 Jn 3:20). The gentle breath of Grace can dispel the darkest cloud and can make life beautiful and rich in meaning even in the most inhuman situations.

And from this derives the third thing that Mary Immaculate tells us. She speaks of joy, that authentic joy which spreads in hearts freed from sin. Sin brings with it a negative sadness that leads to withdrawal into self. Grace brings true joy that does not depend on possessions but is rooted in the innermost self, in the depths of the person, and nothing and no one can remove it. Christianity is essentially an “evangelo”, “Good News”, whereas some think of it as an obstacle to joy because they see it as a collection of prohibitions and rules.

Christianity is actually the proclamation of the victory of Grace over sin, of life over death. And if it entails self-denial and discipline of the mind, of the heart and of behaviour, it is precisely because in the human being there is a poisonous root of selfishness which does evil to oneself and to others. It is thus necessary to learn to say “no” to the voice of selfishness and “yes” to that of genuine love. Mary’s joy is complete, for in her heart there is not a shadow of sin. This joy coincides with the presence of Jesus in her life: Jesus conceived and carried in her womb, then as a child entrusted to her motherly care, as an adolescent, a young man and an adult; Jesus seen leaving home, followed at a distance with faith even to the Cross and to the Resurrection; Jesus is Mary’s joy and is the joy of the Church, of us all.

In this Season of Advent Mary Immaculate teaches us to listen to the voice of God who speaks in silence; to welcome his Grace that sets us free from sin and from all selfishness in order thereby to taste true joy. Mary, full of grace, pray for us!

Oct 242012

You may never be able to try lembas — a fictional bread that Frodo subsisted on through part of his journey to Mordor in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — but Denny’s thinks it might have the next best thing. The company is about to roll out a Middle-Earth-inspired menu as part of a tie-in with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

…Menu items include 11 breakfast, lunch and dinner items such as “Hobbit Hole Breakfast,” “Frodo’s Pot Roast Skillet,” “Gandalf’s Gobble Melt” and the “Build Your Own Hobbit Slam,” which includes limited-time items such as “Shire Sausage.”[Source]

A menu that will increase your “Middle Girth.” Now as someone who has read Tolkien’s books multiple time, this menu will not entice me out of my Hobbit hole. Could they have come up with worst names? Where’s the Coney stew, the Ent-Draught, the Cram – Denny’s should at least have the Grand Cram? Now I can certainly understand the Hobbit tie-in with their propensity for multiple breakfasts but I won’t be eating there for first or second breakfast.

Now as to not being able to ever try lemmas.

The lembas has a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this way bread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind. — “Return of the King” J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many will certainly see an echo of the Eucharist here and Tolkien’s love of the Eucharist is well known.

Tolkien rejected attempts to find Catholic symbolism in his work because he detested “allegory in all its manifestations.” Indeed he frequently chided Lewis for trying to dress Christ up in the lion-suit of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. For Tolkien, to look for such correspondences is to miss the point of Middle-earth, which is meant to be a real place and not just some amalgam of historical and religious debris.

Still, Tolkien acknowledged that his Catholic sensibilities unconsciously inspired characters and objects in his imaginative world. In a 1952 letter to Rev. Robert Murray (grandson of the founder of the Oxford English Dictionary and a family friend), he readily admitted that the Virgin Mary forms the basis for all of his “small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity.” It is not surprising, he admits, that the character of Galadriel — a created being endowed with radiant beauty, impeccable virtue, and powers of healing — resonates with the character of our Blessed Mother.

Nor could Tolkien deny that the Holy Eucharist appears in The Lord of the Rings as the waybread (lembas), given by the elves to the hobbits to eat on their journey. The lembas reinforces the hobbits’ wills and provides them with physical sustenance in the dark and barren lands on the way to Mount Doom. As the Church teaches, while the Eucharist still tastes and looks like bread and wine, our sensations shroud a deeper mystery: The Eucharist is truly Christ’s body and blood. So in The Lord of the Rings the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist appear shrouded in the mysterious elements of Middle-earth. The best way to understand this is to see such examples of Catholic symbolism as literary “accidents.” To leave them out would have diminished the story; they are parts of Tolkien’s effort to make his world complete, true for all times and places.

As an author, Tolkien believed that his stories did in a limited and literary way what a priest does at the consecration: They present us with Christ and the entire story of creation and redemption through common elements of the world — in this case Middle-earth — which is shot through with the Truth of all Truths. [Source]

Now as to Lord of the Rings related food humor, here is something I did some years ago.

Aug 282012

Ross Douthat via the National Catholic Register:

Romney in particular, is a vindication of my premise. Mormonism is the defining American heresy. I think of it as a heresy of Christianity — partly to avoid the debate that Evangelicals have about whether Mormons are Christian or not. Instead, you can say, yes, they are Christian, but it’s a heretical form of Christianity that dissents from the scripturally-based consensus of the early Church.

I quite enjoyed his book “Bad Religion”, but the debate about Mormons being Christians is certainly not just an Evangelical one.

Question: Wheter the baptism conferred by the community «The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints», called «Mormons» in the vernacular, is valid.Response: Negative.

The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Response, decided in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation, and ordered it published.

From the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 5 June 2001.


+ Joseph Cardinal RATZINGER


Baptism is the sacrament of Christian initiation.  Like Islam it is certainly fair to classify Mormonism as a heresy that grew out of the Christian faith and melded other elements. But you might as well classify Muslims as Christians if you are going to have such a loose definition of what constitutes being a Christian.  The virtues that many Mormons display is commendable, but it does not turn polytheism into Trinitarian Christianity.

“Ecumenical dialogue is dialogue between Christians. Dialogue with Mormons who represent official LDS teaching is interreligious dialogue.” – Fr. Richard John Newhaus


Dec 262011

Fr. James Martin published a pier in The Washington Post on December 16th that I am surprised has not got greater attention.

The piece is titled “Five myths bout Christmas” and he goes on to write this:

3. Jesus was an only child.

Catholics, myself included, believe that Mary’s pregnancy came about miraculously — what we call the “virgin birth.” (Frankly, this has always been easy for me to accept: If God can create the universe from nothing, then a virgin birth seems relatively simple by comparison.) Catholics also believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, though many Protestants do not.

So when Catholics stumble upon Gospel passages that speak of Jesus’s brothers and sisters, they are often confused. In the Gospel of Luke, someone tells Jesus: “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” In Mark’s Gospel, people from Nazareth exclaim: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? . . . Are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?” Even Saint Paul called James “the Lord’s brother.”

Such passages are sometimes explained away by saying that these are Jesus’s friends, relatives, half-brothers or, most often, cousins. But there is a perfectly good word for “cousins” in Greek, which Mark and Luke could have used instead of “adelphoi,” meaning “brothers.” Many Catholic scholars maintain that Jesus indeed had brothers and sisters — perhaps through an earlier marriage of Joseph. So a virgin birth, but (step-) brothers and sisters.

It is a myth that Jesus was an only child?

The Catechism states:

Mary – “ever-virgin”

499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin”.

500 Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus”, are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary”.They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.

501 Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother’s love.”

This is one of the four Marian dogmas and to imply otherwise is heresy. Maybe this section is just badly written and does not mean to imply that and this is what I would charitably want to believe. It is certainly possible that Joseph was a widower and had children as is asserted in the apocryphal Proto-evangelium of James. If this is what Fr. Martin wanted to point out than his title of the section is misleading. Plus Catholics do not stumble when they read these references in the Bible, it is Protestants that do since references to brothers can also be cleared up by other passages. Anybody with even a passing interest in Apologetics are aware of this. As Catholic Answers points out:

In John 19:25 we read, “Standing by the foot of the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala.” Cross reference this with Matthew 27:56: “Among them [at the cross] were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” We see that at least two of the men mentioned in Matthew 13 were definitely not siblings of Jesus (although they’re called adelphoi); they were Jesus’ cousins–sons of their mother’s sister.

The Bible is simply silent on the exact relationship between Jesus and the other two men, Simon and Jude, mentioned in Matthew 13. This proves two important things. First, it proves that the Greek word for brother is sometimes used to mean something other than sibling, and it proves that Matthew 13:55-56 in no way demonstrates that Mary had other children.

So Fr. Martin’s contention that the Greek word adelphoi must be brothers and not some other relationship is simply false.

Many Catholic scholars maintain that Jesus indeed had brothers and sisters — perhaps through an earlier marriage of Joseph. So a virgin birth, but (step-) brothers and sisters.

Many Catholics scholars believe — lots of stupid things. Plus whenever you insert such a phrase it is used to assert pretty much anything you want.

If Fr. Martin just wanted to point out that it was possible that Jesus had half-brother than this piece is very poorly written since is allows as a conjecture that Mary went on to have other children. It does not deny this possibility in any way. This type of article is exactly why I have so much problems with those who have publicly self-identified themselves a “progressives.” They seem to snip away at dogmas and the magisterium of the Church without actually specifically denying them. It is seemingly a wink-wink to the reader.

When you write a piece concerning the truths of the Catholic faith for the public you must be especially careful and this piece only sows confusion. To say “Jesus was an only child” is a myth is totally inaccurate since there is only a possibility that he had half-brothers and sisters and zero possibility that Mary had other children.

Fr. Martin gets a good amount of public attention and some of what he does is very good, but it does not justify shoddily written pieces like this.

Via Over the Rhine and into the Tiber

Jun 262011

SEATTLE, June 22, 2011 ( – Supporters of gay “marriage” fail to understand both the purpose of sex and the nature of human beings, said one Catholic bishop last week.

Bishop Robert Vasa, formerly of Baker, Oregon and now coadjutor bishop of Santa Rosa, California, spoke with on the topic at the U.S. bishops’ conference in Seattle. Asked to comment on the fight for same-sex “marriage,” Vasa indicated that the mainstream emphasis on equality and civil rights completely misses the point of the debate.

The real controversy, said Vasa, revolves around “a proper philosophical understanding of the nature of the human person, and the nature of sexual interaction between persons of the opposite sex.” It also stems from a general “failure to recognize and understand that sexual love is not about self-gratification and pleasure,” but about “entering into a relationship with another person which is by its nature capable of being fruitful.”

“In some ways homosexual relationships try to imitate [the marital relationship between a man and a woman], but that’s all it is: an imitation,” he said. “Some semblance of union which can never be fruitful or productive cannot really be an expression of love, it can only be an expression of self-gratification.”

While supporters “may not recognize this,” said Vasa, calling homosexual relationships by the name of marriage amounts to a “corruption” of an institution reserved for a union that is “faithful, permanent, and child-oriented.”

“Marriage is unique, it has its own internal dynamism and internal definition, and you cannot change the nature of a homosexual relationship by calling it ‘marriage,’” he said. “It is still not marriage, because marriage has its own identity, and

Mar 162011

Remember Maureen Dowd’s column after the election of Pope Benedict XVI!

“For American Catholics—especially women and Democratic pro-choice Catholic pols—the cafeteria is officially closed.”

In a March 10th speech by our Holy Father.

Rome, Italy (CNA/EWTN News) — Priests must not preach “Christianity ‘a la carte’” and should be willing to approach even uncomfortable aspects of the Gospel, Pope Benedict said in a meeting with priests last week.

When it comes to the dogmatic cafeteria, give me everything. When it comes to the faith it does not mean that I can fully understand everything, but its all good for me. Dogma is nutritious – so eat your veggies!

There are some aspects of the faith that are indeed ‘a la carte’. The devotional life is one such area. The richness of the Catholic faith is that there are plenty of devotions and of them some suit us more than others. We can all have devotions to different saints and other practices that help us to grow in the spiritual life. So as for dogma eat up, and devotions – choose your spiritual dessert.