Monday, February 27, 2017

Use It or Lose It

Because he calls CNN "fake news" "very fake news"; calls reporters liars at press conferences; declines to invite the big-time media giants to press functions; and decides to skip the White House Correspondents' Dinner, President Trump is being denounced as a threat to the survival of the First Amendment. 

Sounds to me more like he's USING his own First Amendment rights.  Presidents have them, too.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


God gives us signs; our shepherds give us signs.  In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI gave us a sign when, surrounded by earthquake damage in the church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila, Italy, he laid his pallium on the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V, who abdicated in 1294.  Four years later -- and four years ago today -- on February 11, 2013, he announced his abdication.

For the benefit of those who believe (and those who disbelieve) in signs from heaven, on that day, God commanded, or at least permitted, lightning to strike St. Peter's Basilica.  (Yes, God pays attention to details, down to the subatomic level, and even the most trivial things cannot happen without His permission; otherwise, He wouldn't be God.)  To underscore His point, His providence arranged for Filippo Monteforte of Agence France-Presse to capture the moment on film, thusly:

It is superstitious to believe that our lives and the course of history are governed by the motions of stars and planets, or that we can predict the future based on tea leaves or goat entrails; but it is not superstitious to take heed of signs in nature.  Our capacity and inclination to read these occurrences as signs is God-given.  The God Who created us gave us our taste for symbolism, and He satisfies it without the need for us to make up for any lack of ingenuity on His part.  Chapter 27 of Matthew's Gospel records that when Jesus was crucified, darkness covered the earth for three hours; and upon His death, the earth quaked, the rocks were split, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.  These were signs that indicated that this execution on Calvary was quite out of the ordinary.  Even the changes of season are freighted with spiritual significance, and not because we give them that significance ourselves in order to satisfy some primitive instinct for religion.  They are significant because God, Who is a God of Order and Harmony, interwove nature and salvation history.  There is no reason to believe that God has ceased giving us signs, merely because, in our modern, rationalist age, we choose to chalk them up as mere coincidences.

So what was the nature of the sign given here?  Was it a sign that God was angry with Pope Benedict for having stepped down from an office that is normally held until death?  Or was it a sign that this abdication marked the beginning of a punishment to be visited upon the whole Church for her unfaithfulness?

Four years on, the answer seems clearer.  The shepherd who tried to rule his flock and undo the damage of the last half-century with fatherly gentleness is gone, and a wrecking ball has been appointed to fill his place.  Our present Pope is admired by the world.  He publicly celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant revolt, and heaps contumely on those who try to live as faithful Catholics.  On his watch, the punishments that should be visited on the priests and bishops who openly proclaim errors land instead on faithful clerics and tradition-loving religious orders.  We find ourselves in the midst of a showdown between several cardinals and the Successor of Peter, over the appearance that the latter has publicly countenanced grave errors concerning marriage.  The Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta is feeling the mailed fist of this highly authoritarian Pope.  Meanwhile, the "progressive" elites in the Church, down to the lowest levels, are having their Big Mo, and are more blatant and arrogant than ever.  Sunday Mass is increasingly a narcissistic display featuring the preaching of Marxist interpretations of the Gospel; keeping the obligation becomes more and more burdensome and tedious.  A feeling of unease and confusion seems to pervade the Church, even among those who, on an intellectual level, are not confused about what the Church teaches.

The reading of the lightning strike on St. Peter's as a sign of trials to come seems amply justified by events.  Now we await signs that these trials may soon end.  Perhaps we are seeing it in the political arena, where voters in Europe and America are giving the Order of the Boot to left-wing ideologues of the sort that have infested both Church and State for decades.  This is not the same as a conversion to the True Faith; but it does show that people are at last ready to discard the slick, shiny notions of godless "progress" and "change" that have captivated so many in the West since the "Enlightenment," and that have wrought so much death and destruction.

The devil has his hour; but, as Bishop Sheen used to remind us, he gets only an hour.  God, on the other hand, has His day.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Authentic Goods

A partial list of authentic rights and what they entail: 

Freedom: the power to act deliberately on one's own responsibility; the basis for merit or lack of merit; inherent in the dignity of the human person.  It includes the freedom to act in accordance with one's conscience, rightly formed.  Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) at 1731 et seq.

Religious liberty: freedom from external constraint by political authorities in religious matters.  It does not mean the right to adhere to error.  CCC at 1747.

Private property: the legitimate acquisition of private property in order to guarantee freedom and dignity, and to secure the necessities of life for oneself and those in one's charge.  CCC at 2401 et seq.

Life: the right to life and physical integrity are inherent in human nature and human dignity.  It includes the right to the legitimate defense of persons and societies.  It does not exclude recourse to the death penalty.  CCC at 2258 et seq.

Economic initiative: everyone has the right to legitimately use his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit everyone, and to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  CCC at 2429.

Access to employment and professions: Work is a carrying on of creation and a carrying out of the stewardship of creation that God has committed to man; therefore it is a duty.  Unemployment is injurious to dignity and the stability of life.  CCC at 2401 et seq.

Just wages: fair remuneration for work, taking into account both the needs and the contributions of the wage earner.  A wage rate is not just merely because the parties agree to it.  CCC at 2434.

School choice: a fundamental right of parents as the first educators of their children to choose a school for them that corresponds to their own convictions.  CCC at 2229.

Choice of profession and state of life: persons should not be forced in this area.  CCC at 2230.

Expression of opinion in matters pertaining to the good of the Church: both to pastors and to other members of the faithful.  CCC at 907.

Right of a child to be naturally conceived: a child is not an entitlement or a piece of property, but a gift, and must be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.  CCC at 2378.

Right of a child to be born of parents known to him and united in marriage: makes artificial means of conception, sperm donation and surrogacy immoral.  CCC at 2373 et seq.

Spreading the Gospel: both a right and a duty of Christians.  CCC at 900.

Right of the Church to announce moral principles: to the extent required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.  CCC at 2032.

Immigration: persons have a right to emigrate.  Nations have a right to make policy on immigration and defend their borders.  CCC at 2241.

Preservation of material and spiritual heritage: to nations that take them in, immigrants owe, in gratitude, a duty to respect their material and spiritual heritage.  CCC at 2241.

Good name: everyone has a natural right to his good name and to respect.  CCC at 2479.

In an age when we are so busy pursuing imaginary rights, it pays to remind ourselves of authentic rights, lest we cease to value these and fritter them away.

Note on the Common Good

The common good cannot be separated from the good of individuals in particular.  The good of individuals is a necessary element of the common good.  Persons who love humanity in general but have no use for particular human beings do not thereby advance the common good.  Subordinating flesh-and-blood human beings to ideology does not serve the common good.  Even when an individual interest must give way to the common good, the common good nevertheless does not steamroll and run roughshod over the interests of individuals.

So anytime you hear somebody advancing some position in the name of the "common good" which however does not take into account the good of individuals, or which advances only the interests of one set of individuals at the expense of, or in disregard of, those of others...then the common good is not really being advanced.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Open Borders: Not a Catholic Doctrine

St. Thomas Aquinas: smarter than the rest of us
put together.
The impression is being created and fostered that, in order to be a truly good and great country, we must, at all costs, take in all who want to come here, no questions asked.  Many bishops and clergy seem to be on board with that view.  For this, and for a whole host of other reasons, it would seem that the Summa Theologiae is no longer required reading in Catholic seminaries.  But despite being a dead white Western male, and a member of the oppressive Catholic hierarchy into the bargain, the Angelic Doctor does have one or two illuminating things to say that are pertinent to the question of open borders.

Before we get to Aquinas, a couple of observations are in order.  First of all, when the rubber meets the road, virtually nobody really believes in open borders.  How many people would like to dissolve the borders of their own real estate holdings?  How many allow all and sundry into their residences?  How many open-borders advocates go so far as to live in gated communities from which most even of their fellow Americans are excluded?  During the last days his administration, Barack Obama, a passionate unbeliever in borders for the rest of us, busied himself with building a big, brick wall around his post-presidential palace.  He also put an end to "wet foot, dry foot" for persons who manage to escape the workers' paradise of Cuba, proving that there are some categories of people that even he thinks we already have enough of in this country.

Secondly, the average person who supports restrictions on immigration is not an ogre who wants to turn our backs on persons in dire distress.  I for one support reinstatement of "wet foot, dry foot," and I deplored the forced repatriation, under Bill Clinton, of Elian Gonzales, whose mother died getting him to our shores.  I think persecuted Christians from Syria and Africa and Asia should be moved to the head of the refugee line.  I welcome persons who believe in what America stands for and want to come here to work hard and be a part of it, like my Italian great-grandparents at the turn of the last century.

But am I wrong?  Is it true that, in order to be a good Catholic, I must support a policy of flinging wide the doors of the country to let in all comers, regardless of who they are or where they came from, or what they believe, or whether they have a criminal history, or contagious diseases, or are violently mentally ill, and to grant them all the privileges and prerogatives of citizenship?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at paragraph 2241 says (emphases added):
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.  
Clearly, (1) the obligation to take in immigrants is not absolute, but must be balanced against the common good, and (2) immigrants owe duties toward their country of adoption.

Let's look at the Summa Theologiae, First Part of the Second Part, Question 105, Article 3 (ST I-II. Q.105 A.3).  Question 105 explains the judicial precepts of the Old Law.  As you read through Question 105, it becomes clear that the preservation of a nation is a good, and the Law was designed in part to effect that good.  In his Reply to Objection 3 in Article 2, Aquinas says, "...the regulation of possessions conduces much to the preservation of a state or nation," and explains that the reason for the law against permanently alienating real property "was to prevent confusion of possessions, and to ensure the continuance of a definite distinction among the tribes."  Article 3 of Question 105 explains the laws pertaining to foreigners.  Aquinas begins by noting that there are two kinds of relations with foreigners: peaceful and hostile, and the Law provided suitably for both kinds.  Then he lists the three opportunities Israel had to carry on peaceful relations with foreigners: when they traveled through the land; when they came to settle as newcomers; and when they wished to join their full fellowship and mode of worship.  In the first two cases, the Law commanded that they not be molested.  Be it noted that you will nowhere find Aquinas suggesting that this precept applied to troublemakers and disturbers of the peace.

In the third case, Aquinas observes, there was a certain order:
For they were not at once admitted to citizenship: just as it was law with some nations that no one was deemed a citizen except after two or three generations, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Polit. iii, 1). The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people. Hence it was that the Law prescribed in respect of certain nations that had close relations with the Jews (viz., the Egyptians among whom they were born and educated, and the Idumeans, the children of Esau, Jacob's brother), that they should be admitted to the fellowship of the people after the third generation; whereas others (with whom their relations had been hostile, such as the Ammonites and Moabites) were never to be admitted to citizenship; while the Amalekites, who were yet more hostile to them, and had no fellowship of kindred with them, were to be held as foes in perpetuity: for it is written (Exodus 17:16): "The war of the Lord shall be against Amalec from generation to generation."  [Emphasis added.]
So peaceful foreigners are not to be molested.  Nor, as Aquinas emphasizes, are men of any nation excluded from the worship of God and the things that pertain to the good of the soul.  The question is to what extent are they admitted into a nation's civil affairs.  Answer: not until they have the common good firmly at heart.  Foreigners, then, especially newly-arrived ones, are not deeply rooted enough in their adoptive country to become involved in its affairs; thus, as Aquinas notes in Article 1 of Question 105, the Law forbade the Israelites to choose a foreigner to be king, "because such kings are wont to take little interest in the people they are set over, and consequently to have no care for their welfare...."

And foreigners have no right to cause injury to their adoptive country or its people, any more than any one else has.  Under the old Law, some nations were to be excluded entirely from citizenship, on account of their hostility.  Aquinas:
But in temporal matters concerning the public life of the people, admission was not granted to everyone at once, for the reason given above: but to some, i.e. the Egyptians and Idumeans, in the third generation; while others were excluded in perpetuity, in detestation of their past offense, i.e. the peoples of Moab, Ammon, and Amalec. For just as one man is punished for a sin committed by him, in order that others seeing this may be deterred and refrain from sinning; so too may one nation or city be punished for a crime, that others may refrain from similar crimes.
From the talk these days about immigration, one gets the impression that the rights are supposed to all be on the immigrant side of the ledger, and the obligations all on the nation side.  But the Catholic Church teaches otherwise.  Nations have rights as well as obligations, and immigrants have obligations as well as rights, and these must all be rightly ordered for the sake of the common good.  A nation has the right to self-preservation, and to grant citizenship only to those who have the common good firmly to heart.  Gratitude imposes on immigrants the obligation to respect the law and the culture of their adoptive country.  If they don't, the state has the duty not to tolerate disorders for the sake of the people's welfare.

Those of us who want strong borders believe that our distinctive American culture (as distinguished from foul, rotten pop culture), founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs, is worth preserving.  We want our lives and our property to be protected from people who mean us harm.  We want to preserve the value of citizenship, and to not have its benefits diluted by conferring them on persons who are not entitled to possess them.  We want to help people in need, to the extent possible, but we want them to be willing to fulfill the duties of immigrants to their adoptive country.

None of which is contrary to the Christian faith, as the Catechism and St. Thomas Aquinas seem to indicate.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Dress Like Women

Melania Trump: dressed like a woman.
Donald Trump's latest ourtage against women, minorities, God, country, truth, justice and the American way: he allegedly requires his female staffers to "dress like women" at work.

You were waiting for the punch line?  That was it.

Believe it or not, dress codes are a staple of American life.  Schools have dress codes.  A lot of work places have dress codes, and not just the places where you have to wear a uniform.  Churches used to have dress codes, back before they started caring about being "relevant."  There are restaurants where they won't let you in if you're not wearing a tie.  There was a time, still within living memory, when people actually dressed up to fly on an airplane.  

I personally hate getting dressed up; but I have to admit, dress codes are a necessity.  Why?  Because an awful lot of people out there are lazy slobs, just like me.  The proof is all around us, especially in a casual state like the one I live in.  I see it at the courthouse every day.  You'd think that, of all places, a courthouse would be a bastion of solemnity and sobriety and formality, and maybe in some places, it is.  You'd think persons who are in trouble with the law would be, well, scared, and wanting to put their best foot forward to convince the judge not to send them to jail.  You'd think that, if you didn't happen to work in the system.  The reality is that many of the people who have business at the courthouse are there so often that they are as comfortable there as they are in their own living room -- or their friend's living room, if they happen to be couch-surfing.  A few people are scared, and do try to put their best foot forward, and do put on a suit and tie.  Others are working stiffs and couldn't get off the construction site or landscaping job early enough to shower and change before court.  But many show up in hooker heels with their boobs popping out of tight, see-through blouses; or looking -- and smelling -- like they just crawled out of a dumpster; or wearing shirts with pictures of marijuana leaves or obscene hand gestures; or -- so help me -- in pajama bottoms.

To return to the Telegraph story: I doubt seriously its suggestion that Trump has greater expectations of his female staffers than his male ones when it comes to appearances, or that he somehow imposes his tastes on the women in ways that he doesn't on the men.  Trump is generally a stickler for cleanliness and neatness.  He's made no bones about the fact that he likes looking at beautiful women.  But he's also commented in his books on the impression well-dressed men have made on him in business dealings.  Donald Trump has written at length about his business dealings and his business philosophies, and it's pretty clear that appearance is not in fact the number one quality he values in other people, particularly when it is not backed up by substance.

Still, there is no getting around the fact that, while they are not the be-all and end-all, appearances do matter, and how you present to the outside world, and how you represent your organization, does matter.  As a man of business, Trump understands this.  It is undeniable that people do judge you and what you represent based on your appearance.  This is where the word "counselor" in my title of "counselor at law" takes on a special meaning.  I have to counsel my clients on their appearance before the court, and especially before a jury.  I have to remind them that appearances do matter, and that how they present themselves creates an impression how seriously they take their situation.  I have to advise them to show up to their jury trial dressed like a citizen -- and I use the word "citizen," to try to convey something of the civic ceremony and solemnity and seriousness and dignity of the process they are involved in.  They don't need to put on a $2,000 three-piece suit; but they do need to be clean and neat and conservative-looking.  Whether they like it or not, they are testifying every minute they sit in front of the jury, even if they never take the stand.  I have never had a client appear in front of a jury in pajama bottoms; and, with the help of God's grace, I never intend to.

Of course, for purposes of his critics, it really doesn't matter what Trump does or says.  If his female staffers went around looking slovenly and slatternly, the media would be getting on his case for hiring people who didn't get the dignity of their position.  As it is, since there is no greater evidence of male chauvinist piggery than expecting women to meet high standards, Trump is being portrayed as a lout and a boor for allegedly telling his female staffers to "dress like women."  Assuming those are his actual words, I think I get what he's driving at.  All his staffers reflect on him, and he wants them to reflect well on him.  Every boss wants that of his people.  He wants them to look dignified and conservative and to show that they are adults and take their work seriously, women included.  He may very well even want them to project excellence for their own sakes.

And to shine all the brighter by contrast with certain other females.

Not dressed like a woman.  Admit it: you don't
want to have to look at this every day any more
than Donald Trump does.