Summer is a time for good reading, and there’s never enough time to read every good text. Still, as the days of summer come to an end, I want to warmly recommend two new books that are too worthy to ignore.
Some of the most common misperceptions of priestly celibacy are that it’s a deficiency or an unrealistic burden; or that a married priesthood would somehow solve the problem of clergy sexual abuse (no such evidence exists, and a married priesthood has its own sobering set of problems). But it’s quite true that the priest who lives his celibacy without a grounding in its proper meaning and spirit will be a lonely, unhappy man – and little use to his people.
In his book Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest (Emmaus Road Publishing; foreword by Scott Hahn), Father Carter Griffin does a superb job of making a case for “the profound renewal of the celibate priesthood and the fatherhood to which it is ordered.” Every human being has the hunger to create new life. Husbands and wives express that in their children. The fertility of a priestly life reflects and shares in the supernatural fatherhood of God.
Priests are therefore called to be real spiritual fathers to their people, transforming them with new life in Jesus Christ. Without that conscious, guiding sense of paternity, rooted in God’s own fatherhood, the life of a priest becomes little more than administrative tasks and sacramental dispensing.
Griffin has written a brief but rich and eloquent book on the value of celibacy. As he notes in closing, the “choice is not whether a priest should be a father. The choice is what kind of father he will be. On his choice depends the happiness of innumerable souls” – which is why this book is so important.
Meanwhile, as a nation, we’ve already begun another bitter election cycle. American politics have rarely seemed more fractured, our divisions run deep, and there’s no quick fix to problems we’ve behaved ourselves into. But that doesn’t license us as Christians to despair or become cynical. Each of our lives matters. Our efforts can make a difference. The renewal of our culture is possible. And this is exactly the message of Timothy Goegelein’s and Craig Osten’s excellent new book, American Restoration: How Faith, Family, and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation (Regnery Gateway).
Other authors have covered similar ground, but too often not so persuasively or well. What sets American Restoration apart is its combination of common sense logic, elegantly clear writing, and a sharp focus on essential themes: America’s founding principles; religious liberty; medicine and medical ethics; marriage and family; education; virtue; civility; citizenship and duty.
Especially striking (and culturally overdue, and very welcome) is a chapter on “Restoring the Concept of the Gentleman.” Forming young males to be Christian men ruled by prudence, courage, and a spirit of service and self-sacrifice is one of the most urgent needs of our confused culture. Bravo to Goegelein and Osten for addressing it.
Finally, in my own reading this summer, I’ve been revisiting the work of Romano Guardini, one of the great Catholic theologians of the last century and a key influence in forming the mind of Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.
In recent days I’ve been struck by a particular passage from Father Guardini’s chapter on “The Enemy” in one of his greatest works, The Lord. “There are moments,” he wrote, “when … the angels must deride and laughter peal through heaven at the stupidity into which the mighty, the cultivated, the intelligentsia falls when it becomes godless.” Or if not godless, blind to the nature of good and evil; blind to the reality of the devil.
So what’s this got to do with the price of bread?
Just this: Earlier this month the leader of a major Catholic religious order was reported as saying that Satan “exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.” True, his words may have been misinterpreted or taken out of context. But if so, it’s not the first time; he said much the same in 2017.
Jesus, of course, was rather explicit about the devil as a personal reality, having dealt with him firsthand, as the Gospels note. So is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So is Pope Francis. And so was Romano Guardini, who wrote in The Lord:
“Satan is no principle, no elementary power, but a rebellious, fallen creature who frantically attempts to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder.”
And again, Guardini, in The Faith and Modern Man:
“In reading the New Testament attentively, we come across a number of passages where Jesus refers to the Adversary of God and man — Satan. He speaks of him as the enemy of light and goodness, or the author of physical and mental disease, or He challenges him to open conflict. This fact has greatly embarrassed contemporary men, and they have tried — in so far as they have sought to hold on to Jesus at all — to eliminate from their mental picture all idea of Satan. They have evaded the troublesome words and acts, and have concentrated attention on the ‘purely spiritual-ethical’ aspects of the person and Gospel of Jesus, or they have stated plainly that belief in Satan belongs to a primitive mode of thought, or to a decadent time. What of this appears in Jesus is merely a survival from a past not wholly shaken off.
“But let us be perfectly clear on this point, for knowledge of the existence of spiritual beings, rebellious toward God and hostile to men, among them their ruler, Satan, belongs ineradicably to the picture of Jesus and to His consciousness of His mission. Without this consciousness, indeed, there is no Jesus.”
In a time of internal and external difficulties for the Church, it would be helpful — to put it kindly — for the leader of a major, global Catholic religious community to avoid creating havoc on matters of fundamental belief. It’s a simple request. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.
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