Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Flesh is Willing, But the Spirit is Weak: An Invitation to Black Friday Masses to Darken Better-Illumined Doors

“Land of the pilgrims’ pride,” why do you keep a vigil tonight? For a TV? The latest video game console? A toy for a dear child? Perhaps you have done this before: For tickets to a sporting event? Or a concert?

And what do you suffer for it? Biting cold. Sleep loss, Constant discomfort from standing in one spot for hours on end, not realizing you would become hungry? Do you enjoy the company of those in line with you? Will there be bruises and aggression when those doors finally open? Will your expectations be fulfilled, and if so, do you expect they will satisfy?

Here you are in the elements under the stars, in a quiet moment as you wait for an open door. Have you had a quiet moment since last year’s vigil? Does it not pull at your heart, that maybe there is something more?
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

It seems that you and we have contrary problems. Let me explain.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Flowchart: Shall I, a Catholic, Talk to the Media about the Catholic Church?

After watching debacle after disaster of episcopal interviews with the mainstream media and having to deal (along with my fellow laypeople) with the "fallout" of these things, I decided to take a couple of minutes to put my limited flowchart-making skills to the service of the Church.

This is likely about as close to infallible as I can get as a layman.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Need a Gift Idea for the Perpetual Student in Your Life?

For your career academic: While I usually don't do non-book product endorsements, I cannot begin to tell you how awesome this is a.) for reading comfortably at one's desk, b.) for annotating margins, and c.) for typing extended quotes. I bought one in August and love it. Don't know how I made it through 19 years of schooling without one. The perpetual student you know would thank you forever.

KLOUD City - Wood bookstand iPad holder

A friend purchased this one, and it looks awesome, too.



I suppose one could also use it to hold cookbooks. Note the great reviews.

You're welcome!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cardinal Burke, like the saints before him, walk upon the narrow path

If you have 90 seconds to spare, be sure to go sign this petition of thanks to Cardinal Burke for his many years of exemplary service to the Church. Sign here.

My thoughts are as follows.

Friday, November 7, 2014

You are going to be judged, so let’s put to rest the whole ‘judgmental’ narrative

So I stumbled across the Oatmeal’s smear of Catholicism, and of religion in general. One would think I would learn my lesson about stumbling (particularly into 2-year-old oatmeal). True to form, oatmeal done well can be a pleasant (albeit inferior) breakfast thing, but bad oatmeal is a bottomless bowl of misery and loathing. Well, it didn't sit too well in my stomach, and now you will have to deal with my consequent logorrhea.

In thinking about the popularity of this line of thought, it occurred to me that one of the great crises of today is that people do not have hope for eternal life. Why else would one post such drivel as,



“Does [your religion] help you cope with the fact that you are a bag of meat sitting on a rock in outer space and that someday you will DIE and you are completely powerless, helpless and insignificant in the wake of this beautiful cosmic [expletive]storm we call existence?  Does it help with that? Yes? Excellent! Carry on with your religion! *Just keep it to your [expletive] self.”

No. Not possible for Catholics. And Catholics who think it’s possible are doing Catholicism wrongly. Therefore, I thought I’d write the most judgmental thing I can muster.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Catholic Church and Homosexuality--So you think you know what the Church teaches, eh?

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church."

This rings true to anyone who confesses the Catholic faith, which is why we quote it so often.

In the 21st century, one could, along the lines of the someday-to-be-canonized saint's thought, reformulate that in any number of specific ways. Here is one: There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality.

Well, what does the Catholic Church actually teach about homosexuality?

I would challenge anyone who has anger or who formerly had anger toward the Catholic Church about this issue to answer three questions:


  1. Where did you first hear the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality? (e.g., a newspaper? Catholic schoolteacher? Family member? Priest?)
  2. What did your source actually say?
  3. (Don't answer this question until you have answered the first two...) How does that compare to a careful reading of paragraphs 2357-2359 in this link?


I am genuinely interested in your responses. Feel free to use the combox below if you wish.

There's no shame in having an erroneous assumption about what a group of people believes; there is only shame in refusing to let go of that assumption.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Will the Next Synod on the Family Shift Its Attention ... to the Family?

The Synod on the Family of 2014 was like a big family fight. Prima facie, it appeared to be a divisive mess. Fortunately, we are only at the half-way point, and there is time for some regrouping and redirection. The Church is a family, and families learn from their failures, say sorry, offer their forgiveness, and grow. The Church can do the same.

The enduring document of the first part of the synod, the Relatio post disceptationem, had an all-too-Western problem: too much focus on controversial doctrine. It cannot change, but instead should be embraced for the anchor that it is in stormy times. Since the Church's teaching on homosexuality is already well-established in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and since the need for the faithful to respond with charity toward people struggling with same sex attraction is already quite clear in the Church's doctrine, and since Sacred Scripture is quite clear concerning the sinfulness of adultery, I suggest that the synod on the family that convenes next year shift its focus: to the family.

In that regard, I offer some suggested starting points for the next synod on the family:

  1. African bishops speak and Western bishops listen. Witchcraft, for instance, is a serious problem for the family in Africa. Do we care? We should. We are also in the body (cf. Hebrews 13:3). How do African bishops respond to witchcraft? How can we perceive its growing influence in our culture? That would be useful for the West to know. If I were a Western prelate, I would like to ask one of the African bishops, “Can you really trust a Satanist who says he is giving you back a stolen consecrated host?” 
  2. Edify the nuclear family. This is a synod on the family. Yes, more in this regard, please. Recognize the reality that war is all around us in both East and West, and that the nature of those problems vary depending on the culture, but that there is war on the family everywhere.
  3. Concerning homosexuality, I suggest that the synod be more realistic about the cultural attacks against the faithful, rather than offer platitudes such as “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation.” How can bishops and priests present a unified response to the threats posed to local churches when the radical gay agenda attacks parishes, Catholic schools, small business owners, and families legally (as happens in America and Europe) or with violence (as happens in South America).
  4. Regarding annulment, clearly there is need for reform of this process (as one can see in paragraphs 43-44 of the Relatio). Dioceses have different processes, some more excruciating than others. A meaningful reform of the annulment process could ensure consistency and efficiency. The synod should also focus on equipping pastors with the words to inspire sacrifice for those who are in irregular unions. The synod should further instruct pastors on how to advise the faithful to accept the decision of canon lawyers if the decision is that the first union is the marriage. The Church should also solve the problem of the lengthy administrative process. It should not take a decade to determine the validity of a marriage. A major starting point for reform could be preventative—instruct pastors to be more forthright with Catholics who are entering into high-risk unions (this seems to be reflected in the paragraphs 34-35 of the Relatio).
  5. How to strengthen the faith within families, empowering fathers and mothers to take a more leading role—as primary catechists—in the religious instruction of their children. The children, who are all too often forgotten as the fundamental good of married love. The Church should embrace more subsidiarity in religious instruction, shifting its focus to adult catechesis so that more religious instruction can take place in the home.
  6. Here’s a big topic: the family and the other sacraments. This has been a point on which Pope Francis has been outspoken. How often do the bureaucratic matters postpone the reception of the sacraments! This is a serious problem in the United States, where RCIA programs are often two or three years long. In other places, the order of the reception of the sacraments of initiation has been changed from the traditional baptism-confirmation-Eucharist. Placing confirmation after Eucharist needs to justify itself theologically and pastorally, and it does not appear to do so in either case. Is it not perhaps time to consider smoothing out the process for entry into the mystical body for those interested in conversion, and restoring the order of the sacraments of initiation for the benefit of the young?
  7. Our little ones are good, and we've gotten this look. ...
    ... and this one.
    'You aren't breastfeeding at Mass?!'
    Finally, it is obvious that some of the bishops are in the mood to do something really audacious. These appetites must be satisfied, I suppose. Very well. How about a scalding rebuke of those folks who give a merciless look to young families or even single moms who bring their kids to Mass? At least something in the next synod text addressing pedantic bloggers, who, as though they were the vox populi, clamor that the only place for a child is the cry room (good luck teaching good Mass behavior there). Now if we want to do something for the ostracized, how about a word of encouragement and welcome for parents of little ones. It seems abundantly clear that if one is a sinner, such a one is invited to come to Mass. It should be so. But what about those sinners who have no actual sin? Are they welcome? And their parents? Are they welcome too, even if the little ones are a bit noisy? Pope Francis says they are welcome. Perhaps this is where the language of “accepting and valuing” might be better applied here by the next synod.  

When a little one makes some noise, the parent probably feels something like this (watch from 2:06-2:48):

Well, if you have a noisy little one, you are most welcome in my pew. I accept and value you. Speaking of noisy pews, one of my little ones once made a few big noises during the consecration a while ago. What was amazing was that she timed the double movement to concur with the elevation of the host and then that of the chalice. If only there had been bells! She would not have been noticed (except by me, who was holding her). Such is life, but I was really embarrassed. Someone looked at me and smiled genuinely, and I really appreciated it, and off I went for the clean-up. Sometimes, the necessities of married life, too, cause one to abstain from communion, as I did on that day.

I digress. Back to the synod. I hope that the prelates of the Church consider the media’s ability to communicate their message over the last 50 years, and that they consider the effects those distortions have had. If they cling to Christ’s Gospel on marriage and family, all will be well. If they try to be innovative, their work and ours becomes harder.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Great John Paul II quote from class today ...

Brief post today:

Dr. Waldstein discussing the fairness (i.e., beauty) of love shared this with us, and it is from John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope:


"As a young priest I learned to love human love. This has been one of the fundamental themes of my priesthood-my ministry in the pulpit, in the confessional, and also in my writing. If one loves human love, there naturally arises the need to commit oneself completely to the service of "fair love," because love is fair, it is beautiful."After all, young people are always searching for the beauty in love. They want their love to be beautiful. If they give in to weakness, following models of behavior that can rightly be considered a "scandal in the contemporary world" (and these are, unfortunately, widely diffused models), in the depths of their hearts they still desire a beautiful and pure love. This is as true of boys as it is of girls. Ultimately, they know that only God can give them this love. As a result, they are willing to follow Christ, without caring about the sacrifices this may entail."

Too good not to share. Pass it along. This is what is authentic. This is what young people truly want, rather than alluring but unsatisfactory and false forms.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Life Update: How you can help me in the meanwhile (please share)

Happy feast of St. Augustine to all. I just finished reading City of God this month. Here is a brief quote from it:


"But that grief which arises in the hearts of the pious, who are persecuted by the manners of bad or false Christians, is profitable to the sufferers, because it proceeds from the charity in which they do not wish them either to perish or to hinder the salvation of others. Finally, great consolations grow out of their chastisement, which imbue the souls of the pious with a fecundity as great as the pains with which they were troubled concerning their own perdition. Thus in this world, in these evil days, not only from the time of the bodily presence of Christ and His apostles, but even from that of Abel, whom first his wicked brother slew because he was righteous, and thenceforth even to the end of this world, the Church has gone forward on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God."
St. Augustine, City of God, Book XVIII, Ch. 51


Continued from yesterday's post...

I Need Your Help
As I begin my studies and crunch the numbers financially, it’s difficult to see how this is all going to work out. Every penny of my stipend will be spent on rent. Books for this semester alone cost about $500. Moving across the country cost us about $5,000. And groceries are quite expensive for anyone who refuses to feed one's children that highly processed, cheap junk that will only make them unhealthy. More student loans are on the horizon, yet I know it will all work out because God is provident. My wife and I have had many patrons of our studies: my mom and dad, her mom and dad, siblings, grandparents, former professors, friends, and those many who hold us up in prayer. I would like to invite you to also become a patron of my studies. My pledge to you is that I will always be faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. I have already sworn an oath in this regard before my first year of teaching at Saint Joseph Academy. An oath is permanent; may God grant me the grace always to be faithful.

(I am not asking you to support us by giving us money. I know that times are difficult and there are those in the world who are in greater need of money. If you do wish to help me acquire the tools of the trade, I have on the right column a link to my Amazon theology wish list; that would be most helpful and most appreciated, but I would still prefer you buy a goat for some poor family.)

What I want to ask of you, dear reader, is this: If you know someone who needs tutoring help, please consider referring him or her to me using the links below. St. Paul was a tentmaker; many of the apostles, fishermen; I’m a teacher. (I'm also a darned good cook, but I've yet to make it big.) I am trying to build my tutoring business through WyzAnt, and I am set up for online tutoring services. This means that I have a web cam, access to screen-sharing and document-sharing software, and can tutor any student anywhere in the nation; all the student needs is a mic on the computer. It's not easy to support a family via tutoring, but if I get enough students, it will work. If I can tutor one student, that helps us a lot. If I can tutor ten or more students regularly, that helps us all the more.

I can teach your son or daughter Greek or Latin, proper English grammar (do you know how neglected this subject is by modern education movements?), classical writing, geometry, and more. Have a foreign exchange student who is new to America and has never heard about God, but must pass her Catholic theology class? Does your child’s top college choice require SAT scores that seem out of reach? Do you yourself want to boost GRE scores for a master’s or Ph.D. program? Contact me through WyzAnt. Click on the link (wyzant.com/Tutors/biblicalgreek). Click here for a flyer as well. You could also email me at thecharcoalfire(at)gmail.com.

And if the answer to all those questions is “no” there yet remains two small things you can do for us. First, use those buttons below to share this post with your friends on social media. Second, and most important of all, pray for me. This is an exciting time for me and for my family. We are all happy and grateful to God for this unique opportunity, and I look forward to being at the service of the Church and the Magisterium for years to come.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Life Updated: Where I am going

Continuing from my previous post, I write now about the coming four years. Next week, I am beginning my first semester of Ph.D. studies at Ave Maria University. I am really excited for my classes over the next four years, under such erudite scholars as Drs. Michael Waldstein, Gregory Vall, Steven A. Long, Fr. Matthew Lamb, and more. The more I read of their work, the more confident I am that Ave Maria is the best place to study theology at the doctoral level in the United States. We are finally here. We arrived early this month.

Now, anyone who knows about Ph.D. applications and high school teaching understands my sparse blogging over the preceding months!

Photo courtesy of Cedar Point, allegedly a pilgrimage site for thrill-seekers.
The previous year was nothing short of the Millennium Force (pictured). Last summer, I drove across the country visiting a number of universities. When I returned, I had a message from Dr. Vall asking me to reapply to Ave Maria’s Ph.D. program. I also submitted an article to the academic journal Nova et Vetera, which was accepted and is forthcoming (I will post an update when I find out its publication date). I retook my GRE’s, bringing my scores up above the 90th percentile across the board. I also began my fifth year teaching high schoolers. Last fall, I embarked upon another round of Ph.D. applications, and I waited anxiously in the winter for responses. I caught a mid-February flight out for interviews at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. Though school was canceled for two days because of snow, the faculty and staff graciously came into the offices to interview me. It seemed like the Institute would be where I would be, but I still had no definite offers yet. Two weeks later, I found out that Notre Dame’s highly competitive History of Christianity program was out of the question, and by the next day, so was Duke University. That day, Tuesday, my wife and I were talking in my office, sharing our anxieties. Agnes, my (then) 2-year-old, toddled in and, standing between us, said, “Mama Mary has a surprise.” Indeed, how could we worry? God is provident.

Two days later, I received the good news via email; I had been accepted to Ave Maria with a full scholarship and a stipend for four years. In our joy, we remembered Agnes’s words. “Out of the mouth of babes,” no? The following day, by mail, I found out I had also been accepted to the John Paul II Institute’s program, full scholarship and stipend. Decisions! Would that I could bilocate! Well, after an extensive comparison of the programs, I knew that Ave Maria—everything: faculty, coursework, resources, et cetera—was the best fit for my theological interests. I’m not so crazy about mosquitos, gators, and snakes, but I do love the daily storms, particularly after living in “boringly beautiful” Southern California.

Well, back to that roller coaster, Southern California is not so boring, especially during the drought of the century. Pray for rain. In May, my exit off the 5 became a nationally followed hashtag, and not in a good way. The #PoinsettiaFire, put a lot of things in perspective.
You will notice the embedded tweet, which shows the fire’s direction. The evacuation zone was one mile east of our apartment. That “wind” arrow: pointed right at us. When the fire was devouring acreage, I was stuck in San Juan Capistrano, 40 miles from my family, and all I could think about was getting home to them. That night, we did a precautionary evacuation and stayed with some friends who were gracious hosts for us. Several other dear families offered to host us as well. Officials later said that they thought the fire would burn all the way to the coast, but the next day, we mercifully got a change in wind direction, and so the fire was quickly brought into containment, thanks to the hard work of the firefighters. Sadly, one homeless person perished in the blaze. May his soul rest in peace.

Top: View of the Pacific from the 1. Dude!
Bottom: Totally by chance and too cool not to share. Do you see it?
Photos taken by the Clarkes
June brought an end to my three years at JSerra and one more visit up to Northern California to see my in-laws. (Don't worry, you two! We'll be back!) On the way back, ‘why drive down the 5,’ we thought, ‘when we can take the glorious 1? When will we have this chance again?’ We drove back down the 1 and camped in Big Sur, which was my daughters’ first camping experience. Agnes still likes to tell the story of how in the middle of the night, we were awakened to a “crinkle, crinkle,” and, after I shined the light out of the tent, what did I see, but a “smunk”! He stuck his tail straight up and … then he walked away. Learned my lesson about leaving the trash bag out. How did I not notice? Rookie. If you see Agnes any time soon, she will tell you this story.

The highlight of the summer, though, was finding out that we are expecting Baby Clarke no. 3, due in February!

By mid-July, I had finished my recordings for the Biblical Greek class I’m teaching at JP Catholic. We packed up the van and set the trip meter to “0.” (I cannot believe how expensive it is to move one’s belongings across the country.) We rented a relocation pod, packed it to the top, packed the van full, and sold or gave away the rest. The Scriptures say, “There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). I think this may have been a copyist’s omission; the original may have also added, “Nay, more than this, there is a friend who helps pack and clean during moving week.”

One more to come tomorrow ...