Saturday, May 23, 2009

Conversion: Newt Gingrich Opens Up

G.K. Chesterton once said: “Marriage is an adventure, like going to war.” Conversion, however, is in itself the act by which one enters into a marriage to God and afterwards a life of constant spiritual warfare against sin in its many forms. In the world, man is tempted towards the sins of greed and anger while easily tempted by pride and envy, the sins of the devil. Lastly, the weakness of flesh can lead one to a life of gluttony and lust.

Newt Gingrich has faced the temptations of these kinds during his many years of public office but has found new strength in the Catholic Church.

Oddly enough, his entry into the Church only began to happen after he left public office ten years ago when he served as House Speaker. His wife, Callista, said it was “ten years in the making.” While Gingrich said that the “whole effort to create a ruthless, amoral, situational ethics culture has probably driven me toward a more overt Christianity,” it was “over the course of the last decade, attending the basilica ... reading the literature, that there was a peace in my soul and a sense of wellbeing in the Catholic Church…”

Some may not know this, but Newt Gingrich is a professor of history and I had a suspicion that the history of the Catholic Church played some role in his entry into the Church. He went on to say that his initial move towards Catholicism occurred “the first time we [he and his wife] went to St. Peter’s [Basilica] together. It’s St. Peter’s. I mean, you stand there and you think this is where St. Peter was crucified. This is where Paul preached. You think to yourself, two thousand years ago the apostles set out to create a worldwide movement by witnessing to the historic truth they had experienced. And there it is. The last time we were there we were allowed to walk in the papal gardens and you get this sense that is almost mystical.”

And that’s the thing about Catholicism. Its roots are tied in history to the first century and beyond – to Jesus and the apostles, to the first martyrs, and the great saints and theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and St. Athanasius. So many Christians today have missed the continuity of their faith and can look back only so far as the 16th Century to protesters from Luther to Zwingly, from Calvin to Wesley.

Very few can give a solid reason for their faith.

Not surprisingly Gingrich said: “…part of me is inherently medieval. I resonate to Gothic churches and the sense of the cross in a way that is really pre-modern.” Okay, so one doesn’t have to be “medieval” to be a Catholic, but that period is the period in which the Catholic Church invented the university system, laid one of the oldest legal codes known to man, and literally rebuilt civilization on God and faith after the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. Not bad.

That being said, while the media and Gingrich himself have described his joining the Catholic Church a “conversion” he has, however, lost nothing of his Christianity in becoming Catholic. It seems to me that each Protestant denomination took an element of the Catholic Faith and ran with it. In Newt’s case, his Baptist background is quite Jesus-centered and Bible-based. In joining the Catholic Church, however, he has found the Christo-centric nature of the sacraments (especially the Eucharist) and even in Marian dogmas (Mary is, after all, only so important because she is the mother of Jesus, the God-Man). As to the Bible, the Catholic Church is the one that wrote it, compiled it, and declared which books belonged in it.

There is, however, a constant conversion that one experiences throughout life. To this I would say Newt did make a large conversion in his joining the Catholic Church. He lost nothing but gained so much and become much more Christ-like in the process. And if becoming more Christ-like is the definition of furthering conversion, he experienced quite a conversion.

In conclusion, Newt Gingrich only discovered faith in a loose sense during the late 1960’s. Prior to this he found himself leaning towards a more liberal agenda. In one anecdote, he said: “As a college student at Emory when the Supreme Court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional [in 1963] after 170 years of American history, I didn’t notice it. As a graduate student at Tulane I probably would have said it’s a good decision. I’ve now had an additional 40 years to think about it. And I think about the world of my grandchildren. I don’t think American children are healthier, safer, and better off today than they were in 1963. So I have actually become more conservative in response to the failure of the liberal ethos to solve problems.”

During forty years as a Christian with many ups and downs, I can only wonder what his life and political decisions will be like as a new Catholic. Good luck Newt.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Non-Catholics Discover Catholic Culture in Angels & Demons

While movie Angels & Demons, the prequel/sequel to The Da Vinci Code, isn't drawing the kind of attention that its predecessor did, it nevertheless proves to be another anti-Catholic chapter of Dan Brown's series. While I personally have not read the book (it is, however, on my bookshelf next to my well-read and highlighted copy of The Da Vinci Code) I know enough to disagree with certain aspects of it.

Below is an interesting interview that actually points out something I ran into over the weekend: Angels & Demons can be used as a means to bring people into contact with the rich history, culture, and customs of the Catholic Faith. In a certain way, it seems that people can find themselves drawn to and given some interesting eduction on Catholic customs, art, and the like.

In other words, Dan Brown's theology and (most) history are disasters, but the beauty of the Catholic Faith seems to break through anyway!

So please read on for an interview with an Opus Dei priest and expert on all things Dan Brown regarding the new scandal and its interesting side-effects.

Dan Brown and the Catholic Church
Interview With Father John Wauck
By Jesús Colina

ROME, MAY 17, 2009 ( Despite the large number of errors regarding Catholicism that can be found in the movie "Angels and Demons," the interest in the movie demonstrates an even greater interest in the Church, says Opus Dei priest Father John Wauck.

Father Wauck, who is a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and the author of the blog "The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei." His course "A Mirror on the Soul" was aired on EWTN as a 13-part television series.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Wauck discusses the movie "Angels and Demons," the film adaptation of Dan Brown's novel of the same name. The film opened this weekend and is the sequel to the "The Da Vinci Code."

Q: Do you think Dan Brown has a certain fixation with the Catholic Church?

Father Wauck: Sometimes I wonder: Where would Dan Brown be without the Catholic Church? Almost all the interesting things in his novels come from their Catholic setting. Obviously, people aren't being attracted by the cardboard characters and bad dialogue. That's why the main effect of "The Da Vinci Code" wasn't a decrease in religious belief or practice, but rather a sharp increase in tourism to Rome ... and the Louvre.

Dan Brown's trying to sell books by offering a "cocktail" of history, art, religion and mystery, and, in today's world, there seems to be only one place where he's able to find all those things together: in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, he's cashing in on the culture of the Church.

If you're fascinated by history, beauty, and sacred mysteries, it's hard not to be fascinated by the Church. Standing in St. Peter's Square, you've got, within a few hundred yards, a Roman necroplis, an ancient Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome by Caligula, the tomb of St. Peter, the site of the assassination attempt on his successor Pope John Paul II, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta by Michelangelo, the Raphael Rooms, Bernini's colonnade, the world's greatest basilica, and pilgrims from around the globe. And this isn't a museum. It's a living reality that puts us in direct contact with 20 centuries of history -- from ancient times to today. What more could a novelist like Dan Brown ask for? It's certainly hard to find anything like it in suburban America, where most of his readers live.

If Dan Brown seems fascinated by the Catholic Church, he's definitely not alone. The number of pilgrims in Rome these days is at record levels. They come to see Rome and listen to Benedict XVI. And the interest isn't mere curiosity. At Easter this year, in the United States, over 150,000 adults entered the [Catholic] Church.

Q: Do you think the Vatican's decision to not allow filming in the churches of Rome an unfavorable gesture directed toward the producers?

Father Wauck: I've lived in Rome for 14 years now, and I've never seen a Hollywood film crew in a church. As a general rule, no commercial films -- no matter how pious -- are filmed in the churches of Rome. You couldn't film "The Ten Commandments" in a Roman church! Naturally enough, no exception was made for "Angels and Demons." They were treated just like everyone else. End of story. Anything beyond that is hype from the movie's publicity department.

Q: "Angels and Demons" presupposes a natural hostility between the Christian faith and modern science. What do you think about this?

Father Wauck: It's relatively easy for people to see that a lot of the great art of the Western World -- music, painting, sculpture, literature, architecture -- is the product of a Christian culture, often inspired by the faith or even funded by the Church. That seems obvious. But what people don't realize is that something similar is true of the sciences.

Think about it. Universities are an invention of the [Catholic] Church. Copernicus was a Roman Catholic cleric, and he dedicated his book on the heliocentric universe to the Pope. The calendar we use today is the Gregorian Calendar, because it was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII, who was working with the best astronomers and mathematicians of his time. Galileo himself always remained a Catholic, and his two daughters were nuns. One of the greatest Italian astronomers of the 19th century was a Jesuit priest, Angelo Secchi. The father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a Catholic monk. The creator of the "Big Bang" theory was a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre.

In short, the idea that there is some natural tension between science and the Church, between reason and faith, is utter nonsense. Nowadays, when people hear the words "science" and "the Church," they immediately think of Galileo's trial in the 1600s. But, in the larger scheme of things, that complex case -- which is frequently distorted by anti-Catholic propagandists -- was a glaring exception. There's a reason why critics of the Church are always bringing it up: It's the only example they've got. So, when we hear the words "science" and "the Church," we should think Copernicus, Secchi, Mendel and Lemaitre. They're representative. Galileo's trial is not.

Q: Is there an aspect of the book that you have found interesting?

Father Wauck: Yes. There's a scene in the novel when the hero, Professor Langdon of Harvard University, suddenly finds himself in front of St. Peter's Basilica, and the thoughts that go through his head at that moment -- in the novel, he's the voice of scientific authority -- sound like an advertisement for Roman Catholicism. It's hard to tell whether we're reading Dan Brown or the Catholic catechism! This is the passage:

"Peter is the rock. Peter's faith in God was so steadfast that Jesus called Peter 'the rock' -- the unwavering disciple on whose shoulders Jesus would build his Church. On this very location, Langdon realized -- Vatican Hill -- Peter had been crucified and buried. The early Christians built a small shrine over his tomb. As Christianity spread, the shrine got bigger, layer upon layer, culminating in this colossal basilica. The entire Catholic faith had been built, quite literally, upon St. Peter. The rock." (Angels and Demons, Chapter 118)

As advertising goes, it's not a gigantic billboard in Times Square. But still, it's not too bad.

Q: Don't you think that by talking about the movie we are giving it free publicity?

Father Wauck: You mean: Who's publicizing whom here? Good question. It probably works both ways, but, considering the time, energy, and millions of dollars spent to make and publicize this movie, I'd say that we're getting the better part of the deal! Maybe God's getting a kick out of using Hollywood to draw some people's attention to the riches of Catholic faith and culture.

Having said that, I should add that I have no intention of wasting my time and money by going to see the movie. The reviews of "The Da Vinci Code" movie -- made by the same crew -- were scathing enough to make anyone want to skip this one.

Friday, May 15, 2009

President of Notre Dame Pro-Abortion?

In a recent article from, it would appear that Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame sits on the board of directors for the Millennium Village project and uses his position to direct Notre Dame monies to fund the project. This organization says that its goal is to help reduce poverty in Africa in part by creating their villages where abortions and contraceptives are available to the public. But as Catholicism teaches, and as Patrick Reilly (President of The Cardinal Newman Society) points out, "Any Catholic university that supports a program to reduce poverty by eliminating poor children has a serious problem. No Catholic should be taking a leadership role in an effort that distributes contraception or promotes abortion."

This is again another disgusting element of the already sickening scandal rocking the Christian world. Fighting poverty is a good thing - but doing so by killing the poor is vile. Where's the social justice in that? How is that helping the poor? What's worse are programs rising in India, China, and Scandinavia in which racial and gender-based abortions are acting as the new genocide in an attempt to breed the "best" humans. Isn't that just what Hitler was doing? Most people don't know this, but Hitler was loved by one certain American: the founder of Planned Parenthood. But beyond abortion, other countries are seeing a steep decline in their population from both abortion and contraceptives. Italy, a "Catholic" country, has the lowest birth rate in the world. Experts say by 2050 there may be no Italians left as the country will be replaced by immigrants - mostly Muslims from Africa.

The Islamic world, by the way, has an average birth rate of 8.1!

But I believe the root problem of all this is that "Christians" are losing their root in the Gospel. Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical called Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life) - because that's exactly what the Gospel is. When Christians turn away from life in all its forms, they lose their own Christianity. St. Paul tells us in Ephesians that husbands are supposed to love their wives as Jesus loved the Church. But how did Jesus love the Church? He laid down his life for her to make her holy. In other words, love is shown in life-giving, self sacrifice.

Our modern world, however, believes only in life-taking selfishness.

It's sad Christians are falling for that worldview. But it does make sense why Christians abort, contracept, divorce, and commit substance abuse at about the same rate as non-Christians - because at this point, there's really no difference between an average "Christian" and a non-Christian. This is how nominalism is killing the faith in America. "Nominal" Christians are simply people who call themselves Christians but do not live Christianity. Nominal comes from the Latin word "nomina" which means name. Thus nominal Christians are Christian in name only.

(By the way, denominationalism amongst Christianity, means "from the name" and is thus the reason why Catholicism is not a denomination. Catholicism is the name from which Protestant denominations derive.)

In conclusion, I just want to point out something that theologian Christopher West said recently. West is a scholar on Pope John Paul II's theology of the body in which the pope sought to synthesize the positive aspects of modern sexuality with the Gospel while not succumbing to the evils that have arisen in the past 50 years. In this particular quote, West notes the division that has taken place between faith and reason (which has particularly happened in politics!). Most people think that that theology has little practical importance - but just see how the fact that "God is love" affects the entirety of our lives:

"The problem is we have kicked God out of the bedroom. Do the math on that. If God is love, and we kick him out of the bedroom, then what's going on in your bedroom? It ain't love."

So true. Apparently Fr. Jenkins doesn't believe this - and that's exactly why he shouldn't be running Notre Dame.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An Open Letter on Notre Dame

Pope Benedict praised and warned us a year ago when he said: “It strikes me as significant that here in America, unlike many places in Europe, the secular mentality has not been intrinsically opposed to religion. Within the context of the separation of Church and state, American society has always been marked by a fundamental respect for religion and its public role… [However] it is not enough to count on this traditional religiosity and go about business as usual, even as its foundations are being slowly undermined.”

The past year has unfortunately turned against Christianity time and time again.

In the news today, Maine is joining other New England states and Iowa in supporting gay marriage. This weekend we face an Obamanation of our most prestigious school and the following weekend Hollywood and their anti-Catholic media cronies release the sequel to the Da Vinci Code. Recently, an undercover priest spoke to a production official who said that Dan Brown, the author of the books, “often says that he would do anything to demolish that detestable institution, the Catholic Church… [which] is humanity’s chief enemy.”

This is what opposes us. It’s a propaganda machine that seeks to brainwash our family and friends, neighbors and countrymen into believing a lie. What we have seen in the last forty years, from abortion to the freefall in religious practice, has been described as an anti-miracle of the anti-Christ that has turned the wine of the Gospel into the wishy-washy water of psychobabble and good feelings.

But there is good news.

The bishops of the Church are coming around and now we have an open letter to both Father Jenkins (President of Notre Dame) and Obama regarding the issue (below). I very much hope that letters such as this and the whirlwind response of so many bishops against Obama speaking at Notre Dame will help foster a true Catholic identity in our churches and schools. The tables are against us, just as they were in 4th century Roman persecutions, just as they were in 732 at Tours, and just as they were in 1571 at Lepanto.

I truly believe the Notre Dame scandal will be the rallying cry for the bishops of the Church. More and more are realizing that cowering and allowing evil to thrive will never work! From the looks of it, if this were a game of no limit Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, the bishops are saying “All in.” One could argue that it’s quite the gamble, but a little hope in God, not Obama, will bring Christians a long way.

Here’s the letter:

This letter is addressed to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and to the president of Notre Dame University, Father John Jenkins. It is written in response to the fact that Father Jenkins has invited Barack Obama to be Notre Dame’s Commencement speaker on May 17, 2009, at which time the university will bestow on him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Father Jenkins, what you have done is in direct violation of the U.S. Bishops 2004 document on Catholics in Public Life, which states that Catholic institutions are not to bestow honors on, or provide speaking platforms to, anyone who stands in public opposition to the Church’s moral doctrines, particularly those which defend the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. The prestige that the president will lend to your commencement is not sufficient reason to disregard these principles. There are numerous prominent public figures distinguished for their moral rectitude and record of public service from which you could have drawn.

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged faithful Catholics to “do what you are supposed to be doing: to call, to email, to write letters, to express what’s in your heart about this.”

By now, you have already heard from dozens of bishops, presidents of other Catholic universities, numerous alumni, and well over a 325,000 people across the nation, speaking against the action you have taken. Surely their collective voice has made it clear that they consider your action to be scandalously inconsistent with Notre Dame’s symbolic mission to showcase how Catholic faith can positively influence modern life and culture. Why have you refused to meet with twelve university student groups, who have asked to talk with you about your choice?

I join my voice to this growing chorus of protesters, and I encourage Valley Catholics to express what is in their hearts to you, Father Jenkins, by calling you at (574) 631-5000, faxing you at (574) 631-2770, emailing you at, or mailing a personal letter to you at 400 Main Building, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

Father Jenkins, I pray that you use your office not only to maintain and enhance the academic excellence of the university, but also and above all to preserve and promote Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and mission.

Mr. Obama, I joined in our nation’s celebration of the historic significance of your election to the presidency, and did so with a glad heart. I support you fully in your efforts to assist our nation’s poor, and to improve our relations with other nations. In particular, I thank you for putting an end to harsh interrogation techniques that have rightly been classified in the past as torture. Such behavior is beneath our dignity as a nation; it is intrinsically wrong to subject any human being to torment simply on the utilitarian argument that good may possibly follow.

At the same time, I recognized that there is a deep divide between you and the majority of Americans on the paramount moral issue of our time: the right to life vs. the claimed right to abortion. A consistent ethic of life requires us to protect the sanctity of every human life from conception until natural death!

In the short time you have been in office, you have taken a number of steps that have been inconsistent with an ethic of life. You have rescinded the "Mexico City policy" and authorized the use of our tax dollars to fund international groups that promote abortion around the world. You have begun to eliminate the "conscience clause" that protects doctors and nurses from being forced to take part in abortions. You have provided federal funding for embryonic stem cell research that involves the killing of human beings at their embryonic stage of development.

You have renewed funding for the United Nations group (UNFPA) that helped China enforce its "one child" policy of forced sterilization and forced abortions. You promised to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act, which is meant to strike down every pro-life law enacted in the various states, including laws which require notification (but not consent) of the parents of a minor seeking an abortion, mandatory 24-hour waiting periods, mandatory dissemination of information on the physical and emotional risks a woman incurs in having an abortion, and the provision of information on alternatives to abortion.

Mr. President, less than 18 months ago, Pope Benedict XVI canceled a speaking engagement at La Sapienza University in Rome, simply because some of the students reacted negatively to the announcement of his coming. Rather than risk throwing the university into turmoil, the pope humbly withdrew. I respectfully ask you to consider freely withdrawing your commitment to speak at Notre Dame University, for the same reason.

I offer you my prayers, and I pledge my cooperation on all that you do to foster the well-being of our people and the good of the community of nations. I pray for peace and unity in our nation, conscious of the fact that we can never know peace or unity in a culture of death, but only in a culture that celebrates, promotes, and protects every human life at every stage of its development. I ask you not to exclude from the protection of law the most defenseless members of our national family – the unborn. May God grant you strength and wisdom to do the right thing.

+Bishop Raymundo J. Peña