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Before I begin this post, I should probably start by saying that I am no authority on the subject.  If you find this post looking for advice on how to follow the Church’s teaching, I am not competent to give that.  Rather, the purpose of this post is to pose that very question: how may a Catholic work out the complex moral issues surrounding the “adoption” of frozen embryos.  The process itself is this: there are embryos which have been created, but not used, in the process of in-vitro fertilization.  Such embryos will either be discarded, used in research, kept frozen indefinitely, or “adopted” by couples or individual women who will implant the embryos and possibly bring them to term.

First, I will explain what many non-Catholic liberals think of “Snowflake” adoptions: the embryos are not people, and are therefore not adopted.  Rather they are purchased (which is, in fact, what happens legally).  Some of the more extreme sorts (who I read on the Daily Kos) seem to think Snowflake adoptions are a sinister plan by President Bush to reward Christian families with babies to indoctrinate, while denying children to gay couples (or something along those lines).  The arguments against Snowflake adoptions from non-Christian perspectives are normally utilitarian (we could use them for research!) or ideological (this is being done by the Christian Right!).

The arguments about it from the Catholic perspective are somewhat different.  I believe all faithful Catholics can acknowledge that creating embryos outside the act of sex inside of marriage is immoral.  The debate comes in when we discuss how to deal with the embryos that exist.  The Church has not spoken on the issue, though they have spoken on enough related issues that we can attempt to get the sense of what the Church would want us to do.  I have heard faithful orthodox Catholics arguing about this issue, and I will repeat the three positions that were raised in the discussion here (mind you, no one in my recent conversation took any of these positions fully, but I will present each position in its “purest form,” so to speak.)

One position taken was this: these embryos never should have been created in the first place.  To implant them in a woman who is not biologically connected with the embryo further seperates reproduction from sex (which is already one of the major problems with in-vitro).  Implanting them is also likely to result in them being treated as property, an overabundance being implanted, and soforth.  Leaving them frozen is contrary to their dignity as human beings, and it is not natural for human beings to exist for as long as a frozen embryo to exist.  Therefore, they should simply be destroyed and entrusted to God’s mercy.

Another position was the following: the embryos’ creation seperated the sexual act from reproduction, and implantation would further seperate the two.  Destroying the embryos would be an active killing of thousands of human individuals.  Therefore, they ought to simply be left frozen until they are destroyed either by natural deterioration or disaster.

A final position was that they should be available for implantation.  Destroying them and leaving them frozen are both contrary to human dignity, as is embryonic stem cell research.  Thus, women who chose to have them implanted, and especially families that raise the children, are doing the right and heroic thing.

Each position seems to have certain problems.  The first idea, to willingly destroy the embryos, has a fairly clear downside: namely, that we would be willingly destroying human beings.  I suppose it would serve to eliminate the danger of further seperating the sex act from reproduction, but it would also spell the destruction of embryos whose existance, while far from ideal, does not seem to constitute any kind of torture or even unpleasantness.

The second idea has the huge advantage of being passive: it does not constitute taking a sinful action.  Neither is it a sin of omission, as few would argue that women have a duty to adopt frozen embryos.  However, leaving these embryos in existance but frozen seems to be contrary to their nature, as they are suspended, unable to die or develope.

The third idea seems to rest on one crucial hinge, and one more minor one.  The crucial hinge is whether Snowflake adoption is seen as seperating the sexual act from reproduction, or whether the act of creating the embryos in the first place entirely caused that separation, and the adoptive mother is simply making the best of a bad situation.  One could make legitimate arguments either way, though I tend to think that the sin is in the creation of the embryo, and not its implantation.  The other problem is that often multiple embryos are implanted, usually far more than will likely be brought to term.  The reason this is a minor problem, in my mind, is that using either of the other alternatives the embryos will die without any chance to develop.  Perhaps this option accelerates their deaths, but it also gives them a chance.

I would be quite interested in anyone’s ideas or information on this issue.  My suspicion is that the Church will not speak on it: any interpretation the Church would take would be frought with the possibility of misunderstanding and deliberate misinterpretation.  If the Church sided with the first option (in my opinion the least likely), it would look like the Church out of every secularist’s nightmare, screaming “Sacrilege!” and destroying (babies/research opportunities).  If it were to chose the second option (which is essentially what it choses by not clarifying this issue) confusion would continue, and Catholics would act according to their individual consciences, but sometimes without considering the Church’s teaching at all.  If it were to chose the third, it would risk making it look like the Church approves of in-vitro now, and that a Snowflake-like plan can always exist just to keep things from getting out of hand.  Here the Church risks appearing too liberal, and seeming to approve of in-vitro in certain circumstances.

I welcome anyone’s opinions on this issue, especially if anyone has thought of an alternative theory to the ones above.  Again, I am no expert on the subject, so I am mostly looking to learn from those who might be.

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Short post: Do you ever wonder why people who seem like they should have no opinion one way or the other about the TLM seem sometimes to be bitterly opposed to it?  I have wondered, frequently, why it matters to liberals in the Church whether people who aren’t them go to a TLM.  I rarely hear anything from them along the lines of “the TLM is theologically wrong.  I want people to stop going to it so that their souls will not be in danger.”  Rather, the opposition comes usually from people who don’t care much about theological truth.  They often react more like angry barbarians attacking an old enemy that they thought was dead than like concerned Christians looking out for their brethren’s welfare.

(Note: I’m saying “people who dislike the TLM.”  As in those who want it suppressed.  Not merely those who don’t choose to attend it.)

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Last Sunday I went to the new Traditional Latin Mass in Pismo Beach.  It was the first mass I have been to that was started under the provisions of the motu proprio.  It was a very good Mass.  I had been to that parish before, and had not really seen it as a remarkable parish: it was good and all, but nothing out of the ordinary.  The fact that they now hold a weekly TLM shows the demand for it, even in a relatively low-population area and in a parish that is not already known a haven of traditionalists.  It seems that when the TLM is not overly limited, as it seems not to be under the new bishop of Monterey, there is real demand for it.

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All too often we traditionalists are accused of simple, and perhaps sinful, nostalgia.  Those who attend the TLM are said to be old people who can’t accept change, violent-minded Donatists, and perhaps most perplexing, as young fools who romanticize “the old days”.  I believe that these charges are mostly wrong, but also that the last one on this list is sufficiently interesting to examine.

It seems that whenever someone picks up an appreciation for anything about the past, he is reminded of the evils of the past.  “I like that old church there on the corner.  It’s beautiful” one might say to a liberal (or sometimes a modern-day conservative) friend, and recieve in response a lecture on the culture of sexism, racism, and oppression that produced it.  This might be true in some cases, and is probably untrue in most.  However, the fact is that the flaws of the past have no bearing on the good things of the past.  The TLM, furthermore, has existed through many different times.  We are praying today for salvation from the same sinfulness that plagued earlier people, and the TLM does an excellent job of showing this.  Thus, it seems to me strange and incorrect when someone portrays traditionalists as blindly trying to escape into a perfect past

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I keep coming to the same realization. It may seem strange that I would continuously have the same realization, but I think this is the best way to describe it, as you will see as I go on. The realization is quite simple, disturbingly accurate, and profoundly pessimistic. We have everything we need to live much better lives, and we ignore it and choose our own misery.

Few people like the way the world is today. This is not merely a matter for Traditional Catholics. Most Christians and even non-Christians seem to understand that the way we live is miserable. I have heard people, even people most deeply and ignorantly immersed in the greed, lust, and gluttony of modern culture, express a great desire to have what once existed. They are fascinated by the clothes, speech patterns, and lifestyle of an earlier time, one infused with Christian thought and general respect for tradition.

However, as a group these people do not do the obvious thing: live as if the world were how they want it. There are numerous excuses. The most prevalent, and the most easily refuted, is that “the world just doesn’t work that way.” The world works the way people work: when people actively ruin their own society, society is ruined. If everyone who wishes to dress nicely were to do so, society would not only go along with it, it would be society doing it! A similar case can be made with other “traditional” concerns: reverent liturgy, well-made products, small farming, healthy families, well designed cities, good schooling, and so on. All of these are considered difficult or even unfeasible today. However, the only reason for this infeasibility is that people deny themselves what they really want. Its a kind of sick asceticism: we deny ourselves things which we desire, because we feel they in some way cannot exist. It is a modernism of the worst sort: the modernism of people who profoundly wish they did not have to be modernists.

Another common objection is that there were problems in the past, and wishing to return to any kind of golden age is mere utopianism and nostalgia. However, this is not an objection at all. Any traditionalist merely wants to maintain and preserve good things. What was not good in the past can easily be replaced or improved, without throwing out the good aspects as we have done. Furthermore, this may be an argument against the past, but it makes no case for the present. If women were degraded by not being allowed to vote, does this justify degrading them with pornography? If some families were once terrorized by authoritarian fathers, is a modern family without a father good? If physical illness prevailed in the past, should we be pleased that spiritual illness prevails now?  This objection is thus not enough to keep us from having the kind of society where at least we may be somewhat happy.

I do not believe these excuses are true: I think it is fundamentally a matter of laziness.  People do not want the hardship of being different, of fighting for a livable society.  Even most good Catholics are not willing to do the work necessary.  Without a great many people doing likewise, one person’s efforts may prove useless.  However, I think it is possible and in fact necessary that we reclaim and restore that which was good in our society, and institute that which is good, before we lose everything we had.

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It should come as no surprise to any reader that I do not approve of moving Ascension Thursday to Sunday. It is on Thursday for a reason! Seriously, why should it be moved? Should we move Christmas to the nearest Sunday too, so that people can spend the actual feast day indulging in materialistic greed? What makes this move especially unpalatable is the fact that it helps no one. Concerned that no one will come to the Ascension Thursday Mass because they have work? Hold it after most people get off work! Concerned that people just won’t care enough to come to Mass on a weekday? Well, if that’s the case than, to be blunt, they don’t care to come to Mass on Sunday either. Why would anyone respect the Church’s teaching that we must attend Mass on Sundays, but disrespect her teaching that we must attend Mass on Holy Days of Obligation? And finally, if the concern is that people won’t know that Ascension Thursday is coming up, then announce it at every Mass that Sunday! Thus, I believe it should stay on Thursday.

Thankfully, I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of a wonderful Tridentine Mass parish, Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel. So, I walked over there for Ascension Thursday Mass at 6:30 this evening. Though in this diocese the Feast of the Ascension has been moved to Sunday, the Tridentine Mass still celebrates it on Thursday. Now, my problem is this: my girlfriend, who lives in another diocese, is coming to stay with my family this weekend. She did not go to Mass today, because there was no Church near her celebrating the Feast of the Ascension today. Now, we had planned on going to Sunday Mass at Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which of course has already celebrated the Ascension and will not be doing so on Sunday. So, does Catherine need to go to a Mass where the Ascension is being celebrated? Should we go to a parish that is celebrating Ascension Thursday on Sunday in order to fulfill both of our Sunday Obligations and her Holy Day Obligation? Or may we just go to the regular Sunday Mass at Our Mother of Perpetual Help, without worrying about the fact that their readings and prayers will not be for the Ascension?

Update: Fr. Richtsteig has a similar rant up on his blog.

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Traditionalism, as readers who were have read my first few posts know, is a word I was originally hesitant to use.  It seems to me to have many possible definitions, and that many definitions that are used for it do not match what I or any Traditionalist I know believe.  Thus, I avoided using the term.  However, it seems to me that it is difficult to avoid the term, and that I often have to go to great lengths to describe “the kind of person who thinks that the Traditional Mass is wonderful, that “the old days were better“, and that our society has gone the profoundly wrong way” without saying “Traditionalist”.  Because of this, I have decided to write a defense/explanation of what I believe Traditionalism is, and an explanation of what the real Catholic Traditionalist thinks about several issues.  I hope to leave some room for disagreement on particulars: one may be a Traditionalist and nonetheless be somewhat to the “left” or “right” of me (if I may use such imprecise terms).  I will thus attempt to avoid defining a “Traditionalist” as “myself and others who agree with me”.  Rather, I would like to leave the adjective “Traditionalist” open to as many people as it can legitimately be extended to.

Society

Catholic Traditionalism, I believe, is more a response to modern society than it is to liturgical matters, though liturgy is important and I do plan to address it.  Modern society is over-sexualized, and sexualized in all the wrong ways.  It is greedy and self-interested.  It is based upon a lifestyle which is not sustainable in any sense, whether social or physical.  Furthermore, it is a society which strictly controls its members through mostly invisible means.  Real differences, differences that matter, are crushed while immaterial differences, such as those between races, are “celebrated”.  A Traditionalist is quite simply one who says “no” to this society.  This is not to say that we do not engage with the society at large, or that we wish to separate ourselves from other people.  Rather, it means that we live our own lives with radically different ideals than those of the people around us.

A Catholic Traditionalist must see sexuality as the God-given gift that it is, and utterly reject the sleazy “glamour of evil” that is pornography and semi-pornography (a category which includes much of advertising and the media today).  The Traditionalist furthermore must be dedicated to the construction of a society which is more cooperative than competitive.  Competition has its place, and I am not by any means a Socialist.  However, if we are to have a society which follows Catholic teaching we must be our brothers’ keepers to some extent.  To a Traditionalist, this is best done on a local level: offering Mr. Edwards your help when he is struggling is a far better thing than telling Mr. Edwards how to sign up for a Federal welfare program.  Furthermore, we must break free from the subtle controls of the society around us.  Our society, for all it claims to “celebrate diversity” is quite intolerant of any attempt to differ from the norm in matters of dress, behavior, and way of life.  Parents with several children, young people who faithfully attend Mass, priests who wish to celebrate Traditional Masses, and the like can tell you how hard it often is to deviate from the accepted norms.  A Catholic Traditionalist must be ready to reject certain problematic elements of society.

Religion

All too often in the modern world, religion seems to exist in a vacuum.  Even some devout Christians who attend their church regularly and see themselves as very religious would shudder at the thought of discussing religion with their co-workers.  This is not without reason, as often our culture is hostile to religion.  However, from a Traditionalist standpoint an important change that must be made is that religion must be central to one’s life.  A Catholic Traditionalist, to a greater extent than even many non-Traditionalist-but-orthodox Catholics, will life life as a Catholic.  Catholicism is clearly not just a matter of Sunday mass and Friday abstinence.  To a Traditionalist, however, Catholicism must permeate life.  This does not mean being a “religious fanatic” who talks of nothing but God and the Church.  Rather, it means making certain choices “the way a Catholic would”.  Of course all Catholics should do this, but from my experience Traditionalists have a certain aptitude for this.  Once, my girlfriend and I were walking to Mass at Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  We were walking from a parking lot that was not associated with the Chapel, and thus could have been going to a store or business in the area.  However, we were both dressed for Mass and I suppose had a certain look, that led to several people we did not know who were leaving an earlier Mass greeted us warmly as if they were already our friends.  We somehow all knew why we were there.  This focus on the place of religion in life seems to me to permeate the lives of most Traditionalist Catholics.

Liturgy

Yes, this is the big one.  This is the point where the Traditionalist Catholic really begins to differ from others, where the label comes into play.  A Traditionalist, at least in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, believes that older liturgical practices and rites are good and should not be abandoned.  A Catholic Traditionalist usually is someone who attends or would prefer to attend the Traditional Latin, also called the Tridentine, Mass.  A Traditionalist also encourages the use in the Novus Ordo Mass of traditions such as chant, ad orientem celebration, and Latin.  Because of this focus on older forms of liturgy, we often are seen as quite different, even by orthodox Catholics.  Furthermore, liturgical matters have caused certain structural divisions and schisms, such as the situation of the SSPX.  Because of this and other schisms, Traditionalist are often viewed with suspicion.  However, more important than the fact that there have been schisms is the matter of why Traditionalists love and wish to preserve the old Mass.  It is not out of some sick devotion to our own perfection or our own glorification.  Rather, it is because the Traditional Latin Mass offers a true focus on the Eucharist, gives us real clarity about what is important, and provides us with a solid foundation for our lives.  Perhaps this can be found in some Novus Ordo parishes, and I have experienced wonderful Novus Ordo Masses at some parishes.  However, for the Traditionalist, the TLM is simply a good thing, and its complete survival and acceptance is a good goal.

Conclusion

I believe that by defining and defending such terms as “Traditionalist” we may be better able to argue for and understand our own positions.  Often, I find myself arguing against someone who thinks I believe something quite different from what I actually do believe.  Of course, my definition is far from authoritative, or even complete.  However, it does give my readers a clear view of what I mean when I say that I or somebody else is a Traditionalist.  I would very much welcome comments and suggestions about this entry, as I am attempting to define a movement which consists of many more people than just myself.  I also wish to point out, as a final thought, that to my mind “Traditionalist” is not a divisive term that seeks to make one group of Catholics feel superior to another.  Rather, it is a descriptive term, much like “charismatic” or “conservative” which describes the lifestyle and worldview of a particular group.  Thus, it is not an ideological label nor a slam at others who are not Traditionalists, rather a term that seeks to identify the existence of a real group of people with real views and opinions about the world that are similar in particular ways.

Finally, I would like to end with a request that all readers pray for the greater unity of all Christians throughout the world, and for their conversion to the Catholic faith.

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