Skip to content

James games, relative sadness, and the walk of life

Happy Friday friends,

And a very happy feast of Sts. Philip and James to you all.

Some of you might be wondering which James it is, since there were a few of them knocking around in the apostolic Church. 

Strictly speaking, today is the feast of James, son of Alpheus, also known as “James the Less,” or “younger,” in distinction to James “the Greater,” son of Zebedee, who went to Spain (if you will take the word of a Spaniard). 

According to St. Jerome, James the Less, also known as “James the Just,” is also the same person identified in the New Testament as James “the brother of the Lord,” first bishop of Jerusalem. 

In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, James the Less’s mother is also identified as “Mary,” of course. Though this is Mary “the mother of James and Joseph” in Mark and just “mother of James” in Luke, rather than Mary the mother Jesus, married to Joseph.

Confused yet?

St. James being martyred. One of them, anyway.

Well, anyway, it’s not exactly clear to me why James (the Less) was said to be “the brother of the Lord.” Some tradition has it that he and Christ were cousins. 

There are other traditions (to be treated with caution, I’d say) that they were actually “half-brothers” and that James (the Less) was the son of St. Joseph, foster father of Our Lord, from a previous marriage, by which Joseph was widowed, but this would seem somewhat at odds with Mary (the mother of James and Joseph) showing up alive and well in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. 

And, I think, it would also seem to suggest at least the possibility that St. Joseph married two women named Mary, and that James (the Less), logically, wasn’t the son of Alpheus, in which case there would be two Jameses, three if you count James the Greater. 

In any event, St. Jerome considered the Mary of Mark and Luke (mother of James and Joseph) to be the same as “Mary of Clopas” as identified by John — Clopas being either her father or other family name, but still being married to Alpheus and presumed to be sister to Mary, Mother of Our Lord. 

So, Jerome supported the theory that James (the Less) was both son of Mary (called “of Clopas” by John but also “mother of James and Joseph” by Mark and Luke) and cousin to Christ on Mary’s side. Meaning James (the Less) and James (the brother of the Lord) are the same person but that Mary (Our Lady) also had a sister named Mary (mother of James). 

Confused now?

Well, anyway, James, the Less, son of Alpheus, is recorded as being stoned to death in Jerusalem, where James the Brother of the Lord was also martyred, and for this reason it seems, the tradition of equating the two began. I think. I’m a little confused.

But they were probably the same person, maybe. I believe so, anyway. 

So, happy feast of St. Philip and St. James(s?). 

Subscribe now

Here’s the news.

The News

Louisiana police officers executed a sweeping search warrant on the Archdiocese of New Orleans this week, part of a child sex trafficking investigation.

An affidavit in support of the warrant cites a years-long FBI investigation into sexual abuse allegations in the archdiocese. 

Among the allegations raised in the affidavit is the claim that minors were transported across state lines for the purpose of sexual abuse, giving rise to the sex trafficking claim. The affidavit states that multiple children were sent to other dioceses with “gifts” to be given to certain priests at their new school or church.

“It was said that the gift was a form or signaling to another priest that the person was a target for sexual abuse,” the document says.

Investigators will review the documents obtained to determine whether further action will be taken.

You can read all the background here.

Catholic leaders are pushing for a major exchange of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war ahead of Orthodox Easter this Sunday.

Pope Francis first launched the push March 31, when he called in his Easter “Urbi et Orbi” message for “a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for the sake of all.” 

And this week Cardinal Pietro Parolin expressed some cautious optimism that a deal could actually get done.

Of course, the real focus for Ukrainians is the estimated 20,000 children deported to Russia following the full-scale invasion in February 2022, and it remains to be seen if Moscow is capable of dealing with a prisoner (hostage) exchange in anything like good faith. But it’s Easter, so we have to hope.

Stay up to date with the story here.

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi turns five years old this month, and with it the adoption of the so-called Metropolitan Model for handling issues of episcopal discipline and accountability.

But, as Sr. Carino Hodder writes in a special analysis for The Pillar this week, Pope Francis has actually been revivifying the office and prerogatives of metropolitan archbishops across a range of his ecclesiastical reforms. 

Sr. Carino does a great job walking us through the history of the office, its canonical definition, and how it is being repurposed by the pope in all sorts of ways — and with a critical mass of U.S. metropolitan sees slated to turn over in the not too distant future, this is some highly relevant stuff.

I urge you to make this your weekend long read.

This week saw a novel attempt to spin Pope Francis as being in favor of so-called sex-reassignment surgeries, even if he doesn’t quite realize it.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, an organization that provides pastoral outreach to self-identified LGBT persons and calls for changes to the Church’s teaching on sexuality, published a response she got from the pope after writing to him to warn how Dignitas infinita, the DDF’s declaration on human dignity, is “harming” transgender people.

According to Gramick, Francis responded by saying she’d misunderstood what the DDF (and he) mean by “gender ideology” and she went on to explain to the pope (and to the rest of us) how, akshually, the pope is right but he doesn’t understand that Church teaching is bad and that words don’t really mean what they mean.

That’s my very, very short summary, anyway. 

In a much longer, and I hope more thoughtful, analysis this week, I took a look at the exchange between Gramick and the pope, her line of logic, and the now-familiar rhetorical devices she deployed to suggest that respecting the fundamental dignity of sex and God’s intention of it in the created order should somehow translate into the pope meaning the opposite of what he actually said and what the DDF actually declared.

It’s tempting for many, I know, to dismiss Gramick as arguing in bad faith and to basically read past the whole exchange. But as I pointed out in the analysis, these same flawed lines of reasoning have been deployed (and refuted) even by cardinals. So I think it is important to give them a real look when they surface.

You can read the whole analysis here.

Subscribe now

An online Catholic university says it sufficiently vetted a professor it hired, despite his previously resigning from academic posts for fabricating his credentials. 

Mario Enzler, a one-time member of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, was appointed this year as a faculty member at Catholic Distance University, a West Virginia-based online Catholic university, which works with dioceses across the country.

Enzler resigned in 2022 as dean of the business school at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, after colleagues charged that Enzler’s credentials were falsified, and called him a “con artist.”

Despite being appointed director of ecclesial administration and management programs at CDU, Enzler doesn’t appear to have any professional experience or academic expertise in either field. But, the school told The Pillar, “the university vets all faculty and staff prior to hiring.”

Read all about it here.

On Wednesday, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa took possession of his titular Roman church, Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo.

By tradition, when the pope makes a bishop a cardinal, he assigns him a titular church in the Diocese of Rome, a link back to the College of Cardinals’ roots as a consistory of the diocesan clergy in Rome. 

And, as it happens, we stopped by the Patriarch’s new Roman digs when JD and I were in town the other week and it happens to be a real beauty.

For a look inside, and some fun facts about the history of the place — which takes in its founding as a hermitage, a monastery, a hospital, and the Roman HQ of a chivalric order — you can read our report here.

The Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania has had its first priestly ordination, eighty-four years after it was founded.

Fr. Paolo Marasco was ordained April 25 at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lushnjë, west-central Albania. And the not-exactly-a-diocese in which he will serve is a bit of a fascinating thing, historically and canonically.

So, what is the Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania, exactly, and why did it have to wait more than 80 years for its first ordination? 

Read all about it here.

Relative sadness

Like many others this week, I read with interest the long report on American Catholicism from AP. And, like many others, there’s a lot that I think can be said for and against it.

It does commendable work in actually going out and speaking to a wide variety of Catholics across generations and of varying shades and shapes of ecclesiology. 

But in doing so, I think (as others have articulated very, very well), it really fails to understand or capture the differences and the significance of diversity between what the article paints as “young(er) conservative” Catholics.

I had a number of takeaways from the piece. But, sparing you my own version of points made, and made well, already elsewhere, I will just say here that it made me feel quite sad in places.

Discussing the displacement and sense of being culturally “left behind” by the dynamic practice of the faith in contemporary America, the author quotes two people:

“They say they’re trying to restore what us old guys ruined,” said the Rev. John Forliti, 87, a retired Twin Cities priest who fought for civil rights and reforms in Catholic school sex education.

Doug Koesel, an outspoken 72-year-old priest at Blessed Trinity Parish in Cleveland, was blunter: “They’re just waiting for us to die.”

I’m not sure what “outspoken” means as a descriptor here, and I decline to unpack the implications of “fighting for reforms in Catholic school sex education,” but the sense of both comments is a kind of bleakness, of being forgotten but not gone, and of a looming oblivion. 

What a desperate and desperately tragic thing to come from two priests of the Church. 

Of course, I don’t know anything about either of the men quoted, beyond the context of the article, and I don’t want to put words in their mouths. But what struck me about the AP report and its presentation of them as representative of a generation is an absence of a sense of the eternal, the hereafter, and the fundamental connectedness of the Church throughout and beyond history.

If I have to pick one criticism of the piece, it is that it frames the “older, liberal” generation as fundamentally divorced from the eternal — in doctrine, in liturgy, in the significance of the Church’s apostolic works on Earth, and in personal expectation — and thus without hope.

To define oneself, one’s ministry, and the nature and mission of the Church primarily (if not exclusively) against what came immediately before and what will immediately follow seems to me to be the essence of relativism. 

Even worse if all you have to show for it is — and this is the article’s summation, not mine — “the promise of eternal salvation replaced by guitar Masses, parish food pantries and casual indifference to Church doctrine.” 

What is it to be Catholic, after all, if not to believe that the Church, along with all human history, is moving towards the coming of the Lord in glory? And what is the hope of our faith if not to look towards our own meeting with Christ, the just and merciful judge, at the end of our lives?

These are the things that matter, that endure when the last felt banner has moldered and the final echo of Dan Schutte’s “My Little Pony” Gloria has fallen silent.

All these questions seemed to be answered, if not always explored in detail, by the so-called “conservatives” in the piece, with their talk of truth, forgiveness, and eternal life. But those on the other side of the conversation either have nothing to say, or are given no space to say it.

No Catholic should ever be found waiting for anyone to die. But far worse, to my mind, is for any Catholic, let alone a priest, to approach the end of their life with that sort of empty resignation about themselves and the Church. 

Such people, if that’s their true state, represent a real “existential periphery” for the Church, to borrow a term from Pope Francis. And to them we must extend our love — and the hope of the Gospel.

Just a reminder that these newsletters, like all our work at The Pillar, are free for everyone, but only because a precious few readers choose to become paying subscribers.
We do real Catholic journalism, and we can see it makes a real difference in the life of the Church. We think that work is worth the asking price — less than $2 a week.

Subscribe now

So I’m asking you: Do you read these newsletters every week? Do you see the value of the work we’re doing everyday?
Can you help us keep this journlaistic project growing and free for everyone to read?

Upgrade my subscription


The walk of life

This week I have mostly been thinking about Wednesday’s feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

I could probably write something about Joseph, his quiet example, the dignity of human labor, the teachings of Leo XIII and JPII, and juxtapose it all with the posturing, cosplay Marxism of spoiled Ivy League undergrads. 

But that’s the sort of topical, obvious, pseudo-intellectualism you can read pretty much anywhere. Instead, I prefer to talk about my dad.

When I was a kid, my dad was a pit trader at the Chicago Board of Trade — basically one of those guys in gaudy-colored jackets you see in classic ‘80s movies like “Trading Places” and “Wall Street.”

As a kid, I didn’t really know what Dad did, exactly, but I knew enough to tell people he stood in a big room and yelled “Buy, sell, buy, sell” all day. And I took real pride in being able to do the pit traders’ signals, counting to tens of thousands one-handed, like it was a secret family code.

What I really knew about Dad and work was that he got up early. But early. His alarm went off at 5 a.m. so he could be on the trading floor for 6.30, where he would white-knuckle the day trading the limit on his personal credit card as a freelancer, or “local” as they are called in the business.

I simply cannot imagine a more emotionally and physically draining way to make rent. But he did it. Every day. 

A young father of (then) four children, my dad was barely distant from a previously carefree life of young marriage and beer league softball. I cannot imagine the mental and spiritual anxiety that must have churned within him.

Yet, though I listened to his every evening side comment to my mother with the careful attention of a precocious first born, I cannot recall a single utterance of complaint — worry, yes, anger too, at times, but never complaint.

You would think, given all this, that there would be no man more in need of “downtime,” or to “blow off steam.” Yet Dad was never idle, never still, even. 

While I’d be a physical zombie and an emotional husk if I tried to shoulder the same burdens that I can now recognize with hindsight, he was tireless at evenings and weekends — at least in my eyes. 

His dedication as a father is imprinted on me to this day: Dad suffered no other man to teach his son to make a layup or swing a bat. 

To this day, I cannot handle a basketball without repeating his mantra of “inside foot, outside hand.” And while I am right-handed, I swing from the southside, as my leftie father taught me — you’re a step and a half closer to first, batting righty is for suckers.

I had Little League practice on this diamond with my dad.

Where he got the reserves of energy to coach little league and fifth-grade basketball on top of everything else — my mother, quite the worker herself, went to law school at night — I do not know. But some of my clearest childhood memories are the car rides home from practice or games with Dad, listening to a battered tape of Dire Straits’ album “Money for Nothing,” and feeling for all the world that life was intuitive, because that’s how he made it seem.

It wasn’t, of course.

Later, when career vicissitudes bit hard and deep, and the financial precariousness was very real, I remember going for long walks with Dad during which he’d talk through his plans and anxieties.

By that point, I was old enough to be working in my first job and struggling (as most do in their young 20s) to imagine how my menial data entry gig could possibly morph into any kind of career. Watching my dad, the rock of steady adulthood, pick his way through his own wilderness of uncertainty, should have been a moment of collapse for everything I thought I had learned from his example. Instead, it became the moment of its completion.

I remember clearly Dad talking about Abraham, called by God on a long and winding life’s journey to come to know Him. 

Taken as a whole, and seen with the eyes of faith (and retrospect), Abraham led a life of enviable intimacy with God, hearing His voice and leaning on His promises. But, Dad noted to me, read the narrative carefully and God’s conversations with the great patriarch were pretty few and far between, spread across decades of wandering in silence. 

To keep walking forward, trusting God is there and will provide in the silences, Dad said, is faith. 

I don’t know if Dad was trying to teach me, or to convince himself. But it was the greatest example of adult faith I received from him, and it has served me well in my first faltering steps in fatherhood, and trying to make a go of a small business.

Myself, now well past the age my dad still is in my mind’s eye, I carp quietly and constantly about wishing I could grab an evening off, make it to a first baseball game of the season, or find time to play with the flowerbeds in the backyard. 

But Dad hasn’t stopped moving, of course. He still works a job, but the bulk of his miles are clocked up doing works of evangelization now. 

The easy, inviting, thing for a man of his age would be to stray no further than the local woods, leading the ever-lengthening procession of grandchildren on bear hunts. Instead, the last I heard from Dad, he and Mom were bringing the Gospel to lifers in a state prison some 300 miles from their house. 

I still don’t know where he finds the energy. But he gives me faith to put one foot in front of the other and let God worry about where I end up. That’s the work.

See you next week, and thanks for walking the walk, Dad.

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

Subscribe now

Comments 59