Minecraft = “Digital Legos”

Both of my two oldest sons build a ton of things out of Legos, and right now they love a computer game called Minecraft, because it allows them to build in a computer environment the types of things they’d build with Legos in real life, if they had an unlimited supply of bricks. Minecraft isn’t so much a game as a digital world where the “player” can “build” anything they can imagine. We’ve even done school projects — like making models of famous Roman basilicas — in Minecraft.

My oldest son has been wanting to make a contribution to this blog ever since my seven-year-old was a “guest blogger” a few weeks ago. He designed a “modern” mansion on top of a mountain in Minecraft, and provided the following as a submission to this blog:


Front view

This Modern Mountain House is a six story mansion with a bar, a hot tub, a TV, chairs and couches, two secret rooms, a storage room, a kitchen, a furnace room, and a bedroom. It also has three places to look at the scenery that completely covers the ground around the mansion. There are three levels: the blue level, the red level, and the green level; each containing two stories. Also, there are two special tunnels, one of them leading to one of the two secret rooms (the green one); the blue one leads to the scenery spots. Both are enterable from the bottom floor. This is all there is to know about my mansion. Thank You!


Back view


I Keep Saying We’re in the Age of Euphemism

So now we know what President Obama knew in 2010, or before: despite repeated promises (remember the 2012 presidential debates?) that if you liked your current health care plan, or if you liked your current doctor, you wouldn’t be forced to change anything, we now know that this was a lie.

1.5 million cancellation notices for private health insurance policies have already been issued to Americans, due to the Affordable Care Act. The Obama Administration knew that this would happen, but persisted in lying to the public about the effects of the Act.

Now we have a Democratic Senator telling us how stupid we are: those aren’t “cancellation notices” — they’re “transitions into Obamacare”.

I guess that since “cancellations” are actually “transitions”, the next thing we’ll be told is that the widespread premium hikes, some well over 100% increases in premium without increases to coverage (or, in some cases, a reduction in coverage), aren’t hikes at all, but rather “healthcare cost offset contributions” or some other such nonsense. Maybe they can stick the word “patriotic” somewhere in the euphemism. That’ll make everyone shut up.

Really. Messed. Up.

US ‘spied on future Pope Francis during Vatican conclave’.

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of John Paul II. The stories about him were that the Soviets spied on him before and after both Conclaves in 1978. Pope Pius XII was also purportedly spied upon by the Nazis and Soviets throughout World War II. What our government is doing now is anathema to the principles of this country. A host of American men and women died believing they were defending against these types of abuses to freedom.

The fact that our government doesn’t mind following the Soviet playbook is very frightening.

The Origins of Mandatory Private Confession in the Catholic Church

In the “Stats” for this blog, I can review the search strings typed into engines like Google or Bing that bring visitors here. One such search string recently caught my eye, which surprised me because I’ve never written about the topic before:

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 11.13.45 AM

“when did mandatory private confession start in the catholic church?”

When I repeated the search myself, the question was left somewhat unanswered. So, to the person who was looking for an answer to this question, this is for you:

Private Penance is quite old in the Catholic Church; It is an Ancient Practice

Get a copy!

Primary documents are cited from this excellent compendium; click the picture of the cover for more information

In 1551, the Council of Trent, in its Doctrine on the Sacrament of Penance, stated that “…Peter, prince of the apostles, recommended penance to sinners who were about to receive baptism with the words: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you. [Acts 2:38f.]”

The Church teaches that Confession, or Penance (also Reconciliation) is one of the seven sacraments of the Church instituted by Christ. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them.” (CCC 1443).

According to the Church, the sacrament of Penance is for baptized members who “…have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion… The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.'” (CCC 1446, citing Tertullian, De Paenit. 4, 2: PL 1, 1343; and Trent).

Regardless of whether penance of a particular time was private or public, “Beneath the changes in discipline and celebration that this sacrament has undergone over the centuries, the same fundamental structure is to be discerned.” (CCC 1447, 1448). That is, whether public or private (or some other potential form), sacramental penance has always comprised “two equally essential elements: …conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit… [and] God’s action through the intervention of the Church.” (CCC 1448).

The Council of Trent in Doctrine stated:

“…the Lord instituted the sacrament of penance, principally when after his Resurrection he breathed upon his disciples and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ [Jn 20:22f.]. The universal consensus of the Fathers has always acknowledged that by so sublime an action and such clear words the power of forgiving and retaining sins was given to the apostles and their lawful successors for reconciling the faithful who have fallen after baptism…” (Chapter 5).

Confessional at Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

Confessional at Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

In addition, the Council of Trent noted that “secret” [private] sacramental confession, was used by the Church “from her beginning” and “has always been commended by the most venerable and most ancient Fathers with great and unanimous agreement…” (Ibid., Chapter 5).

That was 1551. We faithful Catholics should trust the Council Fathers at Trent that there were private confessions in the Church “from her beginning.” You can stop reading now, unless you happen to like history.

For those who might not take the Council Fathers at their word, we can look for further proof of the assertion regarding the practice of private confession in the Church “from her beginning”. A handful of centuries to 1551 isn’t very long (unless you’re Protestant. Ooh, burn.). The Council refers to private confession from the “beginning” of the Church, but what is its basis for this claim?

First, we can follow the Council Fathers at Trent back a few hundred more years to 1215 and the [Fourth] Lateran Council [can. 8]: “…for the Church did not establish through the Lateran Council that Christ’s faithful should confess, which she had understood to be a necessary institution of divine law, but that the precept of confession should be discharged by one and all at least once a year on their reaching the age of discretion.” Trent is referring to the declaration of the Fourth Lateran Council which instituted “mandatory” private confession when it stated that “All the faithful… should individually confess all their sins in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year…” (Ibid., Chapter 21).

Trent noted that while “mandatory” private confession became the norm from the time of the Fourth Lateran, the general “non-mandatory” practice of private confession was a practice in the Church “from her beginning” by virtue of the Fourth Lateran dealing with confession in such a regulatory way.

The sequence would have been backwards to prescribe a specific action (i.e., mandatory annual, private confession during the season of Lent) if the custom (i.e., private confession) were not already embedded in the Christian life. It’s possible that non-private confession was also in use in some places, but as we’ll see below, it’s not likely, apart from isolated examples. And, these other forms of penance would not have been prescribed as “mandatory” while private confession remained only optional.

Although we can now see that the mandatory practice of privately confessing one’s sins to a priest is documented back to 1215, this is less than half the age of the Church. Does it go back any further? It does, according to James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church (page 136): 

Martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk by Szymon Czechowicz, National Museum in Warsaw

Martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk by Szymon Czechowicz, National Museum in Warsaw

By the ninth century, private confession for lay people was required at least once a year, along with a whole new penitential discipline, including the silence of the confessor (the “seal of confession”) so absolute that if, for example, he learned from a penitent of a plot on his own life, he could do nothing to thwart it. (St. John Nepomucen [d. 1393], confessor to the queen of Bohemia, was drowned by order of the king, for refusing to divulge the contents of her confession.)”

Hitchcock’s summary is factually consistent with the Catechism, which states that “During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the ‘private’ practice of penance”. (CCC 1447).

Thus, we can see that private confession was practiced in one form or another, and that it was mandatory in many places in Europe back to the 600s, inspired by an even more ancient practice in the “Eastern monastic tradition”. Having gone this far, we might as well push to the origins of the Church to see if we can find any earlier references to private confession.

20131030-003114.jpgPrivate confession is implied in Canon 13 of the First Council of Nicaea (325). In addition, in the Letter Consulenti tibi to Bishop Exsuperius of Toulouse (405), Pope Innocent I referred to penance being granted for those who need it. In 459, Pope St. Leo I the Great wrote a letter Magna indignatione to All the Bishops of Campania, etc., stating:

With regard to penance, what is demanded of the faithful is clearly not that an acknowledgement of the nature of individual sins written in a little book be read publicly, since it suffices that the states of consciences be made known to the priests alone in secret confession.

Saint Leo Magnus by Francisco Herrera the Younger, in the Prado Museum, Madrid

Saint Leo Magnus by Francisco Herrera the Younger, in the Prado Museum, Madrid

Private confession was a practice in the Church “from her beginning” but may not have been the exclusive practice from the beginning; what has varied over the centuries is the “concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power.” (CCC 1447):

During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation.

According to this article, there is reference to confession in the ancient first-century apostolic writings known as the Didache (Did-uh-kay), which was “lost to history” and only rediscovered in 1873. In Chapter 14, the Didache commands Christians to gather on Sundays for the celebration of the Eucharist, “…after having confessed your transgressions” and establishes that from the very origins of the early Church, the tradition was that confession was a requirement for the worthy reception of Communion.

Tradition developed private confession as a mercy (rather than penalty) to penitents: instead of publicly confessing — which was the norm in the very early centuries of the Church, and where the penances assigned were oftentimes harsh and severe — the Church developed a mechanism for private and anonymous reception of the sacrament, and total secrecy regarding the contents of the confession. Holy priests choose martyrdom over revealing what penitents confess.

Therefore, it is historically myopic when Protestants accuse the Church of creating private confession for some nefarious purpose. Luther correctly noted the prevalence of human abuses with regard to the sacrament at the time of the Reformation, but his failure was in attributing these entirely human abuses to the holiness of the Church, which is an error that has taken a great many earnest Christians away from a source of priceless grace and mercy.

Finally, private confession is regarded as somewhat uncomfortable, particularly for non-Catholics seeking to convert to Catholicism but who are unfamiliar with the practice. The point is that it is the Protestant approach to sin and forgiveness that is without precedent or basis. Penance was a sacrament of the Church from the first centuries. The fact that it developed over the centuries into a “mandatory” private practice was and is a mercy for sinners (i.e., all of us), if you take the historical view.

So, go to confession! Give thanks that our Lord gave penance to us as a sacrament, and give thanks that our Church has seen fit to pour out God’s mercy by giving us the means by which to receive the sacrament privately and confidentially!


Here’s a story linked by Drudge stating that each American taxpayer’s share of the federal debt is $1.1 million. When President Obama took office, the federal debt was below $11 trillion. It currently exceeds $17 trillion.

This figure does not include unfunded liabilities like Medicare and Social Security, which combined will require upwards of $100 trillion in the future if these programs are to remain solvent.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats seek to make it possible to increase the debt ceiling automatically, unless Congress specifically legislates against a debt ceiling increase in the future.

Wouldn’t it be nice if when you max out all your credit cards, you could just call your bank and ask them to automatically raise your credit limits? That sure would resolve pesky things like… budgeting, spending within your means, not buying things you can’t afford, and so on.

Would it still be nice if you could do it indefinitely, and just pass on the debt burden to your offspring? That’s what our government is doing for usin our names. 

There is very little time left. We need to insist upon balanced budgets from our government. Fuzzy accounting and quantitative easing will not solve this problem. Only discipline will do that.

Today I Received a Letter from the Holy Father’s Personal Secretary!

Altar of the Throne of St. Peter

Altar of the Throne of St. Peter

Monsignor Alfred Xuereb is first Personal Secretary to His Holiness Pope Francis. I wrote to him about a month ago to ask if we might attend Mass at Domus Santa Martha on our recent pilgrimage to Rome.

I thought it worthwhile to write the letter, because from time to time you can get lucky, but I really did not expect any reply at all. A person can hope, but never expect, to have such a privilege. After all, thousands of people visit, and there must be hundreds of requests received at the Vatican every day. 

On the Sunday that we were in Rome (20 October), we attended Mass at the “Altar of the Chair” in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is directly behind the main altar. The Mass was beautiful. The pews were flanked by two separate choir groups, and two pipe organs. Mass began at 10 a.m., and finished around 11:30 a.m.

IMG_0286We walked out of St. Peter’s in time to hear the Sunday Angelus. The way into the square was blocked by the thousands of pilgrims gathered to see and hear Pope Francis. From our vantage point I could just barely see the window in the Apostolic Apartment where the Holy Father stands during the Angelus. I think I may have seen his hand wave for an instant, but I could have imagined it. We could not get into a position in the square that would have permitted us to see him better, and all of the “jumbo-tron” screens were facing away from us. We heard him and received his blessing.

There were so many blessings from that short trip for my wife and me, I forgot about having written to Monsignor Xuereb about Mass at the Domus, until I received his letter today:


My Letter from Msgr. Xuereb

I think this is pretty awesome. I will treasure it. It meant a lot to know that the letter I sent was received, read, and responded to by the Holy Father’s personal secretary. Lord knows these guys are immensely busy, and yet he took the time to respond.

Day 34 of 40 Days for Life

Visit their website and find out how you can still support this amazing organization this time around, either with your prayer, a visit to pray in vigil in front of an abortion clinic near you, or by making a monetary donation.

The most recent update says that 371 babies and mothers are known to have been spared from abortion during this last 40 Days. That’s amazing. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit.

In our neck of the woods, we visited the clinic nearest our home to pray yesterday afternoon. Piled all four kids in the car for our one measly hour, and I feel pretty guilty because I was frazzled by the end of it. We’ve got the 8-month-old who is already quite mobile (and noisy) and the 3-year-old who is incredibly squirmy and touches everything. He managed to break his rosary about five minutes in. The two older boys were mostly good, except that the middle one (7-year-old) likes to try to boss around the 3-year-old.

Anyway, between watching the clinic (for some reason, I find it difficult to see people going in and coming out of there) juxtaposed with all the family action going on while we were supposed to be praying (we weren’t trying for the tent revival praying with people running around and things happening everywhere; we were aiming for quiet, earnest, good Catholic praying, with angelic children clasping their rosaries) I wonder if God managed to strain any good out of it. At least my wife was wonderfully composed.

Anyway, we’re always inadequate on our own, which means that we must still do what we can. Only God makes what we offer worthy.

Voter Appreciation Day was a HUGE Success

Quartermaster, Mr. Karl, Fr. A, Deacon P.

(Left to Right) Quartermaster, Mr. Karl, Fr. A, Deacon P.

We had such a great time! Family and friends came! On Friday, I smoked four pork shoulders for 14 hours and so we had mountains of meat, and rivers of beer. It was capped off later in the evening with a gathering of excellent Catholic gentlemen who were supposed to be discussing the third, fourth and fifth chapters of Lumen Gentium, but instead found themselves laughing and having a grand time while plumes of cigar and pipe smoke issued forth from our gathering as though a great thurible. A day for counting blessings!

Polemic on Halloween: Stupid as Sin Itself

Feeding the Squirrels? Priceless.

Feeding the Squirrels? Priceless.

I detest Halloween. I wasn’t always a Scrooge about this “holiday”, but even when Halloween was fun, it was only so for one reason: the candy.

As the first-born in the family, I was a sugar-deprived kid. Gradually the rules relaxed in our house, but not before candy became one of the chief pursuits in my young life:

I resented when my sisters started to potty-train, because they received M&Ms instead of icky banana chips like I did. They got fruit snacks and other good things in their bag lunches while I had hard-boiled eggs and disgusting, vile, exquisitely untradeable carob-chip cookies during my elementary school years.

I had a reputation at school: when it came to trading at lunchtime, I was an untouchable. I had nothing good to trade. There was one freaky kid who would trade my hard-boiled egg for a yogurt cup, but one day the “hard-boiled egg” my mom put in my lunch was actually soft-boiled. I heard from the kid’s friend at lunchtime that he had puked in the cafeteria and wouldn’t be trading with me any more. No more yogurt.

I visited our geriatric next-door neighbors who had a bowl of Hershey kisses on their living room table. They’d let me help myself as long as I fed a few to their two toy poodles and sat quietly in their darkened living room, watching interminable daytime television.

My grandmother was a diabetic, and so the “candy” around her house wasn’t candy so much as sugar-free candy flavored laxatives, and it took a few, uh, incidents before I revised my cost-benefit analysis and abandoned the reckless overconsumption of them.

Because there was almost nothing resembling candy in our house, I experimented: I frequently took toothpaste to bed at naptime (AquaFresh, blech!) to snack on. Tums, chewable multivitamins and Vitamin C were within one degree of being as good as real candy, despite the chalky texture. One time I drank an entire bottle of baby vitamins, and then was treated to a delicious course of Syrup of Ipecac.

So when Halloween came, it wasn’t the costumes, the parties, or the endless public school celebrations that excited me: the one and only thing that made Halloween worthwhile was the candy. In fact, even “trick-or-treating” was a pretty tiresome way to spend an evening. Only the payoff made the whole enterprise worthwhile.

Mercifully, my parents permitted an unrestrained free-for-all of candy bacchanalia on Halloween, which represented at least 80% of my annual candy consumption. At the end of an evening of trick-or-treating – which never lasted quite as long as I wished it would – I emptied my bag of candy and spread the haul out onto my bedroom floor so I could survey the year’s take.

I admit that in that moment, I took some joy in Halloween. But joy was eclipsed by an equal measure of despair: however much candy I received, I despaired that it would not be enough. I needed more. Because of my libidinous inclinations toward candy, the mania of it all lasted for such a short time. It was a fleeting, temporary and illusory joy, underscored by my depravity at seeking after more and more candy!

Efforts to assuage my sugar deprivation resulted in the rapid decline of Halloween candy supplies. Within 48 hours, there would be absolutely no chocolate left in my stash, but for the Mounds and Almond Joys which were not edible.

Within 72 hours, only the lowest-tier penny candy would remain: stale gum wrapped in wax paper, sweethearts, pixie sticks. All that was left was flavored sugar – certainly better than saccharine tablets or toothpaste, but far from the nirvana of an entire Snickers bar.

By the following week, nothing was left except regret and carious dentition. After all, I was taking a break from snacking on toothpaste.

Now that I can buy my own candy and don’t need to beg at strangers’ doors, I can freely proclaim that Halloween is nothing more than a tired, stale, ridiculous farce that should have a strict “under-10” age limit.

Halloween is disturbing because of the way that grownups have become so engrossed in “celebrating” this made up holiday. Halloween is a multibillion-dollar commercial enterprise, for which refined sugars are offered as “food” and vacant shopping mall spaces are briefly occupied with “Spirit” stores purveying immodest slut outfits for overweight middle-aged women.

It’s seen as “normal” to pay up to $10 for a single pumpkin, which isn’t just normal but necessary (unless you really do want to hasten the end of the world). Does anyone care that pumpkins cost so much, despite the fact that children everywhere do not receive adequate diets of fresh fruits and vegetables?

No one actually eats the pumpkins, except the squirrels! If we simply bought Halloween sweet potatoes we could at least feed some people! Isn’t there a bit of avarice in such a display? Squirrels or not, Halloween pumpkins end up a disgusting mess on the front porch for someone to clean up, and disgusting messes are always my favorite ways to spend $50.

Bars and dance clubs – ever adept at removing inhibitions through “theming” and “branding” – devise “spooky” drinking games and concoct libations served in plastic cauldrons and sputtering dry ice fog. Pop songs are remixed with spooky sound effects. People too old for Halloween find another excuse to overindulge and behave like horny zombies, “twerking” and “grinding” all over the place.

Halloween is the celebration of excess. It wouldn’t exist but for a culture and economy that is so self-referential that it excuses the admittance of the wholesome and healthy in exchange for the base and sensual. Holidays are supposed to be feasts! At a holiday table, you should find good things that elevate body and mind: rich foods, fine drink, hearty laughs, and warm hearths.

At what other holiday do we skip the “wedding banquet” altogether and proceed directly to the “marital bed”? Perhaps only Christmas, but even then one can choose not to indulge the superficial and commercial and instead celebrate the holy and awesome, which (parenthetically) is always free. If you remove the superficial and commercial from Halloween, there’s literally nothing left to “celebrate”.

And what about all the quasi-criminality brought on by Halloween? Vandalism – hoodlums smashing jack-o-lanterns, taking baseball bats to mailboxes (I’ve lost several), throwing eggs at cars, toilet paper streamers in tall trees? Since when are those things suitable activities for anyone?

I’m not one of those crazies shouting about how Halloween is dangerous to the spiritual life of your children. I’m not telling you that Harry Potter or Voldemort will climb out of their paperback and coerce your kids into indulging in butterbeer and pumpkin juice while donning Hufflepuff robes.

Perhaps there are spiritual pitfalls in celebrating Halloween, but secular culture so heartily rejects the reality of evil that the likelihood of your kids encountering anything other than gross overconsumption is actually very low.

What I’m saying is that the evil to be found in Halloween is the same as sin itself: it is stupid. It is a celebration of the inane and pointless. There is no virtue. There is nothing edifying. There is no great mystery, no reason for hope or joy as with actual holidays. There is no silver lining within dark clouds. There isn’t even dark. There is only dim: dimness in mind, heart, and soul.

While at Halloween even the devil isn’t taken seriously, you can seriously be assured he likes it that way. The devil likes plausible deniability. He is, after all, the Father of Lies. What’s the point of possession if candy, sex, and stupidity does the job far more easily and cheaply?

I say “Bah Humbug!” to the whole thing. I’d gladly take the kids to the candy store on a quarterly basis if it got me out of Halloween. Instead I’ll be present for at least two separate “trick-or-treating” events. My kids are the ones with the homemade costumes. But even though we didn’t spend anything on costumes this year, we still have at least $50 worth of squirrel food.