Catholicism and Rights: A Ship on Dry Land


Editor’s Note: We do not typically respond to current events, except when we think that we have a position that differs from the wide spectrum of available Catholic publications.  We typically take our time to make sure that each sentence and word is carefully thought out and an accurate representation of what we believe.  Therefore, we apologize for the delay between the events giving rise to this article and the article itself.

Much has been asked recently about the relationship between “rights” understood by secular culture and the Catholic Faith.  Where, for example does the “Right to Free Speech” or the “Right to Religious Freedom” find a home in traditional Catholic thought?  Should Catholics support the notion that a secular government should never impose restrictions on the words or writings of citizens?

The reason such questions appear difficult to answer, or even unanswerable, is because the notion of rights has arisen quite apart from traditional Catholic theology.  Several Enlightenment scholars pioneered the concept of natural rights, although the different schools of thought each conceived of rights in a slightly different manner.  In the American system, our idea of rights has traditionally come from the English philosopher John Locke, whose ideas were heavily borrowed by Thomas Jefferson in the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  In short, it would be fair to say that Locke believed that natural rights were inalienable — that is to say — they were absolute regardless of cultural custom and could not be transferred or given to the government.

Other Enlightenment thinkers, perhaps even Jefferson himself, might have argued that citizens could also have rights in the sense that there are aspects of society in which “the people” have never — through the social contract — given the government authority to regulate .  It seems fair to say, therefore, that rights limit the power of the government because they fall into one of two categories.  First, some rights are unalienable and therefore the people cannot give the government authority over these aspects of society.  Second, some rights are reserved in that the people could, but did not, give the government authority over these aspects of society.

As to the first category, it seems impossible to conclude that inalienable rights are congruent with Catholic teachings.  Traditional Catholic teaching supposes that whether an action is just is equivalent to whether an action is sinful.  If it is not sinful to take an action, the same action cannot be said to violate one’s God-given, inalienable rights.  Here it seems helpful to apply the analysis to an example, the right to free speech.  The right to free speech is far from absolute.  Both the American legal system and Catholic teaching would agree that one does not have the right to wrongfully yell “fire” in a crowded theater — the former because such speech is not protected by the Constitution, and the later because it would be sinful to start a stampede that could result in serious injury or death.

It is easy to see that in Catholic thought the action (or “right”) must be tied to the situation in which the action takes place, and that no unilateral judgment may be made about the actor’s right to perform the action without that critical link.  Therefore a blanket “right” to perform an action cannot be formulated in Catholic thought because there will always be some context in which the right is unjust or sinful.  One often cannot determine whether an action is sinful without the context in which the action takes place.  Therefore, when commentators question whether or not one has a right to do something, it appears that for the Catholic, the analysis should begin with the situation in which the action takes place, because it is with that context that one can determine whether or not the action is sinful.

The analysis appears similar in the second, or social contract, category — that of the rights reserved by the people.  Even though “the people” may not have given a larger body the legal power to regulate in a specific area of society, it would seem incongruent with Catholic teaching to say that a body of people may not stop an unjust action through a just one simply because the actor has not given them permission to do so in the social contract.  For example, even though the Second Amendment to the Constitution reserves the right of citizens to bear arms — and assuming for the sake of argument here that the Second Amendment is absolute — Catholic teaching would almost certainly support a government action to keep a firearm from a man who used one in the past to commit murder and who vowed to commit murder in the same manner again.  Again, reserved rights do not truly impact the Catholic’s analysis.  What matters is whether or not the action — keeping the firearm away from the man contemplating murder — is just.

In sum, Catholic teaching does not require the concept of rights because its guiding light is achieving our end in God.  Justice and building virtue help us achieve that end.  One cannot have a God-given right to sin just as one cannot have a God-given right to be free from justice.  To us, the Catholic analysis seems much more straight-foward and easier to apply given the realities in which we live.

The Catholic Gentleman: Record Players


Record players are coming back into fashion, and we here at Whiskey Catholic couldn’t be more excited about the trend.  A good record player not only provides hours of entertainment and easy listening during conversations between friends, but can also significantly augment the whiskey tasting experience.

Musically, record players allow the Catholic Gentleman to experience albums the way they were meant to be heard, as a cohesive collection of songs that relay a story or experience.  This concept is almost entirely lost on modern music, which revolves around single songs that are catchy for two or three minutes.  The selection and placement of songs on the album, however, were carefully thought out so that the current song fits perfectly between the song before and after.  It is like the difference between a short poem and a full novel.

Andrew and I have noticed that some whiskey “fits” with certain records or music, although we are far from the first to write about such experiences.  For example, Dominic Roskrow in 1001 Whiskies You Must Try Before You Die writes the IMG_0185following about Glenrothes Select Reserve:

Select Reserve is naturally colored and minimally filtered to retain the maximum flavor possible.  It works well with the purity of tone associated with Miles Davis — try “Freddie Freeloader” or “Summertime.”  Alternatively, pair it with Art Pepper’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.”

Personally, we enjoy B.B. King and the Lumineers, complete with Laphroaig and game of cribbage.   Perfect for a wintertime evening with friends.

Book Review: Fairy Tales in Latin


When my daughter was born, I found most of my childhood picture books to be extremely boring.  There was something strange about a grown man reading a first-grade book to a newborn.  Luckily for me, Andrew showed up at the baptism with the perfect gift — Fabulae Mirabiles’ Fairy Tales in Latin.

Reading my daughter Fairy Tales in Latin has proven to be a rewarding experience.  She is at an age where if I say something with enough enthusiasm I am likely to get a giggle or smile.  It has also exposed both her and I to “the language of the enlightened” — something I never experienced either in high school or at Boston College.  As an attorney and a Catholic I have always felt that I should know more Latin than I do, but never found the excuse to get around to it.

Most people are unwilling to read Latin to their children because they are afraid that neither they nor their children will IMG_0176understand what is being said. Let me respond with two points.  First, children under a certain age never understand what is said.  Second, this book is a fantastic teaching tool for those who are new to the language.

Because the stories are familiar, I could piece together most of what was written on the first and second try.  If you don’t understand magnus malus lupus when reading The Three Little Pigs,  you’re just not trying that hard.  The same goes for non per comma men-men-menti.  I am convinced that when my daughter can talk she will be referring to her chin as a “mento.”

Additionally, the index to the book provides a helpful glossary of vocabulary words.  Typically if I am stuck on a sentence, I can figure it out with the help of one or two key words.

I also enjoy reading the original content of the old fairy tales (spoiler alert: the magnus malus lupus doesn’t make it out alive).  The poor ending some of the evil characters face also serves as a source of wholesome amusement rarely found in children’s books.  This book is certainly one of the best baptism gifts our daughter was given.

Times have changed since my college days, but nights with a glass of scotch, my daughter in my arms, and a few pages of Fairy Tales in Latin is now a perfect night.

Whiskey Man: Blessed Junipero Serra, O.F.M.

For I trust that God will give me the strength to reach San Diego, as He has given me the strength to come so far. In case He does not, I will conform myself to His most holy will. Even though I should die on the way, I shall not turn back. They can bury me wherever they wish and I shall gladly be left among the pagans, if it be the will of God

There is perhaps no better example of evangelization on the peripheries of society than the North American saints, and Junipero Serra is no exception.  Junipero Serra was a man born of extremely humble means in Spain during the early 1700s. By the time he joined the Franciscans at age 27 he was already renowned for his remarkable philosophical prowess.

He received his doctorate of theology and served in several university positions before leaving for the Franciscan missionserra in Mexico City in 1749.  In the American missions he quickly displayed all the tools of a legendary evangelizer.  He was adept at learning Native American languages, was an extremely persuasive speaker from the pulpit, and displayed the manly sense of self-sacrifice and mortification necessary for a hard life on the fringes of civilization.

Under Serra’s leadership, nine missions were founded in California, including the present-day cities of San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Diego, and Ventura.  Perhaps more remarkable than the sheer number of missions was the way of life they inculcated.  Conversion to Catholicism was absolutely preached, but Junipero Serra strictly forbade the Enlightenment principles so damaging to Native Americans in other colonies to be practiced in his missions.  This frequently put him in conflict with secular authorities.

Nearly all cattle and grain produced in California came from the missions, which quickly became self-sufficient.  By the 1780s, a few years before Junipero Serra’s death, the missions were producing a sufficient surplus of grain and cattle that they were able to trade with Spain for luxury goods.

Prior to forming the missions, Serra suffered an extremely serious accident that left him nearly crippled in one leg, a fact that makes his evangelization efforts all the more remarkable.  Serra was also the only priest in California authorized to conduct confirmations.  He personally confirmed well over 5,000 Native Americans during his lifetime, and traveled over 600 miles in the final three years of his life for the sake of the sacrament.

Junipero Serra’s rigid orthodoxy has garnered him something of a negative reputation among most scholars, particularly those in California.  In reality, Blessed Serra was a constant thorn in the side to the secular government and staunchly of the opinion that Native Americans should either be left alone of in the care of the Catholic Church.  For his personal piety, courageous dedication to the Faith, and refusal to allow secular authorities to abuse native peoples, Blessed Serra will soon be canonized.

Junipero Serra, ora pro nobis.

Scotch Review: Glenrothes Select Reserve

The Glenrothes Select Reserve

Glenrothes was founded in 1878, but due to financing issues the distillery wasn’t completed until 1887.  The distillery continued to face challenges throughout its history; they suffered fires in 1897, 1903, and 1922.  The Speyside distillery is located in Rothes, Scotland, and sells bottles by vintage, not by age. They also produce several non-vintage reserves (one of which we review here).

Glenrothes is therefore nearly the exact opposite of every distillery we have reviewed on this blog before in one important respect.  Every release brings a new taste profile, almost as if each release were its own special edition.  Glenrothes Select Reserve was built after the brand gained mainstream popularity with the idea that it would be the flagship bottling for the distillery — the one product that would taste the same year in and year out.

The Glenrothes Select ReserveType: Speyside
Proof: 80
MSRP: $39

Color: Golden straw
Aroma: Honey and wet hey. Opens nicely and accentuates the aromas.
Palate: Initial taste is mildly acidic, hints of fruits, particular pear. Light, citrus finish to cleanse the palate.

Andrew: The Glenrothes felt like a very well balanced Speyside: light and refreshing, but not too sweet. Even so, I found myself wishing it was a bit more complex. All in all, a solid whisky and one I would definitely recommend.

Michael: I think this is a great whisky for anyone who is trying to experience a Speyside for the first time.  The taste profile is extremely refreshing and it certainly has all the classic characteristics one would expect from a whisky of that region.  I also think this is an excellent bottle for the price point.  It might not have a unique twist on a classic taste, like many brands do, but sometimes executing a classic taste well — even if unspectacularly — leads to a great product.

Verdict: Jupiter, the sixth level of Paradiso.

Whiskey Catholic Road Trip 2014 Recap: Day 1


The Whiskey Catholic Road Trip — from Austin to Pittsburgh over four days — was an event we tweeted but never wrote about.  Now that we seem to have consistent content again, we want to put together a few posts for our readers who hope to complete Kentucky’s Whiskey Trail in the future.

I picked up Andrew from the Austin Bergstrom International Airport and we immediately set out on I-35 North in my wife’s Mazda CX-7.  By mid-afternoon we passed Balcones, which was unfortunately closed the day we went through Waco, and we stopped for barbecue (a recurring theme on the road trip) at Rudy’s, a Texas state legend for gas-station barbecue.  Rudy’s was a pleasant experience, as far as chain restaurants go; we sampled the sausage and brisket and were on our way.

We turned right at Waco and cut across central Texas on a back road to get away from the busyness of I-35. Our real Arkansasdestination that day was The Country Tavern, a small, local barbecue place within an hour and a half of Texarkana and not much else.

Having never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Andrew was in awe of Texas.  Corn fields, cattle, billboards with Bible quotes, and long, empty roads with 75 mph speed limits were all new to him.  One of my favorite moments on the trip came the first time we had to stop for gas.  We stopped in the smallest of towns — other than the gas station there were only a handful of houses on two intersecting avenues and an abandoned grain silo near the railroad tracks.  While I pumped gas in my cowboy boots and jeans, Andrew decided he wanted a coke, and what seemed like the entire town stopped what they were doing to watch a pale northern boy in a three-piece suit walk across a dust-filled parking lot to a shack of a gas station.

We finally arrived at The Country Tavern after a nearly six hour drive from Austin.  We were a little early for dinner, but we could smell the food from outside.  The County Tavern is a place that one of our mentors, The Boston Guru, would truly enjoy.  There is no advertising as far as I could tell.  Being in the oil and gas business, I meet a lot of people who drive all over the State of Texas, and when I ask folks where the best barbecue in the state is, they almost unanimously agree on The Country Tavern.  Its popularity spreading by word-of-mouth, the tavern does not have a menu, which is fine, because everyone is there to feast on ribs.  I will refrain from describing the ribs in detail here because I cannot do them justice, but the combination of a thick layer of sweet barbecue sauce and a perfect cook makes them the stuff of legends.  I should also add that having a hot towel to wipe your hands with at the end of the meal is the perfect finish to any barbecue.

We arrived at Texarkana that night with full stomachs and a bottle of Gentleman Jack to sample.

Scotch Review: Arran Sherry Cask 1997

The Arran Malt Single Cask

Isle of Arran Distillers operates the only distillery on the 10-mile wide Island of Arran. The isle was likely the location of St. Brendan’s monastery of Aileach, founded in the sixth century. Just to the west is the Holy Isle, which was home of the Irish abbot St. Molaise of Leighlin in the seventh century.

Arran was once teeming with dozens of distilleries — all of which operated underground, out of reach of the authorities, to avoid taxes.  The last underground distillery closed in 1837, and the island didn’t have another distillery open until 1994, when Isle of Arran Distillers opened.

In the short time since it has opened, however, Isle of Arran has produced many excellent single malts and blends. Several of their releases have been finished in cognac, port, or sherry casks, and they released a peated single malt in 2010.  By 2012, the brand had 11 distinct releases ranging from Arran-14 to Icons of Arran “Peacock” (1996).

The Arran Malt Single CaskType: Highland / Isle of Arran
Proof: 106
MSRP: $120

Color: Red copper
Aroma: Needs opening up. Winey oak with a hint of cherry.
Palate: Matches aroma. Strong cherry tones on finish.

Andrew: The strong, complex aroma is probably my favorite part of this whisky. Strong scents of sherry, mixed with fruits, oak, and a touch of smoke emerge after adding a bit of water. The palate is crisp and fresh, and matches the aroma perfectly. I was not disappointed with this single cask, and it’s now one of my favorite highlands.

Michael:  I thought this was an extremely solid highland whisky.  A sherry cask finish is a little out of the ordinary for Arran, which prides itself on using bourbon barrels under the theory that sherry casks cannot give the whisky the spicy vanilla flavor that the master distiller is attempting to create.  It’s almost unfair to judge the brand this early.  By my count, the 1997 barrels were produced in the third year of operation.  It will be interesting to see how the brand improves as it ages.  Do yourself a favor and listen to St. Brendan’s Fair Isle when drinking Arran.

Verdict: Jupiter, the sixth level of Paradiso.

Whisky Goods: Nosing Glass Display


I was delighted to find a nosing glass display under the tree on Christmas.  Every Catholic Gentleman who enjoys a glass of whisky and has the space for a display piece should absolutely consider purchasing one.

The display piece was made from a bourbon barrel.  The notches for the nosing glasses are drilled into the stave but are made to look as if they were connecting the bilge hoop to the barrel.  Right now my wife and I are using the display as the centerpiece for our table, and I am sure that it will get excellent use when Andrew comes to town.

BPI: Magnificat

The Visitation

As we come to the close of Christmastide, it is a fitting time to reflect on the love of our Mother, Mary. Praying the Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, gains for the faithful a partial indulgence under the ordinary conditions.

Divided into four stanzas, the Canticle is sung by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. It is one of the three Evangelical Canticles, the canticles found in the Gospel of Luke. These three – the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis – are sung daily in the Divine Office (at Lauds, Vespers, and Compline respectively). It is customary to make the sign of the cross as one begins to say each of these canticles.

As the year begins, let us recall the faith and humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary as we pray for her care and intercession.

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,
et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo,
quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.
Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes,

quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen eius,
et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies
timentibus eum.

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,
dispersit superbos mente cordi sui;
deposuit potentes de sede
et exaltavit humiles;
esurientes implevit bonis
et divites dimisit inanes.

Suscepit Israel puerum suum,
recordatus misericordiae,
sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini eius in saecula.

Visitation painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1491.

For more information: Catholic Encyclopedia

Does a Priest Dressing Well Bring Scandal?


From a reader:

As professional men, I seek your opinion on a matter that is a constant reoccurring debate in the seminary.  People always refer to what “the laity” think, so for the purposes of actually knowing (I suspect I already do know)…
1. If you were to see a priest show up at a graveside for a funeral without his jacket when every other man is wearing one, would you think it disrespectful of him?
2. If you saw a priest at a white-tie dinner where everyone else is in cuff links and the priest was not, would you think him under-dressed?
3. If you saw a priest going about his day to day business (daily Mass, work at the parish, hospital visits, NOT special events like weddings) and he wore bright orange sneakers, would you think it unprofessional/inappropriate?  What about black Crocs?  what about black sneakers?
If you wouldn’t find it inappropriate, is it because you would be indifferent, or would you actually take it as a sign of his simplicity of life/holiness/ability to relate to the “common man”?

Please allow me to tackle this question in the three parts it was asked.

  1. Yes, assuming he is not wearing a cassock.  My understanding is that since the American Councils of Baltimore, the preference of the U.S. Bishops is that priests wear secular dress with a clerical collar (i.e., the black suit and white collar).  Readers may correct me here if I am incorrect, but I believe that this was done to conform to the secular customs of the United States.  Since the secular custom at such an event would be for the men to wear jackets, it seems only reasonable to expect the priest to wear one as well.  Not wearing a jacket — when all the other men at the funeral are — might be construed as the priest taking the event lightly, which he should not.  Personally, my first preference would be for the priest to wear a cassock, but at minimum I would expect him to wear a jacket.
  2. Again, at a black tie dinner I would expect the priest to be wearing a cassock, which was explained to me once as the “tuxedo for priests.”  It has certainly become customary in American Catholic culture to view the cassock as being “more dressed up” than a jacket and collar.  That said, if the priest was wearing a jacket, I would not give a second thought to whether he was not wearing cuff links.  If he was wearing cuff links, I would definitely notice and compliment him though.
  3. Yes, yes, and yes.  The only time a priest should be wearing sneakers is for medical reasons, in which case they should be black.  I seriously question the moral compass of any priest who pairs orange sneakers with black pants, a black shirt, and a Roman collar.  As members of the Faithful, we are asking the priest to mediate on our behalf, not be our friend or look cool.

I think the concern over the “common man” — which to be frank is practically just an excuse for sloppiness in dress and Liturgical form — needs some serious re-calibration.  I find that people who think that the “common man” wants priests who wear t-shirts or have liturgical dance at Mass are exactly the types of people far too many parishes listened to in the 1960’s and 1970’s when too many common men turned away from the Faith.  What we wear is important when it reflects a greater internal reality.  If we do not dress and conduct ourselves seriously, the common man cries bullshit with respect to the entire religion.  “I don’t believe you because you do not appear serious about what you are saying or doing.  If you really believe that the Creator of the Universe is present, why are you wearing crocks?”  

The common man may enjoy simplicity but he is not stupid.