Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Recommended Catholic Publication

Often people ask what Catholic publication is a good one to subscribe to. These days, with the internet, a print publication has to be pretty darn good to justify writing that check. I would say that Sacred Music is a great one but I also grant that this publication is a what people call a niche interest, and I accept this claim as a leap of faith, since I personally can't imagine why everyone is not interested in the relationships between, e.g., 17th century French polyphony and its chant predecessors.

Anyway, there is such a thing as a broader interest, I grant, and here my recommended publication is The Wanderer. It was founded as a German-language newspaper in 1867 and continues today as a vibrant, diverse, and fascinating publication that provides detailed coverage of the English-speaking Church and Church matters the world over. It will keep you informed with some of the best news coverage and commentary around.

In terms of commentary, the most consistently outstanding offering here is a weekly column by Fr. Zuhlsdorf. His long commentary is up to the minute with the Church year, and his learned homiletics never fail to provide fantastic insight into the season, the readings, the music, and the cultural moment. This column alone is a good enough reason to subscribe. I have no idea how he has time to write this long column each week, given all his other activities. Also, I write a column in here, which they generously run each week, but I'm embarrassed to be in print next to such quality material as Fr. Z provides.

Now, let's talk about controversies of the past that have led people to variously rally around or eschew this publication. In the 1980s, during the liturgy wars, The Wanderer took a position in favor of the old Indult for the "Tridentine Mass" as well as solemnly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass. It was passionately against the trends of the time of traditionalists to gravitate toward independent groups as well as the persistent claims that there is no salvation outside the traditional Mass.

This stand caused tremendous friction and rancor, and led to two opposing claims about the paper. The left predictably said that it was reactionary and neo-medieval and authoritarian, while the right claimed that the paper was selling out to the Vatican's unwillingness to defend tradition. I know that all of this seems like ancient history with Summorum Pontificum. But I might point out that The Wanderer stood its ground long for reconciling old and new long before this became the prevailing law.

Now, some people I've mentioned this paper to have had other responses. One is to say "oh, isn't that the right-wing political paper?" While it's true that it contains some political commentary as well as Catholic news and the like, its politics are by no means conventionally right wing. For example, it editorialized fiercely against the Iraq war and has for many years, and has been extremely tough on the Bush administration's centralizing tendencies on security issues. On matters of war and peace, its positions have not been easy to categorize. The same is true on matters of economics: on this topic I've agreed and disagreed (sometimes sharply) with the editors and writers.

On matters of culture and morality, however, you can expect a strong conservative bent in line with Church teaching. I think this is what gives rise to another comment I've sometimes heard about The Wanderer: it is too depressing. Specifically, the paper was way ahead of everyone else on the sex scandals in the Church. Ten years ago, they were running article after article for years exposing all the worst of what you didn't want to know, and didn't want to read. In some ways, this was an editorial disaster for the paper, but you have to admire their decision to print what was true in light of Catholic teaching, regardless of the consequences. This is precisely what makes for good and responsible Catholic journalism.

That said, I grant that in the past the paper's had a gloomy outlook that seemed to reflect the gloominess of the times. But, as we often say at NLM, the times really are changing, and the Wanderer is changing with them. I detect none of the pessimism of the past here. Now, under Benedict XVI, the paper has a new outlook and it is forward looking and exuberant, finding wonderful trends to report on everywhere, from newly restored to Churches to excellent young seminarians to solid decisions on Bishops coming from the Vatican.

What's nice is that you get the accumulated wisdom of institutional memory here, so readers benefit from the broad perspective and clear-headed analysis of current trends. For my part, I've come to love reading it every week. You can subscribe here—and I surely don't need to add that my endorsement here was neither solicited nor compensated.

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