On May 3rd, 2010 I pressed “publish” and this blog went live. Twelve years is a long time in blog years. Over the past several years, however, my posting slowed and has become nearly nonexistent. But the blog remains. I think I keep it up because there’s some interesting content but I might not post here anymore. I’m not done blogging, however, or at least I’m still thinking about blogging. So, you’ll find me more likely over at my other, and older, blog PilgrimAkimbo, which began in 2006 and which I am, in a fashion, restarting.
For several years I had been inching closer and closer towards a staunch, perhaps even radical, Catholic traditionalist position. In other words, I was becoming a RadTrad. Recently, I have stepped back, perhaps I should say leapt back, from that cliff-edge path. I thank God that He redirected me towards a more faithful Catholic position, one that I am still figuring out, but believe firmly to be more in the spirit of Christ — that is, actually Christian rather than one of the various fake or marginal “Christianities” we find surrounding us.
Do not misunderstand me; I love tradition. Up to a point I do love orthodoxy and traditional orthopraxy. I love old churches, classic vestments, Latin prayers, Gregorian chant and polyphony, and all the smell and bells associated with a more ancient Church. These can be good and beautiful things. I believe the Church would do well to re-embrace, up to a point, a lot of what was set aside over the past 60 or more years. But I have come to see a profound sickness growing in certain corners of the Church, a sickness of Pharisaism and worldliness and pride (the kind of pride that believes the little specks in one’s bother’s eyes are enormous logs and refuses to accept even the possibility of a log being in one’s own eye) all in the name of getting the religion right and the enemies crushed. I could not take it anymore and I had to step off the bus. But let me tell you how I got there and why I am now somewhere else.
Thread one: I did not enter the Catholic Church until I was forty-seven years of age. I was born into a conservative Baptist church. I remained essentially Baptist for many years. Gradually, I shifted to a kind of generic Evangelical position, and then to a more quasi-Reformed position. All the while I retained a deep concern for an orthodox faith (warped and frankly somewhat heretical as it was). This concern for orthodoxy was instilled within me by my Baptist formation, and not because I felt a need to be Baptist, rather I wanted to pursue the Truth. At that time conservative Baptists tended to draw very strong ideological and religious lines in the sand between themselves and all other denominations (including other Baptists), all of which were viewed with varying degrees of suspicion and fear, and Catholics where the most to be feared. This tendency to draw lines is still within me for better or worse – mostly worse I think. Regardless, a passionate belief in God, in the story of salvation God is writing, and entering as He did into creation itself, dying on a cross and rising again, and now reigning in glory, has been within me for as far back as I can remember. Faith is truly a life and death issue. Believing that eternal life truly exists, that we are called to love each other, our neighbors, and even our enemies, and being utterly convinced that following Christ is something radically different than all the other options available to us, has been my journey (fumbling and stumbling) my whole life. I can’t express strongly enough how important all this has been to me. I am, as well, too embarrassed to describe just how profoundly I do the opposite of what these beliefs say and require me to do. Regardless, it was my love for Christ and scripture, however frequently shaky is that love, that impelled me into the Catholic Church. God be praised. (I wrote about that journey several months before I entered the Church and have been writing about my continued journey ever since. It’s been the main theme of this blog for a long time.)
Thread two: In college I majored in art history. I studied the masterworks of western art, including the great cathedrals and religious art, most of which are Catholic in origin and meaning. I basically brought nothing to these topics. I had zero understand of Church history and had never experienced a Catholic Mass, which is so central to that history, architecture, and artwork. I truly did not know what I was looking at other than architectural shapes and paintings with dates and names to memorize. Most Protestants in my experience are profoundly ignorant of nearly all of Church history (but, of course, they think all of that is unimportant anyway). Baptists and Jesus Movement types may be the most ignorant (but so are many Catholics, surprisingly or not). Although a great deal of that art history went over my head, I think it instilled within me something at a visceral and subconscious level. I intuitively knew there was something great there, something singing to my soul as it were, but I couldn’t put it into words. So I didn’t dwell long on it and focused, instead, on 20th century art (which is also remarkably spiritual though less easy to recognize to those looking for traditional representations).
Thread three: When our first child was born my wife and I decided to take the plunge and live off of one income and homeschool our kids. We took it year by year, but it seemed to work well and eventually we discovered the classical model of education. I spent time studying deeply the model, wrote a number of articles and blog posts, even contributed to a chapter of a book by one of the most prominent figures in the classical homeschooling movement (who took my chapter and claimed it as her own). I became convinced a Christian classical education model was perhaps the best available anywhere. Central to this view, I came to believe, was a better anthropology than found in modernist models. I came to see the nature of man more clearly, what it means to be made in God’s image, that we are made to worship God, that we are made to give honor and show reverence, that there is a profound connection between our bodies and our souls. From that I began to examine my Christian experience.
For years we were part of a non-denominational quasi-Reformed little “church” that had, I painfully came to see, an anemic culture at best. This church was two songs and a forty-five minutes to an hour long bible lecture, taught from a working-English translation made by the teacher from the original Greek. (Many in the church brought their own Greek New Testaments the way many traditionalist Catholics bring their Latin missals to the TLM.) These were good people (aren’t we all?), and some remain dear to me, and I’m all for going directly to the Greek (kudos from me if you do), but I came to see that little local church was based on a faulty and incomplete anthropology, an Enlightenment-model approach to epistemology and biblical interpretation, and some strange ideas about community and about being a Christian in the world, and non-biblical ideas about mystery and sacramentality. In short, it promoted a false religion and taught poor gospel based on (ironically) not being able to read and interpret the Bible well. Its leaders also began to veer strongly towards an alt-right political/religious stance while I was beginning to recoil from it – because it comes from a spirit of anti-Christ. Sadly, very good people, including people I love, fall for this all the time and I certainly did for years.
My Baptist formation, our homeschooling choices, and the fringe quasi-Reformed church all promoted a kind of “neither of the world nor in it” mindset. I wanted to make distinctions and draw lines. That mindset went deep in me, but was also challenged somewhat by numerous other experiences. I began to have a crisis of ecclesiology; not a crisis of faith but of what church is and what it means and perhaps how it ought to be like to worship corporately. My shifting went from thinking the real Church was essentially invisible to thinking the opposite; that the Church must be visible, like our bodies (the human person being body and soul together forever), and that we are called to a visible unity and the struggle it takes to do so is not merely a commandment but is, in fact, a gift from God. This take humility, much greater humility than evidenced in the religious cultures of my Baptist and quasi-Reformed theologies and ecclesiologies.
Thus I began searching in earnest. We had become disenchanted with where we were. Having children raised questions about our faith, our intentions in the world, what is community, what is the purpose of religion, and what is the Church? I became interested in the “emergent church,” then in Catholicism, then in Eastern Orthodoxy, then Presbyterian, then back to Orthodoxy, and then finally back to Catholicism. (I wrote about why I did not become Eastern Orthodox.) I was searching for what resonated within my heart, not in a merely emotional or touchy-feely way, but in a way that was grounded in what I was gradually coming to see as the truth of the gospel, the nature of human beings, the human necessity of worship, and the increasingly obvious fact of sacramentality. Thus, and for several other other reasons, I became Catholic and soon my kids followed and then my wife.
The Church, however, does not do a great job of orienting and guiding converts. In fact, it’s so bad, so utterly pathetic, it’s nearly tragic. Most cradle Catholics, including most priests, seem utterly clueless about what former Protestants (especially non-sacramental, minimalist liturgy, emotion-based or intellectually-based Protestants) deal with when coming into the Church. It’s like two entirely different countries and cultures with what looks like a lot of shared (but not really) vocabulary. Maybe someday I’ll write a laundry list of things that are foreign, strange, or just plain different for converts that no one explains and that cradle-Catholics don’t realize. By necessity, then, I began on my own exploring what it means and ought to look like being Catholic. I read a lot of books, articles, and bogs. I listened to a lot of podcasts and shows. I was drawn most to beauty and tradition. One reason is that beauty and tradition are, well, beautiful and traditional. They also point to the history of the Church, something I lacked in my previous Christian life. I longed for a church with a history going all the way back. I was also drawn by the mystery. The quasi-Reformed little community I was part of tended to seek every way possible to dispel mystery. I came to recognize the wrongheadedness of this. This is all to say that I found what I thought was a solution in the Catholic traditionalists and their “version” of the Catholic faith known as Traditionalism.
The traditionalists love the smoke and the bells, they love the vestments and old churches, they love the old fashioned forms of piety and the old prayers, and they love the traditional Latin rite of the Mass which they call variously “the old rite,” the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), the Tridentine Mass, the Mass of the Ages, the usus antiquior, and even “our birthright.” They say they love big families, try to parade older forms of masculinity and femininity, praise men in tweed suits and women in veils, and love posting pictures of little kids praying on their knees before ornate tabernacles as symbols of True Faith™. Mostly, though, they love what they perceive as greater reverence for God in the TLM. The prayers, the priest’s actions in all its minutiae, the general form, and other factors all play into the greater feeling of reverence. They do have a point and I tend to agree, at least about the importance of reverence. Given that Christ becomes truly present in the Eucharist, and that He is God, the Messiah, our Lord and savior, it makes sense that the Mass would be as reverent as possible. They see the more casual and laity-focused new Mass less reverent and therefore inferior at best (much of the time in fact corrupting the laity they believe) and even outright invalid at worst, with a growing number of fringe-types calling it patently sacrilegious. They also have a very strong “neither of the world nor in it” mindset. That, as you may have guessed, appealed to me at the time. As I saw it then, traditionalism was the antidote to the ills of the Church, the world, and my soul. A substantial number of posts on this blog are about that.
Traditionalists see the loss of the TLM and other traditions as largely the source of all the problems in the Church today (you all know what I mean and I don’t have the space here to go into all that). Reclaiming the TLM (our birthright!) is believed to be the first and foremost action to reclaim the glory of the Catholic Church and the moral high ground, reinstate Christendom, and save our children from the world and its steady turn toward immorality and liberalism. Their message rings true for many and has become a kind of clarion call for many feeling disaffected and lost at sea.
In the past two years I noticed (late to the game) the crypto-fascism, racism, and nationalism raging in many corners of the traditionalist subculture. I also began to see a kind of swaggering self-righteousness and proud Pharisaism regularly on display by the chattering class, a.k.a. traditionalist social media grifters. And if that wasn’t bad enough, again and again I saw traditionalists eagerly grasping at every conspiracy theory floating on the credulous currents of fringe Internet sites. And these folks were getting followers, tons of them, especially as they entered the U.S. culture wars and vociferously promoted Trump as God’s Man. A light bulb went off in my head. More like a high-voltage spotlight. I wanted no part of that world. So I fled. And as I did I began to see the vehement hatred of Pope Francis spewing from the trads (and many conservatives too) to a degree I had not fully noticed before. I too had been caught up for a while in not trusting the Pope. Now I felt ashamed. I became a Catholic in big part because the Church has the Pope – a huge gap in Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Once I decided to stop criticizing the Pope and others deemed “liberal” by the crypto-fascists it was like scales fell from my eyes. I felt like I had climbed out of Plato’s cave.
I would encourage anyone in the traditionalist camp, or thinking it looks attractive, to step back. Don’t give up on the wonderful traditions of the Church that you find attractive, but don’t make them the center of your faith. Don’t think traditional Catholicism actually represents some front-line is some war of any importance and that you can, somehow, both derive your identity and get good favor with God because you’re on the right side. And don’t give up on other Catholics who don’t share your love of tradition or find their faith encouraged by the smells and bells or Latin prayers. And remember, if you do turn towards tradition and away from other Catholics, you are no longer with Christ.
I originally chose to enter the Catholic Church, in part, because it’s a big tent. One finds not only all kinds of people but that the Church is global and not American. At that time I was also coming to terms that neither my politics nor my faith are “conservative.” I’m a mixed bag, but on the whole my views are more independent and more radical than the mainstream polemicists want me to be. Opening my eyes to the true intentions, and perhaps more to the point, the means of achieving those intentions of the traditionalists turned me right around. I saw that I had forsaken my original love and was, even, turning from Christ toward idols. I have come to see the traditionalist movement at least teetering on the precipice of idolatry and perhaps fully over the edge.
This makes me sad. Not only for the traditionalists themselves (thinking of their fate) and all the people they hurt, but for the natural consequences of their hatred, vitriol, and a host of others actions that are drawing down the hand of correction and discipline on them. Their actions are setting back any recovery of past traditions by those who just love them and have no need to politicize them. The old adage that one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar is completely lost on the traditionalists. They love vinegar but don’t believe they do. They revel in vinegar and call it sweet. The movement has collected an outsized number of individuals aching for fights and opportunities to display their bravado. What folly, especially in light of our example, Christ.
May God bless you and come near you always.
Perhaps no Catholic theologian has been as influential over the past one hundred years as Henri de Lubac SJ. I am mostly new to de Lubac, and I am just getting to know his thought and influence. The more I consider who he was, his life, his theology, and his influence on so many others and on so much of modern Church history, I can’t help but be amazed at his brilliance. I also have been on the side of his detractors. I confess this was because of both my ignorance and because I was getting swept up in the radical traditionalist wave that’s been fomenting anti-modernist and anti-Pope Francis sentiments. I know it’s a complicated mess, but I am pulling back, reconsidering and, to my chagrin, realizing I was going down the wrong path. And this has led me to de Lubac afresh. Below are some videos that, I believe, do a good job shedding clarity on de Lubac’s thought, influence, and legacy.
Among the modern radical traditionalists, or rad trads as some like to call them (and how they proudly call themselves), de Lubac has gotten a bad rap. He is held forth as a modernist whose ideas are to blame for the apparent debacle we call the post-conciliar Church. This is too huge of a topic for this post, but this view has been gaining substantial traction, not least because of some videos by the popular rad trad Dr. Taylor Marshall. In one video, dealing with at the same time the so-called “Pachamama” debacle, Robert Barron, and Henri de Lubac, Dr. Marshall and Timothy Gordon give de Lubac a lashing. Were they fair to do so? I don’t think so, and I’m not the only one:
Note: I confess, I don’t dislike Taylor Marshall, though I can’t take much of him anymore. And I have met Tim Gordon and his family, and I like them a lot. But I can clearly see that Marshall plays well to those who love overly simplistic answers, pietistic rules, conspiracies, and right-wing politics. Consequently, he tends to produce radically unnuanced takes for those folks eager (desperate?) for easy answers and scathing judgments. Thus, he has been weaving a kind of distortion field of critiques and amassing a growing cadre of followers. In this vein, I believe, he and Gordon misread and misrepresent de Lubac – or perhaps they get him partially right but misrepresent the past decades and Vatican II. I’m still learning, and I won’t discount Taylor Marshall entirely. I do think his book Infiltration is interesting and contains many things worthy to ponder, but with great caution.
I have become increasing curious about Liberation Theology. As I continue to become disillusioned by the state of politics in the U.S., including the politics of the Church (or certain prominent sections of the Church), and as I learn more about Latin America and its rich, but also violent, history, and as I have become increasingly curious about Saint Romero and the modern history of El Salvador, I find myself confronted with Liberation Theology. Can Liberation Theology teach us, perhaps even provide a way, for the Church seeking to follow Christ is a deeply broken and anti-Catholic world?
Almost immediately I find vociferous Liberation Theology antagonists. These are primarily conservative and/or traditionalist Catholics. Liberation Theology, they say, is merely Marxism dress up in some Catholic vestments. Ironically, while many of the conservative Catholics revere Saint John Paul II, it this quote from that dynamic and “muscular” anti-communist pope that sparks my interest:
Insofar as it strives to find those just answers – penetrated with understanding for the rich experience of the Church in this country, as effective and constructive as possible and at the same time consonant and consistent with the teachings of the Gospel, of the living and the everlasting Tradition Magisterium of the Church – we and you are convinced that liberation theology is not only timely but useful and necessary. It must constitute a new stage – in close connection with the previous ones – of that theological reflection initiated with the Apostolic Tradition and continued with the great Fathers and Doctors, with the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium and, in more recent times, with the rich heritage of the Doctrine Church, expressed in documents ranging from Rerum Novarum to Laborem Exercens . ( Emphasis added. Full text here)
Is this not an endorsement of Liberation Theology? Those who say it is actually just Marxism with a Catholic veneer seem to lack understanding. Or do they? I’m still learning.
I am reading Gustavo Gutiérrez‘ excellent and classic work, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. In it I find an excellent explanation of the Catholic faith. Thus far I find no overt Marxist ideology (thus far) and, in fact, I find a challenge to such ideas. I ought to be clear at this point for the sake of honesty: I am not against all Marxist ideas, nor am I against all aspects of socialism. I am against all the evils done in the name, or using the name, of Marxism and socialism, just as in a similar way I am against all the evils done in the name of capitalism, republicanism, democracy, anarchy, fascism, and any other ideologies or systems of political and economic organization that men use against others. Men are wicked and they will wrap their intentions and deeds in whatever language is most convenient to “justify” their actions of power over others. Men will also quickly and effortlessly excuse evils done in the name of their own systems (those they accept) and their own cultures (those in which they were raised, or into which they were adopted, and in which they find acceptance). Thus, I am still cautious. I have studied the evils of man and the systems he builds. I am not yet convinced that socialism, and there are many versions and definitions of socialism, is or must be inherently evil, or must produce evil men. I am also not convince Liberation Theology is or must be fundamentally socialist, even if it informed by Marxist methods of social and political critique.
So I proceed with my research. I am curious.
Cardinal George was once asked about Liberation Theology and he gave a quick answer. It think his answer represents a kind of thoughtful middle ground that I feel I can get behind. However, I also wonder if he, and Cardinal Ratzinger whom he references, had an adequate understanding of Liberation Theology. Thus, I don’t completely buy into it, yet.
I do not think modern Americans (U.S. citizens) can quite fathom the context in which Liberation Theology developed. I certainly have never lived within a context like those in which Liberation Theology developed, arguably, out of necessity. In fact, U.S. citizens are rather notorious for having strange and perverted ideas about Latin American and its history, including U.S. foreign policy towards that Latin America, its governments, its resources and, more importantly, its people. We are also formed through decades of propaganda (for better or worse) to believe anything that is in any way associated with socialism or Marxism must be gravely and irredeemably evil. For most Americans this is an objective and unquestionable dogmatic truth. I am not convinced, but I am not wary either.
If we, for a moment, set aside the wrangling over theories, over political and economic systems, and about the examples of evil men, and simply consider what we Christians are called to do as we live out the Kingdom of God in tangible actions, we might find a calling to change the world. Pope Paul VI gave us some perspective in his encyclical Populorum progressio, an encyclical that informed Liberation Theology’s development, in which he wrote:
It is not just a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It is not just a question of fighting wretched conditions, though this is an urgent and necessary task. It involves building a human community where men can live truly human lives, free from discrimination on account of race, religion or nationality, free from servitude to other men or to natural forces which they cannot yet control satisfactorily. It involves building a human community where liberty is not an idle word, where the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table. [full text here]
Liberty must not be an idle word. Is that not the foundation of Liberation Theology? Of course, people will argue over that notorious and wonderful word: liberty.
But when politics and faith become entangled, it can be hard to know if one is talking about one or the other. And yet, how can the gospel not also be political? In God there is no separation, is there? In this world there is truth, there is heresy, there are lies, there is evil, and there is love. These things are present in all aspects of human life. Does not the gospel speak to all of that? Are not politics also under the reign of Christ? And what happens when we open our eyes beyond narrow, single-issue, lesser-of-two-evils, U.S. politics and begin to wonder if others, in others places also have eyes to see and hearts that long for justice? What do we do when they see things differently than we do and speak in foreign tongues and use words that frighten us and yet still call us brothers and sisters in Christ? What ought we to do then?
Still, the history of Liberation Theology and its proponents is interesting and, at times, perhaps troubling even for many in Latin America. But it is also fascinating. And there are, naturally, different perspectives.
This short Religion and Ethics piece gives a brief overview and some perspective, and not without moments that will give a traditionalist Catholic conniptions, make a conservative Catholic cringe, and make a liberal Catholic pause:
Is the Church today under Francis more attuned to Jesus? I don’t believe it is. But I also cannot buy in its entirety the critique of traditionalist Catholics (mostly Americans) who demonize Francis and the Church hierarchy today. There is so much that is bad, but there is so much that is good, and there is much good (I firmly believe) going on in the world beyond the horizon of American Catholics and their limited understandings and their historical prejudices. Perhaps that is where most of the good is happening.
One aspect of Liberation Theology, or at least as something clearly linked to it, is the fact of Catholic priests and bishops renouncing their vocations for political action in the name of Liberation Theology. For example, Fernando Lugo, who was a Catholic priest and bishop, then became president of Paraguay, gave up the priesthood for politics:
Lugo resigned his ordinary from the Diocese of San Pedro on 11 January 2005. He had requested laicization in order to run for office. However, the Holy See refused the request on the grounds that bishops could not undergo laicization, and also denied him the requested canonical permission to run for civil elected office. However, after Lugo won the presidential election, the Church granted his laicization on 30 June 2008. [from Wikipedia]
This bothers me a great deal. Why must they do this? I don’t know. Have they lost the faith, turned from God, or have they made the right choice? I have my opinions, but I’m holding off judgement until I know more. I first came across Lugo in Oliver Stone’s fascinating documentary film, South of the Border. I have a hard time faulting Lugo for making his decision, though i’m bothered by it. I am in no place to criticise him. I also sense that his position became somewhat untenable as he found himself between the Church that tends to side with those in power and Christ’s call to help the poor. And yet, I don’t like the decision he made and I am curious about his eternal destiny. What will Christ do with him and others like him?
Similarly, one of the more prominent theologians of the Liberation Theology movement is Leonardo Boff. Also a former priest and a sharp critic of the Church, he gave up the priesthood for social activism. This documentary gives a rather good picture of Boff and his views:
I am not sure what to do with this. Is Boff’s direction the right one? I’m inclined to think not, and I feel about him much as I feel about Fernando Lugo. And yet, I do agree with the general direction of some of his views, up to a point. I am also concerned about any movement where men give up the priesthood for the movement, or stop wearing traditional clerical clothing. However, I don’t know enough about Latin American history and culture to know the meaning of all that. I also think there is a generational element to it. Older, baby-boomer, 1960’s radicals might have thrown off their religious garb because that was the spirit of that age, whereas younger priests and religious today might insist on wearing more traditional religious clothing for, ironically, similar reasons. I can’t say, but it would make some sense to me. We are all far more children of the zeitgeist than any of us want to admit.
Still, I firmly believe that it’s all too easy to get pulled away from Christ and His kingdom by the enticements of the world and worldly politics, and thus lose one’s soul. I believe Liberation Theology is, at its heart, an attempt to avoid that, but clearly many questions still remain about many of its adherents. I am inclined to read some of Boff’s books eventually.
In summary, I know very little at this point, but I am inclined to believe Liberation Theology is a good thing and ought to be taken seriously, perhaps re-thought and re-addressed, by more Catholics. I also am beginning to think the Church (once again) dropped the ball in a big way by not more fully embracing it and thereby helping guide it rather than leave priests and faithful Catholics essentially on their own, sometimes feeling abandoned by the Church. This, I think, was a huge missed opportunity at a crucial time in Latin America. In a sense, I believe the Church “lost” Latin America, in a sense, because of this.
I welcome any comments pointing me to more resources.
Jimmy Carter was the U.S. president (pres. 1977-1981) that oversaw the giving of military aid to the government of El Salvador during the bloody Salvadoran Civil War. Carter was the first American president that I became aware of as I began to pay attention to the news as a boy. The first American president I voted for was Ronald Reagan (pres. 1981-1989), who came immediately after Carter. The Reagan administration increased the giving of military aid and support to the Salvadoran government. In 1980 the Salvadoran government was behind the brazen assassination and martyrdom of the then archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Romero, now a saint of the Catholic Church. Thus, my first vote as an American citizen, though not for Carter, and actually for Reagan’s second term which happened years after Romero’s death, is nonetheless indirectly but forever linked to the death of a saint. I only just realized this. Unfortunately, this is the reality of being an American voting for candidates who then go on to promote questionable and sometimes terrible foreign policies. Of course I plead ignorance, but we’re all ignorant of many things, and that doesn’t mean we are not complicit at some level, even if not actually guilty. Perhaps its “structural complicity?”
Anyway, I am learning more about one of the Church’s most recent saints, Óscar Romero. I believe Romero’s concerns were ultimately spiritual and heavenly, but they played out within a volatile political context, and he was martyred for them.
The battle lines of politics are always much more than politics. There are narratives competing with narratives, ideologies with ideologies, and almost always class struggle. In the U.S. we are not allowed to talk about class struggle or the structures of economic inequality or we are immediately labeled a socialist or communist. There is a powerful narrative in that labeling, and that narrative and the hegemonic forces behind it drive a great many other narratives. Human beings, being sinners and fearful, will all too readily kill other human beings for the sake of the narrative they hold dear, often for very selfish and ignorant reasons. From Cain until now we have been killing our brothers. But Christ calls us to love our brothers, our neighbors, and even our enemies. Saint Paul tells us our battle is not against flesh and blood, but is against spiritual forces of darkness. The entire narrative of salvation being written by God in the very fabric of creation tells us to trust in Him and that He will fight our battles. We forget this every day. They forgot that in El Salvador too. But many, including and perhaps especially Óscar Romero, did not forget it.
I know very little about the Salvadoran Civil War, but that is the historical context of Saint Romero’s assassination. I perhaps know only a little more about Saint Romero than I do about the war, which is to say almost nothing. Here are three contemporary news reports on the war, its brutality, and role of faith and the Church.
This 1983 documentary takes a look at both sides of the war and provides an intimate overview of the attitudes and perspectives of each side:
Made by the same filmmakers as the above film, this is an excellent documentary from 1983 on the religious aspects of the war, in particular the ideas of Liberation Theology:
Here is an in-depth documentary about the Salvadoran civil war and the life of Óscar Romero. It was made before he was canonized a saint.
Here is a great lecture by Michael Lee (Fordham University) on the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood:
I suppose little seeds were planted in my life along the way to prepare my heart and mind for caring for and wondering about the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood.
In 1984 (the same year I voted for Reagan) a largely unknown, but with a passionate fanbase, Canadian singer-songwriter and brilliant guitarist released a song that became a surprise hit. I vaguely remember that song, but I was so politically, geographically, historically, and socially unaware that I didn’t get what the song was about, except for the fact that I felt as much as anybody that we all need a rocket launcher sometimes. But the song was specifically about the brutal wars in Central America, the dictatorships that promoted and leveraged them, the support those dictatorships received from the U.S. government, and the terrible havoc they wrought on the lives of the people. Here is Bruce Cockburn, 30 years later, performing live and acoustically his song If I had a Rocket Launcher:
Below is an excellent lecture on the history, characteristics, qualities, and purpose of Gregorian Chant. I too have a love for Gregorian Chant and I sing it as part of a men’s Latin Schola in my parish for the 7:30 AM Sunday Mass, which is Novus Ordo, but is more solemn and traditional. I view it as a step to help our parish move towards traditional Catholicism — or just Catholicism. However, although my love for chant continues to grow, I am rather ignorant of its true riches.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, as well as on the Traditional Latin Mass that Gregorian Chant serves. His book, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages , is excellent.
I find this discussion posted below wonderful. Neither Jordan Peterson or Slavoj Žižek are Christians, but they are both influenced deeply by classically Christian concepts. In this discussion , which was billed as a debate but turns out much better, begins with each speaking formally for 30 minutes, then each getting 10 minutes to respond to the other’s intro speeches, then it goes into a back and forth series of questions and responses. Both of these men have lively minds and that kind of humility that undergirds the search for truth. In effect what we have here is a modern version of a Platonic dialogue.
I have been somewhat of a fan of Žižek for years and more recently of Peterson — not an unqualified fan of course. In the end, at least in terms of this “debate,” they constitute, or at least lean towards, a kind of Christian balance but, I believe, without the full realization they are doing so. Peterson lays out his path, a kind of stoicism as it were, of pursuing the good life, and Žižek responds with a deep pessimism. My immediate thought was of St. Paul writing to the Romans about how he does the things he ought not to do and does not do what he ought, thus finding within himself the principle of sin acting against him. We might agree with Peterson’s path but find ourselves repeatedly incapable of staying on that path. In this sense the biggest lacuna in this particular discussion, and I believe in both men’s general work about the human condition, is a complete understanding of sin and its effects, though they both seem to have a better understanding than most. Nonetheless, this dialogue between these two original (especially Žižek) and deeply cogent (especially Peterson) thinkers is an incredible opportunity to have one’s mind creatively engaged.
Modern Times: Camille Paglia & Jordan B Peterson
Not long ago I had the opportunity to read an email that had been sent by a parishioner to his priest and also to members of that parish’s pastoral council. The parishioner’s name, the name of the priest, and the name of the parish was removed for reasons of confidentiality. I believe there is something important in this letter and I feel the need to pass it on. In particular, I believe the sentiments expressed are common to many Catholics, and not merely older Catholics, the so called “boomer” Catholics who lived through the changes after Vatican II. Here is the letter:
Dear Fr. [REDACTED],
I have made the decision to leave [REDACTED] Parish. Please accept my resignation from the Pastoral Council, the Lectors, and Sunday Hospitality. Additionally, please stop my Sunday envelopes.
I am sixty-six years old. I was an altar boy during the sixties. I remember the pre-Vatican2 church. It has been over fifty years that the institutional Church , as we know it, has functioned in the light of the Second Vatican Council. Yet, since coming to [REDACTED] and belonging to [REDACTED], I am slowly watching the institutional Church in our Parish retreating backward as demonstrated in the frequent Latin Masses, the men’s Schola, the effort to re-locate the tabernacle back to the center of the sanctuary (at an exorbitant cost, I might add), and … now you speak of reinstalling the communion rail. I don’t see myself participating in any of it. I happen to appreciate the Church for what it is. I considered doing research to dissuade you from the path you are on but then I realized the voices you are listening to are louder than mine. In my opinion what you are doing is not in the spirit of Vatican 2 and that grieves me.
Thank you for the rich homilies; they offer the Parish more that you may think.
There are many Catholics, especially those older Catholics who lived through the changes of the post-Vatican II era, and who are still active Catholics (of course, so many left the Church too), who look back fondly on that era and still believe to this day that those radical changes were the best thing to ever happen to the Church. As they see it, the spirit of Vatican II is wonderful, and they love that the barriers came down, the stuffy altar was replaced by the communion table, the priest finally turned to face the people who could now see what he was doing, and they even love its music, fondly humming its insufferable tunes. Many of these Catholics are looked down on and summarily dismissed as “boomers” (a term used pejoratively) by members of the so-called traditionalist movement. And many traditionalists are waiting for that generation to die off so the Church can become more traditional again. I think many older parishioners, like this man above, probably feel that sentiment aimed at them and that their voices are ignored.
I believe this parishioner’s frank frustration, blunt verbiage, and his sudden resignation is exactly the kind of reaction that many tradition-leaning priests fear. There are very few parishes in the world today that are not fundamentally “spirit of Vatican II churches,” that is, they have been built on the modernist traditions of the past 50 years. It is what they know, it is their life as it were. This means that any priest who tries to bring changes to his parish in light of Catholic tradition is likely to have at least some parishioners reacting as this man did. Or perhaps the frustrated parishioners don’t leave the parish; perhaps they even don’t let the priest know how they feel. They may instead just work to undermine his efforts in any number of ways. I imagine this email cut to the heart of the priest and was grieved over. I do not know the outcome of what happened next. I hope reconciliation can happen. I doubt it will. But I do appreciate his forthrightness.
I am a Catholic who believes the Traditional Latin Mass is fundamentally and in every way far superior than the Novus Ordo. I am even inclined to believe the Church has been under various punishments since and because of the Novus Ordo’s promulgation. However, I am not a radtrad as some traditionalists call themselves positively and are called by others pejoratively. In fact, I go to both the TLM and the Novus Ordo for various reasons. And I have never been someone who loves tradition either merely for aesthetic or nostalgic reasons. I’m not into tradition as some men love 1957 Chevys. I came to a love for tradition because my life’s journey took me through the world of Christian classical homeschooling, which begins with the nature of man and his purpose in relation to God. I began to critique my presuppositions in light of my experience of living in a post-modern world, growing up Baptist/evangelical, and being curious about history, philosophy, and the arts. Within the Protestant milieu I experienced the anemic stance towards holiness, the personally fashioned image of Jesus, and profoundly false anthropology of modern American Protestantism. I experienced worship redefined as pop-music and sentimentalism. Then I came into the Church (God be praised!) and I saw this same modern Protestant and American culture was thoroughly infused syncretically throughout the local parishes I visited. The leaven of the modernist world had worked its way into so much of the Church.
I also noticed both a mix of blindness to the syncretism and a thorough love of it. Parishioners were not chafing under the weight of modernism corrupting the Church, they were loving it. Or, at least, that’s how it looked to me.
I felt like the bank teller who has learned to identify counterfeit bills by becoming highly familiar with the real thing, but in this case I knew the counterfeit all too well and was only coming to learn of the real thing. The thing is, I was just so happy to be in the true Church that I let a lot slide for a while — and I still do, and I’m still happy. I love being Catholic, not merely for the joy I find, but because Catholicism is true. Also, I am no expert. And who am I anyway? Still, I feel that God has given me the eyes I have, formed on the journey I’ve traveled, to see some things that others might not; perhaps especially so-called cradle Catholics. I believe that the long tradition of the Church, especially that old “stuffy” Latin Mass, lived out in love and relying on the Holy Spirit, is an antidote needed for the world today – not just the for the Church, but for the world.
Thus I am bothered by the letter above. I see it run through with problems, false assumptions, ignorance, and immaturity. I want to be dismissive.
And yet, and yet…
I (and we) must have compassion for those who love the New Mass and its music and its culture. For that’s what it is, a culture. Culture arises from cultus. How we worship, including the nuts and bolts of our liturgies, form us. What direction the priest faces works within us at such a deep level and in such a precognitive way that the simple fact of orientation teaches us about God and man, saying one thing or another thing. How we receive the Blessed Sacrament, whether on the tongue or in the hand, whether standing or kneeling, teaches (instilling within us) us at a deeply subconscious level knowledge (true or false) of Christ and our relationship to Him, saying one thing or another thing. At the end of Mass, when we are told to go out into the world, we take with us our cultus which has formed deep within us, formed even minutes before, so deeply that much of it is subconscious and intuitive, and works on our minds to such a degree, that what seems right to us seems so as though from the foundations of the earth. But this is not the same thing as being right. And that Catholic cultus has to contend with the world’s cultus, which smothers us nearly every minute.
The power of formation is not primarily at the conscious level. Much like the bank teller intuitively knowing a good bill from a false one, the well formed Catholic recognizes truth and error, depth and shallowness, beauty and mediocrity, faith and sentimentality, in an almost precognitive manner. Overwhelming evidence declares that Catholics can be poorly formed. Our sensibilities can lead us to wrong understandings, poor interpretations, and misguided evaluations. And our conclusions will feel absolutely right. We almost can’t help it; no one knowingly believes falsehoods, we can only believe what we believe is true. Therefore, we must have compassion and empathy for others. We must seek humility. Our true battle is not over liturgy, or tradition, or theology. Our true battle is again Satan and his devils, against the sin within us, and against the temptations of the world. We are in a profound spiritual, physical, and metaphysical battle for our faith, the Church, and our souls. That battle, of course, plays out much of the time within the physical realm, including the realm of liturgy, culture, and even politics, but we must seek eyes that see and ears that hear, we must seek soft hearts and and sensitive souls, so that we may know where the real battle lies, otherwise we will miss it — perhaps even joining an enemy who tricks and begiles us.
If you watch documentaries about the 1960s, such as Ken Burns film The Vietnam War, especially the parts that focus on the homefront in the US, or the PBS documentary Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation, you can’t help but feel for the youth caught up in the spirit(s) of the age. There was little chance of any young Catholic at that time, living in the midst of that culture, who would not have also interpreted the post-Vatican II changes, especially those done under the spirit of Vatican II mantra, as utterly comprehensible and necessary. Many of these young Catholics supported refocusing the Church towards the burning issues of the day and, more importantly, defining the approach to those issues in the same terms used by the campus radicals, the feminists, the neo-socialists, and especially those of the anti-war and civil rights movements.
It wasn’t just a matter of getting rid of what was old, it was believing what we call traditional Catholicism as being fundamentally incompatible with the modern age and, thus, being a barrier to spiritual growth, a meaningful relationship with Christ, evangelization, and even authentic Catholicism (nevermind the saints, great and small, who knew nothing else but traditional Catholicism because it was just Catholicism). Traditional priestly garb and religious habits began to look more and more like anachronistic costumes, almost laughable; Latin like a language mummified.
However, with time and statistics we have come to see that a great deal has been lost, not least are numbers of faithful catholics in the pews and vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But also so much depth and richness has been lost. It was, in effect, the Church declaring that the Real Presence was still dogma but not really true, and that faith was merely a matter of personal preference after all. Our priests, by not having the Traditional Latin Mass available to them, perhaps have suffered the most — no longer being fed daily on the more nourishing food of tradition but rather “eating” a less spiritually enriching fair that is bound to leave one at the very least rather anemic. And if one has never eaten from the sumptuous feast’s table one will neither know the riches available or the true depth of satiation.
The Novus Ordo is a culture, and it produces sons and daughters of itself. I believe that many priests have gone into the priesthood thinking and hoping that in the Novus Ordo culture they will become men that only a TLM culture can produce. I know of a similar experience coming into the Church as a convert. Many, many things went terribly amiss during the frantic hubbub of the radical sixties. Much has been lost or destroyed. In one generation enough destruction and spiritual darkness was unleashed that it may take five generations to recover. The “good” bishops and popes have been trying to fix it ever since – tinkering here, adjusting there, moving slowly out of caution? concerns? fear? Of course, I don’t have the answer, and who am I anyway?
The “boomers” and the rest of the Novus Ordo crowd (I also frequently attend the Novus Ordo and just missed being called a boomer by only one year, and not all boomers are pro-Novus Ordo culture) are not the enemy. Even if you are a staunch traditionalist you ought to see them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. One might chose to “fight” for the great traditions of the Church, and especially the Traditional Latin Mass, to return in a big way, but one must not fall into a hardened “us and them” mentality. And you ought to love them. They have been taught and formed by the Church and their culture, just as we all have. Their formation, good or bad, falls largely upon the shoulders of the bishops who had that responsibility and who eagerly welcomed the spirit of the age into the Church, calling it the spirit of Vatican II, though often veering wildly beyond the councils documents. Regardless, our job is to love God and each other. We are to seek unity in love, with humility, and with total faith in God — which means we know that it is God who fights our battles. But the older crowd are not the only ones who love the Novus Ordo more than the TLM. Even many younger folks do so as well, for reasons I can’t quite fathom. People love things for different reasons. And they don’t love other things for different reasons; sometimes merely out of ignorance, sometimes because of their formation, and sometimes for good reasons. But this is a larger topic.
I feel for the man who wrote the letter above. I believe he wrote from his heart. I believe his grievances came from real grieving. I also wonder, without wanting to psychoanalyse him, if his grieving doesn’t come from having had a kind of “mountain top” experience in his youth, being caught up in the spirit of the age and feeling like he had received a “new pentecost,” which has stayed with him and sustained him for many years, and now he feels it’s being taken away.
I’m sure he is not alone.
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I’ve been on somewhat of a phenomenology kick lately. In that time I’ve come across the brilliant French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. I have posted several of his videos already. Here are two more. The first one below I find is quite brilliant, in which he works through the logic of giving, gift giving, receiving a gift, and the nature(s) of the gift.
If I understand his explanation of “the gift,” I can’t help but think of the following passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew 5:38-48
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The Crucifixion of St. Peter, etching, 1685 by Jan Luyken
There are so many reasons why a Protestant would consider becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I nearly did myself. My own journey into the Catholic Church included searching in various directions, but mostly in the direction of history and mystery, which led me to Orthodoxy, but also in the direction of authority and unity, which finally led to Catholicism.
I am no theologian or Church historian. My mind works more like a poet than a philosopher. I am not a logician nor am I a stickler for the minutiae of dogmatic disputes. Nonetheless, Truth (capital T truth) is important to me. And loving Christ, obeying His commandments, seeking holiness and perfection and theosis is everything to me — all things I am sorely bad at doing. My journey, and the decisions I have made along the way, are not criticisms of dear friends who have made different decisions. The best I can do is try to reasonably do my homework, be as humble as I can, and trust God. I believe I am right, or I wouldn’t believe what I believe, but I also know how easy it is to be wrong. And so I humbly offer here my reasons for becoming Catholic rather than Orthodox. I do not claim wisdom, only that by God’s grace did I find the true Church.
I’ve written many posts on this blog about my journey. You can find them by searching some of the topics and tags on the sidebar. One described my visiting a local Orthodox church; a visit that truly inspired me and moved my heart. I have friends that are members at that church. I also found the writings of some Eastern Orthodox authors amazing, especially those of Alexander Schmemann, and especially his book “For the Life of the World.” And I wrote about my struggles with Protestantism and my seeking something far more rooted in tradition than the anemic Evangelical culture I experienced. Finally, being a bit of a cinephile, my favorite filmmaker is the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, an artist deeply influenced by the Christian faith of Russia Orthodoxy. His aesthetic and artistic philosophy comes from that faith, it resonates deeply in my soul. Consequently, I was drawn very much to the Orthodox Church.
Eastern Orthodoxy offers a powerful antidote to some of our western culture’s religious ills. But, in the end, I could not make the leap. I had, instead, to first deal with Catholicism head-on. I realized that a key attraction of Orthodoxy for me was that I could get an ancient liturgy, the Church fathers, all the smells and bells, icons, mystery, penance, history, and on and on, and I could still fundamentally be Protestant. In other words, I could get most everything I was seeking (or thought I was seeking) without having to submit to the Pope. I had to confront this and find out what the Catholic Church taught, and if it was the better choice than Eastern Orthodoxy.
I was raised within and formed by a very anti-Catholic culture. I had a lot of fears of even getting slightly close to Catholicism. But I also realized that every negative thing I ever heard about the Church came from enemies of the Church. How would I feel if someone refused to give me a chance to defend myself against slander, claiming they already heard everything they needed to hear from my enemies? I felt convicted that I was being unfair. Even more so, I came to see that the final step was not the logic of an argument, rather it was the attitude of my heart. I began to see that I first must submit to God in all humility before I could sort through the various claims. In short, I realized the fundamental issue, the very crux itself, was whether I was willing to submit or whether I was going to continue to demand my own authority. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue to define and demarcate my faith, based on my own authority, as disunity with other Christians. I needed something transcending my own person to hold me accountable. I also realized I was no longer “protesting,” and therefore I found it absurd to be a Protestant. Rather, I had to turn to God and ask Him to lead me, even in a direction that scared me. My will, not my rationality, was the problem — a problem of the heart forged within me by the Protestant (and American) culture that made me.
In the end, the Catholic Church won me over. In fact, I believe it was God, through Mary, who led me to the Church in spite of my many worries, fears, and struggles. I am not an apologist. As I stated earlier, I am no theologian or logician. I’m a relatively bright guy, but my reasons for becoming Catholic are probably more poetic than apologetic. Catholicism began to form a kind of song in my soul, a resonance that called me home. The question I had to answer was if I willing to hear that tune and follow it. But I had to be clear to myself why I could not settle for Eastern Orthodoxy when it offered so much of what I was looking for, and when so many of my friends found a home there.
Following are some of my reasons. Needless to say, these are very personal reasons. I say this because I know each of us is on a journey and the big decisions we make in life, though often of a universal nature (Truth, Faith, Religion, etc.), are also uniquely played in each of our lives. Therefore, I can only speak for myself and not for anyone else.
In Protestantism, there is no true authority. As anyone who has taken a critical look at Protestantism knows, Sola Scriptura can only, finally, mean that an individual’s opinion is authoritative, which of course it is not. Every Protestant pastor establishes himself or herself as the authority, offering their interpretations and “applications” of scripture, and church members shop churches like consumers search for restaurants — some search for cheap drive-throughs and others for fine dining, but they all are merely searching according to their preferred tastes and immediate interests. Christianity in America, and much of the world, has become a kind of marketplace complete with producers and consumer, sellers and buyers. It’s a free market economy driven by marketing and business plans. But the Catholic Church has the magisterium, with its Pope and Bishops, handing on and defending the faith. Because it is a hierarchy based on a monarchy it demands submission to its authority which it claims is given by Christ our King. The Catholic argument for the primacy of Peter makes a great deal of sense to me, especially since it seems so clearly based on scripture. Doesn’t the Catholic Church’s interpretation of those scriptures, elevating Peter to the position of primacy, seem best? Individual Catholic churches will have small differences, and many bishops argue with each other over various topics, but they are all in communion with Rome. Every aspect of this is radically foreign to the Protestant’s heart and mind. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism hold to Holy Scripture and Tradition as the sources of Truth and Revelation, but Eastern Orthodoxy, while demanding more authority for itself than any Protestant church, has no true living magisterium, or teaching authority that can supersede and arbitrate between reasonable but different positions on faith and morals, and continue to do so as history unfolds itself. Only the Catholic Church has the living magisterium. Any former Protestant will certainly experience a stronger sense of institutional authority within Eastern Orthodoxy than he did within Protestantism. And that might feel like more than enough; I’m sure for many that was already a tough pill to swallow and I don’t want to downplay that experience. Eastern Orthodoxy certainly has more substantive guardrails than the local Bible church on the corner, but the Orthodox Church is still, at best, a loosely unified church, and at worst a church falsely claiming unity, and perhaps self-deceived in that regard. This is the problem with not having a living magisterium. I came to realize that the question of authority was a huge issue for me personally; bigger than I ever imagined. God was calling me to submit to the authority of His Church on earth. Eastern Orthodoxy was attractive to me precisely because I wouldn’t have to submit in such a total way, perhaps not unless I wanted to become a deacon(?), but even then it would only be submission on a local and/or ethnic/national church level; just another particular church, not the universal Church. I could continue to avoid the pope. Some might take issue with this position, but it seemed clear to me then, and it seems clear to me now that there is no final source of authority in Eastern Orthodoxy, merely submission to one of the self-headed churches and their traditions and interpretations of scripture (however unified they can seem to someone from Protestantland).
To sum this up, because I realize I could be misrepresenting the Eastern Orthodox view (perhaps challenging its self-view) of authority, the real crux of the issue for me was my pride. I was wrapped up in my pride and the Catholic Church more than the Orthodox church confronted me on my pride. I need to be radically humbled and the Catholic Church does that for me. This fact I took as a key piece of evidence.
The question of authority, as stated above, is inextricably linked with unity. Although some try to claim that Eastern Orthodoxy is unified, it is not. In fact, it is quite fragmented and has been for centuries. Eastern Orthodoxy has divided along numerous ethnic and nationalistic lines; different but also similar to Protestant denominations. In my own town, I was faced with whether I would join the local Serbian Orthodox church or the local Greek Orthodox church. They are different churches, not merely different parishes. As a Protestant, I was used to having such decisions before me, but my soul was longing for something else. As a Protestant, Eastern Orthodoxy offered more unity (or seemed to) than I was familiar with, and therefore it attracted me, but in the end I wanted even greater unity. I couldn’t settle for partial unity. I didn’t believe the Holy Spirit would abandon the body of Christ to so much disunity for so long on such a scale. (Of course, I could be terribly wrong.) I didn’t want to sort through the battles between Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox. I didn’t want to accept the αὐτοκεφαλία of a hydra-headed animal as a work of the Holy Spirit. I realized that Protestantism had trained me to accept disunity as a “natural” way of the Church, and I absolutely wanted no part of it. I felt the need to flee from disunity. Perhaps I was oversensitive, but I wanted a Church that could contain various rites and expressions of the faith, but was still in total unity with itself, transcending and judging national and ethnic boundaries, structurally bound together by a visible Vicar of Christ. I just found Eastern Orthodoxy far less unified than some try to present it (see the video below for more details). Of course, Catholicism has a lot of issues, a ton of internal squabbles, and many Catholics do not get along, but we are in communion nonetheless. We share in the table of our Lord, in His body and blood, and in our shared creed and dogmas regardless of the many other ways we can find ourselves struggling to be in unity. I also realized that most Catholic liturgical rites are, in fact, much like, or even exactly like those of the Eastern Orthodox churches. If I wanted, I could go to a church not too far away, pastored by a friend of mine, that uses the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It is an Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Pope. It’s possible to have something quite “eastern” within the Catholic Church if that’s one’s preference.
Although many Catholics today, including many churchmen, take a very lax view of divorce, remarriage, and receiving Holy Communion while in a state of grave sin, the Catholic Church does, in fact, officially teach that divorce and remarriage is forbidden, and that receiving Holy Communion in such a state is a mortal sin. The Orthodox Church, however, officially has a less strict position. It’s not uncommon to say the Orthodox Church blesses the first marriage, performs the second, tolerates the third, and forbids the fourth. I have come to believe this position contradicts the direct teaching of Christ. I do not mean to speak lightly of the real struggles many couples have in marriage, but I believe the official position of the Catholic Church is far superior to that of the Eastern Orthodox; it is, in fact, orthodox while the Orthodox position is not. In fact, there are even different positions within Easter Orthodoxy given the lack of magisterial unity. But marriage may just be the defining issue of our age. Attacking marriage and the priesthood have become, I am convinced, the number one targets in the overall game plan of the Evil One to destroy the Church. Marriage was instituted by God as the means by which He educates mankind about His relationship with us. Marriage is fundamental to the story of salvation. God is the ultimate educator and marriage is His great analogical example for us. In this light, it is the Catholic Church that has the best chance to be the bulwark against these attacks of the Devil. There are many faithful Christians within the various branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, but institutionally it is the Catholic Church that is the primary instrument on earth in Christ’s hands to do battle against the principalities of darkness and evil. It is also the one institution most clearly under attack on every front, including from within. This alone should be a testament to the primacy of the Catholic Church, and was one of the clear and visible signs that finally drew me through its doors.
Authority, unity, and the profound issue of divorce and remarriage stand as primary touchstones for why I didn’t jump into Eastern Orthodoxy. But there are other reasons. The Catholic Church is truly catholic and global, it is also western in western countries. I am a child of so-called western culture. There is a fascinating and mysterious element to Eastern Orthodoxy that I find attractive because of its foreignness. But there is a kind of false fit with who I am. I felt my curiosity with Eastern Orthodoxy was due, in large part, because it felt extra mysterious to this west-coast white-toast American, and thus it felt radically non-Protestant. That attracted me, but I needed more substance than feelings. The Catholic Church has been more readily able to culturally adapt as it has spread around the world than Eastern Orthodoxy. This means I can be in unity with Catholics around the world, sharing in the same liturgy with them any day of the week, and yet find an appropriate cultural fit between the cult and the culture in which God placed me, and they with theirs.
Also, the Catholic Church more fully and properly venerates the Mother of our Lord. Mary has become an increasingly important person in my faith, drawing me closer to her Son. Eastern Orthodoxy tends to see Catholics as taking this devotion too far. I disagree. Catholic teaching on Mary is the clearest, most biblical, and most meaningful to the lives of the faithful than any other teaching.
Another issue that seems to come up is the filioque. This is a theological and historical issue having to do with the creed, and it’s easy to find overviews of the issue online if you’re curious. In looking into it for myself, I found it not only thin in substance but it strikes me as a rather cheap excuse for any Eastern Orthodox Christian to cling to as a reason for not becoming Catholic.
And then I found interesting that whenever people think of the “Church” they think of Catholicism. If our society has issues with Christianity, with its positions on marriage, sexuality, gender, etc, it always looks to the Catholic Church to see what it says. Our world so desperately wants the Catholic Church to change its positions on nearly every dogma and doctrine. For the most part, our society doesn’t care about what the Eastern Orthodox think, on any topic really. And few Protestants care all that much if another of their fold converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, perhaps they slightly tilt their head in confusion, but they practically foam at the mouth if that conversion is to Catholicism. This says a lot, strongly implying that in the grand design, and deep within the hearts of even the most unrepentant men, it is the Catholic Church that stands as the visible body of Christ in the world, even to those who deny every one of its claims, and the world knows it has to deal with that. If they hated Christ first, they will hate His followers even more, and they hate the Catholic Church more than any other institution on earth.
Finally, if I am honest, I did not choose the Catholic Church. Rather, and not to be trite, but it chose me. I was called, impelled, and even compelled into it. If I had chosen Eastern Orthodoxy I would have been merely fleeing Protestantism. I no longer wanted to be a heretic. Yes, I wanted a truly apostolic Church, and I do see the Eastern Orthodox churches descending from the apostolic tradition, but this longing within me wouldn’t let me settle for second best. In the end, my choice was no choice but to become Catholic. And continuing in honesty, it has not been easy. The Catholic Church is filled with sinners (me included) and has been ravaged by modernism, wicked bishops, unfaithful priests, sexual abuse and institutional coverups, financial corruption, rank idiocy, and numerous devious attacks by the Evil One, but this has only convinced me that the Catholic Church is the true body of Christ, for these hard facts merely confirm her core teachings through and through. We are truly sinners in need of a savior. We are a wayward bride continually being called back from harlotry to the all-loving bridegroom. More than any other church, and more than any institution on earth, the Catholic Church relentlessly experiences the most persecution from without as well as from within. This can only come from the Devil who wants to destroy the Church. And only this level of attack, combined with the Church’s resilient survival, could be part of God’s ultimate plan of salvation, presented to us in the prophetic words of scripture and the words of Our Lady. The Catholic Church is both the earthly means of our salvation and stands as the greatest visible example of why we so desperately need salvation from our sin, the world, and the Devil.
Do all these reasons for why I personally chose the Catholic Church over Eastern Orthodoxy mean all Eastern Orthodox Christians are wrong? I can’t say. Or I don’t want to say. I’m sure some are wrong, but perhaps not all. Each person’s journey is different, and where God has them is His prerogative. For many converts it was a huge personal decision to leave Protestantism and enter the Orthodox Church. I certainly do not doubt their faith. I would just say to former Protestants who made the big move to Orthodoxy that you might want to consider if you have truly moved far enough. Could it be that you changed the form without actually changing some core Protestant positions? Did you get history and mystery but are avoiding authority? Are you holding on to a desire for your own authority and wanting, perhaps subconsciously, to retain the “right” to your own biblical interpretations? Was the move to Orthodoxy the easier choice than Catholicism? If yes, why? Are you still clinging to your own authority, or perhaps to more of an aesthetic change, or now you don’t want to give up your community, or could it be you’re still basing your decision on that funny inner feeling so common to Protestants? I am not judging but seriously asking because all these reasons I had to wrestle with myself. And I realize any kind of change, especially this kind of change, is extremely difficult, complex, and fraught with all sorts of issues.
And I ask for forgiveness if I have misrepresented the Orthodox Church. I do realize there is far more complexity than I am able or willing to deal with in this post. Although, at this point in my own journey of faith, I have no interest in arguing about it. I’ll leave that to others. I am working too hard, and failing too often, at just becoming a good Catholic.
May God bless you.
Lastly, this post was sparked, in part, by this video below. It’s well worth taking the time to listen.
So much wisdom in this short piece. Arvo Pärt is truly a treasure.
At the 2020 Grammy Awards the progressive rock band Tool won the award for Best Metal Performance with their song 7EMPEST from their album Fear Inoculum. When two of the band’s members came to the stage to accept the award, the first to speak was the tall, blond drummer Danny Carey.
Although I did not see their acceptance moment when it happened, I read that Carey had said a short tribute to the recently deceased drummer, Neil Peart of the mega prog band Rush. Peart was one of the greatest rock drummers in history, a true phenomenon in the music world, and one of my favorite musicians. I first heard Peart play in the early 1980’s when I bought the album “Exit… Stage Left” and and nearly wore the grooves flat joyfully playing it ad nauseum.
Hearing of Carey’s mention of Peart, I checked out Tool, and especially their latest album. I had heard of them years ago, but never really listened to their music, so much of what I write here will already be well known to some of you. I discovered they are very, very good (they did just win a Grammy, and have won others), and I liked the first several tracks a lot. In particular I focused on Carey’s drumming, and he is amazing; a true master of his craft. Part way into the album I decided to learn more about Tool and about Carey.
What I discovered disturbed me.
Danny Carey is a gifted, world class musician. From his Grammys acceptance speech he also seems like a great guy, a loving husband and father, and I would assume he is a kind and gentle man. I have nothing against him and, in fact, wish him all the best. Of course, as a Catholic, I also wish him the grace and mercy of God, things we are all in desperate need of.
But here’s my concern: Carey is into the occult, and it appears he does not merely dabble, but takes it quite seriously — is a practitioner of some expertise. In fact, his father was a master Freemason. Since Carey was a child he has been deeply fascinated with the occult. His drumming is an extension, in a way, of his occult practices; even a way to channel demons. Read his bio below to learn some of the salient details of his occult studies and their role in his music.
The following is Carey’s personal profile from the band’s previous website:
Danny grew up in Paola, KS. Relatively normal, an element of mystery was added to Danny’s childhood when one day he spied his father with a large sword conducting a Masonic ritual. Danny would later notice himself performing similar movements when he began playing drums at the age of thirteen. As Danny progressed through high school and then college at the University of Missouri in Kansas City he began supplementing his studies in percussion with speculation into the principles of geometry, science, and metaphysics. A commitment to life as an artist brought Danny to LA where he was able to perform as a studio drummer with projects like Carole King and play around town with Pygmy Love Circus. He would later find an outlet for addressing a fuller scope of his potentials in Tool and another project operating under the title of Zaum. Despite not becoming a Mason or aligning himself with any other school of religion, Danny has maintained his heritages interest in occult studies. Endeavors into this realm have manifested periodically, such as the time he achieved insight into a hidden aspect of the unicursal hexagram utilizing an astral journey initiated through meditation and DMT. Danny then set up his drums into proportions utilizing the circle and square of the New Jerusalem and uttered a short prayer relating to the principles of the ace of swords from the book of Thoth. He then performed a ritual utilizing his new found knowledge of the unicursal hexagram to generate a pattern of movement in space relating to Fuller’s vector equilibrium model. The resulting rhythm and gateway summoned a daemon he has contained within “the Lodge” that has been delivering short parables similar to passages within the Book of Lies. Danny recommends as a device of protection and containment a thorough study and utilization of the underlying geometry of the Temple of Solomon for anyone purchasing their next record.
[Note: This is from 2011 from the band’s website. I could not find or access a more current bio. However, this recent article seems to validate the older bio.]
When I read Carey’s bio I immediately stopped listening to Tool’s album, quickly pulling the earplugs out of my ears. I suddenly felt the need to distance myself from the music and the band. I was mad that I liked the music, knowing that it has certain qualities I find attractive. I had to turn away. But I also couldn’t stop wondering about Carey, who seems like a really nice guy who’s into really dark things. And I realize that I may be the last person to know about Tool and its fascination with the occult.
People are into all kinds of things that are dangerous, foolish, and sinful. This has always been typical of us humans, but I think having and interest into dark things, specifically the occult, is growing by leaps and bounds today. I know that the world is crazy and has little interest in Christ the King. Certainly, many people don’t believe Christ has already conquered the devil. And I know perhaps sometimes we just might have to roll our eyes or shrug our shoulders at some of the things we see. We can’t get worked up over every evil in the world. None of us have that kind of stamina or bandwidth. But the Devil is real. Demons are real. And this is not a little thing.
Specifically, I was struck by two things in the bio above. First, the way he sets up his drums and has played them summoned a demon that is somehow currently active in his playing. Carey say it’s “contained,” but I doubt it. We don’t contain or control demons. Rather, they fool us, and play us, and use us, and eventually abuse us. Second, he recommends that anyone buying their album should have a “device of protection.” This is truly frightening. I doubt Carey consciously intends any harm (I could be wrong), but I believe he is not only playing with fire, rather he has become, and has unleashed, an actual threat to the well-being of potentially thousands or even millions of listeners. His Faustian bargain has won him a Grammy, but the Devil plays for keeps. The Devil wants more than a Grammy. I fear that listening to their album could bring (channel?) demons into one’s own life. In fact, I’m sure of it — and I’m a feet on the ground, level-headed guy.
Demons are real. Demons are truly evil and powerful. Demons ought not to be played with.
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, thrust into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for Danny Carey.
Martin Heidegger, before he became the 20th century’s greatest philosopher and infamous for a morally questionable life, was a devout Catholic. His father was the sexton in their parish. Martin and his brother helped. Below is taken from Rüdiger Safranski’s biography of Heidegger:
The “sexton lads,” Martin and his younger brother, Fritz, had to help with the church services. They were servers, they picked flowers to decorate the church, they ran errands for the priest, and they rang the bells. There were–as Heidegger recalls in On the Secret of the Bell Tower (Vom Geheimnis des Glockenturms)–seven bells in the tower, each with its own name, its own sound, and its own time. There was the “Four,” to be rung at four in the afternoon; the “Alarm Bell,” which roused the town’s sleepers from their slumber; and the “Three,” which was also the knell. The “Child” rang for sunday school and for rosary worship; the “Twelve” marked the end of morning lessons at the school; the “Klanei” was the bell struck by the hour hammer; and the one with the most beautiful ring was the “Big One”; it would ring on the eve and on the morning of high holidays. Between Maundy Thursday and Easter Saturday the bells were silent; instead there were rattles. A cranking handle set in motion a number of little hammers that struck against hard wood. A rattle stood in each of the four corners of the tower, and the boy bell ringers had to work the handles in turn to ensure that the harsh sound went out in all four directions of the compass The most beautiful time was Christmas. Toward half past three in the morning, the boy ringers would come to the sextion’s house, where mother Heidegger had laid the table with cakes and milky coffee. After this breakfast, lanterns were lit in the front-door passage, and everyone went out through the snow and the winter’s night to the church opposite and up into the dark bell tower to the frozen ropes and ice-covered clappers. “The mysterious fuge,” Martin Heidegger wrote, “in which the church feasts, the days of vigil, and the passage of the seasons and the morning, midday, and evening hours of each day fitted into each other, so that a continual ringing went through the young hearts, dreams, prayers, and games–it is this, probably that conceals one of the most magical, most complete, and most lasting secrets of the tower.” (Safranski 7)
That image of the boys going out into the snow around four in the morning to climb the bell tower and ring the bells is beautiful. These are the kinds of things we have lost in our frantic grasping after modernism and progress.
Safranski, Rüdiger. Martin Heidegger: between Good and Evil. Translated by Ewald Osers, Harvard University Press, 2002.
Recently I stumbled across the brilliant philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. I have been reading some philosophy lately, and my focus has been mostly on phenomenology. I studied a bit of phenomenology in college, along with structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, I now find myself diving back into these areas of thought.
Jean-Luc Marion is particularly interesting to me, in part because he is an unapologetic Catholic. I recently posted a video in which he answers the question of why he remains Catholic. I love his answers. (I guess one could say he is, in fact, apologetic because he provides an apologia for his faith.)
Below are two of his lectures. Though he is a philosopher and, therefore, brings his deeper thinking to the topics at hand, I find these talks very accessible. His very French accent is quite thick, but one gets used to it. I have now listened to each a couple of times. They are excellent.
Years ago I wrote a post about my searching for the true Church. I was heading towards the Catholic Church and I knew it. And I did enter the Church later that year. I “came home” as so many converts from Protestantism say. That was a little over six years ago. I do not regret my decision. In fact, I am so glad I became Catholic, and then that my wife and kids entered the Church.
But all is not well in the Church today. It never has been, I realize that, but it seems far, far worse now than in recent centuries. Personally this is a struggle. I know it is for many Catholics as well. My the struggle is not about whether I feel I made the right decision. I am convinced I did, by the grace of God. I applaud (and pray for) any becoming-Catholic person standing on the threshold today, perhaps in RCIA, who is hanging in there and not being deterred by the actions of evil men. For me, however, the struggle has to do more with how I raise my kids, how I and my family become more Catholic, how we move closer to God, and if we end up in Heaven.
I now look back on that post and I realize it was written two months before Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis. Since that time a lot has happened. A lot of water has flowed down the Tiber, a river I “crossed” later that same year. And then this year a couple of faithful Austrian Catholics threw pagan idols into that same Italian river, idols that they removed, no less, from a Catholic church, idols used in honor of demons and that had been worshiped by both pagans and Catholics together in a ceremony in the Vatican gardens at the feet of the Pope who gave his approval, on video, for the whole world to see. I don’t really know what’s going on, but this seems crazy–truly crazy, like antichrist crazy. (Pray, pray, pray for the Pope)
Sometimes I feel like one of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the storm and wondering why Jesus is asleep.
Thus far I have not talked to my kids about these, and many other, dark things in the Church. I only say a few things about them to my wife. In light of it all she has asked if I want to remain Catholic. Honestly, more than ever. This is one of the most exciting times to be Catholic. There is a war for the faith that is evident, palpable, and existential. It’s hard to be lukewarm in times like these, and that’s good.
Over that last couple of years my eyes have slowly opened. I have learned about Fatima and related prophecies, I have witnessed (from afar of course) scandals both theological and moral perpetrated by many close to the Holy Father, I have heard the Pope say a number of highly questionable statements, and the list goes on and on. But there’s so much more. Back in the 1980’s Saint John Paul II (the great?) let a buddhist idol be placed on a Catholic altar in Assisi during an “ecumenical” prayer meeting with leaders of other religions. Earlier the Mass given to us by God was changed by men in the 1970’s into something less than excellent, and with it churches were destroyed with altar rails thrown into alleys, altars crushed and replaced by tables, and the glorious music of the Church replaced with crap, utter crap. And there’s so, so much more to complain about. The list is nearly endless. It’s been going on for decades at least. And it’s clear all this could only come about by the hand of Satan, the willful folly of prideful churchmen, and the eager acceptance of a laity awash in the worldly currents of a modernist, consumerist, distracted, self centered society. (Some have blamed the so-called boomers, and there’s some truth to that, but they are not all to blame.)
This has been an interesting couple of years of eye-opening discoveries for me.
In the meantime I have also discovered something of traditional Catholicism. I have gone to several Extraordinary Form masses. I have a TLM missal (1962), and a couple of much older French versions as well. I have ready many articles and some books on the topic, and been studying it a bit. I have also dug a bit into traditional Catholic practices. Over and over I am struck by what has been abandoned and lost, and by what an enormous amount of knowledge I don’t have. A vastly beautiful religion has been largely gutted with barely a shell left. We are left with an anemic Mass and recourse to whatever we can summon from within ourselves of faith and piety. Modern Catholicism is nearly identical with modern Evangelical Protestantism — a faith of feelings and personal truth. I gather most Catholics today are also mostly ignorant of what has been lost. And most don’t seem to care.
But I must confess that for how much I would love the simplicity of merely raising the flag of Catholic traditionalism, I think the answer is more than that. More than traditionalism, it’s orthodoxy. I believe that ideas have consequences, and that beliefs come before action. Or, perhaps better, actions arise from belief. Traditionalism is fine, but we must be very cautious not to be caught up in the aesthetics, even for all their beauty. We must first go back to the fundamental truths, to orthodox truths. Our actions, whether they look traditional, or a mix of traditional and new, or sometime else, will follow. We must find a way back to the profound truth of Tradition without falling into the ideology of traditionalism. Perhaps it will look like the traditional Church of past generations. I would love that. There is so much that was lost or forgotten that is worth bringing back. But we must make sure we aren’t just larping in the garb of a non-modernist cultural past. Whatever we end up with must first and foremost be based upon, be run through like leaven in dough, with the Truth of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
And this brings me to the struggle I have today, and one of the reasons I long for the Church of the past. For all its faults (because every age has it faults), the Church of Tradition, of the past, was at its best a kind of totalizing culture. Catholics were trained in all aspects of the faith. Kids were taught the catechism, traditional prayers, Latin, and so much more. Catholic schools were actually Catholic. Religious vocations were a real option. Boys were altar servers and learned the Mass, and even wondered if they might become priests someday. (I believe that boys who learn the Mass become better fathers. Perhaps not necessarily, but I think it’s a good theory.) But I don’t want to romanticize the past. I actually know very little of the past, and certainly almost none of Catholic cultural past. But I can’t help but long for it.
As a new Catholic (it’s only been six years) and as a parent I need a Catholic culture. My family needs a truly Catholic, truly orthodox, saturated, rich, and encouraging culture so that our faith can grow and we can become more conformed to Christ. I want to know how to be Catholic. The examples available to me are not great. Social media doesn’t cut it. Cradle Catholics have no idea what it’s like for a Protestant to enter the Church. They have no idea what it’s like to know nothing of Catholic prayers, practices, and the million little things that Catholics take for granted. It’s like there’s a complete lack of understanding that there anything called “culture” in the minds of most Catholics. RICA courses often range between the pathetic and the heretical (the one I attended was some of both). And, on top of that, the modern Catholic culture is so anemic compared to what it could and should be that in many ways it’s nearly an embarrassment, or should be, to those few Catholics who still go to Mass and don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s the heresy of formlessness, as one author so eloquently put it. So many Catholics who seem all too happy in the midst such great losses, are utterly nonplussed by converts who stare aghast at the crumbled ruins. They sometimes blame the converts themselves for an imagined and caricatured fervency held-over from the ex-Protestant’s former faith. Rather, the truth is more mundane and spiritually dark than that. A great, bland blindness has settled on the Church like radiation fallout over the past few decades. Nearly everything is affected and infected. The reasons for this are legion. But I’m ranting. (And I’m saying nothing new.)
By way of encouragement, I want to say to my fellow faithful and open-eyed Catholics, and to those still considering entering (or re-entering) the Church, hold fast. Hold fast to Christ. Hold fast to His Church, which is His bride. Regardless of what you see around you, and especially regardless of what some scandalous bishop or heretical priest might do or say, hold fast. Hold fast regardless of the meagerness of the cultural feast presented to you. Remember this key truth, culture arises from cult (cultus), that is from worship. If we have a bad or anemic culture it’s because we have a bad or anemic cult. We see this is at play in our larger cultures (American culture is based on what and how Americans worship – money, distraction, sex, power, ideologies, things, themselves, etc) and we see the process at play in the Church subculture. The Novus Ordo Mass, though valid, is an objectively lesser Mass than the Traditional Latin Mass, and thus it produces a lesser culture. It says the Real Presence might not be all that real. It says it’s about us more than about Christ. It says it’s not that important to bring and do our best when worshiping out Lord and King. It claims symbolism more than Truth. If you wonder why it seems we live in a “power of myth” kind of church, begin by examining the Mass.
A faithful Catholic can cut through all that and still worship Christ in Truth, and still be moved and called to holiness, and still be deeply blessed. I certainly have. But when compared to the TLM, the Novus Ordo not only is a sad shadow of the TLM, it often works against itself, presenting strange and unnecessary challenges for priests, music ministers, and laity alike.
Okay, so a lot can be blamed on the past, and certainly on the Novus Ordo Mass and the “spirit” of Vatican II, but that’s the past (though, of course, still present). Let’s not be too emotionally burdened by the past. We must push forward for a better cult. Let’s us be like the Poles who shouted, “We want God!” Let us be like the Israelites who, upon hearing the forgotten and then rediscovered words of the Torah read to them by Nehemiah, wept for what was lost of both knowledge and culture. Then let us weep no more, but rather work towards the culture we need, based on right cult that is based on orthodox truth and that, sadly, must be demanded. Dive into you parish. Put your hand to the plough. Help with the logistics, with the maintenance, with what you can. Support your overworked priest. Don’t be the person who just points out what’s wrong and waits until someone else fixes it. But then claim your voice. Earn the respect in all authentic humility, and then own that respect and speak up, out loud.
We might have to be like the boy who said the emperor has no clothes. We just might need to point at the crap we see and call it crap, out loud. We just might need to tell our priests and bishops that communion in the hand dilutes the faith, and laity in the sanctuary is confusing, and bad music degrades the Mass, and that it’s not working anymore (and never did). We must, as servants of our Lord, demand a better cult. It just might be one of the most loving and humble things we can do.
And pray every day for the pope, your bishop, and your priests.
Jean-Luc Marion is one the preeminent philosophers today. He is also a theologian and devout Catholic. He was asked, given all the troubles within the Church today, why he remains Catholic. This is his answer:
Here is a video tour (in French) of the cathedral before the fire. At minute 9:05 they enter the roof area. You can see the wood structure and a couple of fire extinguishers. This is where the fire raced through the building. After watching the fire destroy the roof so ferociously, those fire extinguishers look more like ornaments than useful implements. I have to say, though, this is an amazing video. One gets a great inside, behind the walls as it were, tour of this great cathedral. Even if one doesn’t understand French.
Some video showing what the firefighters were up against:
Some images that caught my eye:
[*Note: I don’t remember where I found these images, so my apologies for not giving proper credit.]
Before and after:
Many are pointing out the fact that the aesthetically strange and seemingly out-of-place modernist altar designed to suit the Novus Ordo/Spirit of Vatican II modernist church has been destroyed under a pile of rubble while the traditional altar designed to suit the Traditional Latin Mass (the Mass for which this church was built) still stands. Some see this as highly symbolic, perhaps even prophetic. I tend to agree, or at least I want it to be true, but I don’t want to read too much into it.
And, finally, a beautiful song sung in her honor:
Most every day I pray to St. Pio for a special request. His faith staggers me. I wish I could be such as he was, and I fear it too. What would that look like for me?
This documentary on the life of Padre Pio is remarkable. I so wish for films of such depth and quality for other saints as this one. So many seem thin and sentimental. This one seems honest and artful.
And here is another excellent documentary:
One thing that strikes me while watching these films is noting the contrast of a Catholic culture compared to the non-Catholic culture I experience every day. How amazing it would be to live in such a world. I pray everyday for the return of Christendom. On the other hand, I am grateful that I live in such a time that it is nearly impossible to take for granted moments of true Catholic culture. Christ be praised at all times and in all situations.
Not all of us can regularly go to Mass in a cathedral of great beauty. Most Catholics have available to them rather humdrum works of architecture for their local parish. But it’s still possible to find beautiful small churches where careful attention to detail and the meaning of form went into their design. And yet, that still relatively rare.
The following video is an excellent look at one of the crown jewels of Catholic cathedrals, Chartres Cathedral in France. This comes from the “Smarthistory. art, history, conversation” YouTube channel. As you watch it, consider how much thought went into this building, and then consider the church where you regularly go to Mass. My point here is not to highlight the great beauty of Chartres compared to the humble local parish, but how carefully the design and the details were thought through and realized in Chartres. Can we achieve such excellence again? And can we achieve something of this in our local parishes? I believe we can and should.
Of course, very few parishes have the resources to build large and lavish churches, but often a church that achieves the right virtue of proper “churchness” is not a matter of resources, or size, or expensive materials, as it is of basic understanding and will. What I mean is that having the right understanding of what a church is and ought to be, and applying one’s minds carefully to its design, even a small church in a small parish can be a work of architecture worthy of worshiping Christ and elevating the faithful to Heaven.
I am surprised at how apparently ignorant so many Catholics are, including many in the hierarchy, about basic church architecture–or seem to be so. Churches are where we celebrate Mass. This is no small matter. Although, perhaps most Catholics are not as ignorance and not caring about such things, believing they are unimportant. However, the church building itself, though not absolutely necessary for celebrating Mass is, nonetheless, the normative place of worship. In it we meet the Real Presence of our Lord and savior, the King of Kings. If we take worship seriously then we should take church design seriously, including for the humble local parish Church. Catholics used to. But we haven’t for some time now. We must again.
I have frequently posted on this and related topics, for example here.
I also love how the speakers in the above video, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, don’t shy away from orthodox Catholic dogma. This is not a video where the information presented has a condescending tone toward faith and believers. I have no idea if they are Catholics or not, but they just say things as though they are relating how Catholics ought to think of these things. I think this is the best way to present something like Chartres Cathedral. The viewer can make up their own mind, but at least one should know what the builders of Chartres believed and what led to make the kinds of decisions they did.
I have also been reading an excellent book, Visions of Mary : art, devotion, and beauty at Chartres Cathedral by Rev. Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion. She is a scholar, photographer, and Episcopalian priest who has come to love Chartres and Catholic history. (I pray she takes the leap and become Catholic–perhaps not easy for a woman who is an Episcopalian priest. She would have to give up some things precious to her.) This book takes a look at aspects that speak directly to the Holy Mother, her role in the life of the Church, and how Catholics (especially in times past) think of Mary. It does so by focusing and meditating on specific details of the cathedral. This book makes me want to go to Chartres and spend some significant time with the Cathedral, taking pictures and making sketches and just attending to it.
As I see it, architects should look at Chartres, and similarly excellent Catholic churches, as inspiration to how they should think about church design in general, and then apply that understanding to every Catholic church building, even the most humble and simple of churches. I also believe the faithful should know these things too, being encouraged in the faith, but also demanding churches actually be Catholic in their designs.
Of course, church design tends to flow from intended use, thus a church designed to serve the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass will necessarily look different than one designed to serve the needs of a Novus Ordo Mass. This is why, when the Novus Ordo was promulgated, so many older churches had their altar rails removed, altars brought closer to the nave, and other changes because the Novus Ordo felt wrong in a traditional space. And this is also why the Novus Ordo still feels out of place in a traditional church even after those kinds of changes have been made, because arches, stained glass, cruciform floor plans, and other harder-to-change elements don’t fit the New Mass. The contemporary modernist church needs a more Protestant style, entertainment hall. Thus, it’s more than merely the architecture that often needs to change.
Thirteen years ago, just as advent began, my wife and I were battling a difficult pregnancy. After years of infertility, the joyful adoption of our eldest daughter Lily, years more struggles to get pregnant, we were finally awaiting the birth of our second daughter. But about halfway into the pregnancy we got bad news. The ultrasound technician seemed to be taking a lot longer than we thought it should take. And she was being a little too evasive in her answers to us. We waited. The doctor came in and told us our daughter had a serious heart condition–treatable with open heart surgery within a few months after her birth, but very serious. We took in that sobering news with a lot of prayer and mutual support. Then we found ourselves in the hospital a couple of times with our daughter’s heart rate plummeting and my wife having contractions–months too early for any of that. We were bracing for losing our daughter. But she hung in there. And so did my wife. Then in early December things again turned worse. We rushed to the hospital. For a moment things calmed a bit, but given the serious nature of the situation we were sent to a better equipped hospital in another city thinking we were going to wait it out a bit longer. But again things quickly turned worse and the doctors performed an emergency c-section. Our daughter Coco Madalena was born on December 7th, the date of both my grandfather’s and godson’s birthday, the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a month before her due date. And she was beautiful.
Heart scans indicated that she immediately needed a less invasive heart valve operation to help her survive until the major heart surgery she would need in a few months. Naturally we agreed to the surgery. It seemed to go well. The doctors were happy. All looked good. But then she had a heart attack. Emergency procedures were done. She pulled through. But then she began to struggle. During either the operation, or more likely the emergency procedures from the heart attack, she got a rare form of meningitis. The meningitis attacked her brain, and in only one month’s time she died in my arms. She never left the hospital.
All during that Christmas season my wife and I lived in a kind of limbo. My wife was at the hospital every day. I came many days, but was also juggling work. Our oldest daughter was just old enough to be both super excited to get a sister and to know something serious was going on. Family and friends all helped as they could. Many people were praying. And when Coco died our community gave us great support.
Yes, this was a big tragedy for us. A very hard time. But, the truth is, God also came so close to us. It is hard to describe, and even harder to convey. Through all the struggle, all the tears, all the difficult days and nights, We felt God’s presence. God was with us. Often I so desperately wish our girl was with us now. I think of her a lot. I also know of God’s love in the midst of trials. The journey for me was about going from head knowledge to heart knowledge, from my mind to my soul. I would never wish suffering on another, but I do believe suffering may be the only way or, ironically, the best way to come closer to God because in suffering God comes closer to us. The cross gives us a picture of this most profoundly.
We live in a hard and harsh world. So much evil, so much suffering. And that doesn’t stop just because Christmas is here. But God is with us. Christ came as a light into the darkness. Someday He will return in the awesome fullness of His glory. For now we have the Holy Spirit, we have the gospel, we have the Church, we have fellowship, we have the poor and needy all around us, and we have the communion of saints. In these ways God is with us even now.
Perhaps I have always known that, but I know it better because of the gift God gave my wife and I of our daughter Coco. In that difficult time I came to know Advent a little bit better.