“Well, I think…” Christianity

tryit

We make “verbal moves” all the time in order to navigate the complex and sometimes dangerous subcultures in which we live.

You have heard this before… While in some deep discussion about something about Christianity, especially when the discussion gets a little intense, one of the persons says “All I know is that Jesus loves me.” Or, “All I know is that God is love.” Or, “All I know is that it’s about Jesus.” Or, “I just like to keep it simple.”

Who can argue with that? But often it’s a kind of defense mechanism. Of course Jesus loves me, and God is love, and it is all about Jesus. (I realize many times we need to be reminded about this.) But the point of such statements is usually to shut down the discussion. One reason is because the discussion has got a little difficult and the person starts to feel a little defensive doesn’t want to get emotional, or get caught in a verbal tangle. In many ways it’s a prudential move, and sometimes very necessary.

Another reason for the defensive maneuver is to avoid dealing with ideas that one has not considered, especially when it’s clear the other person has. Unfortunately, many Christians have not thought much about their faith beyond platitudes and common phrases and basic political positions. This does not mean they don’t have authentic faith, or even deep faith, but at the level of intellectual understanding many Christians remain rather ignorant. It’s a good thing that none of us have to pass a theology exam to enter into Heaven!

In a similar way, there is another kind of verbal move often made by Christians. I call it the “Well, I think…” move. This is a very common move in our modern, pluralistic society. Declaring truth is felt to be improper, even bad manners. But opinion is fine. “Well, I think faith should just be simple.” “Well, I think it doesn’t really matter what church you go to, as long as you love Jesus.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to judge. He just forgives.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to start a religion.” “Well, I think as long as one has faith that is all one needs.” “Well, I think Jesus loves me for who I am.” “Well, I think the Church shouldn’t keep anyone from communion.” “Well, I think On Eagles Wings is a wonderful song.” “Well, I think Lord of the Dance is better.” “Well, I think we should reinstall altar rails.” “What?!”

We have become a culture of opinionators. Perhaps social media has fueled this. Certainly it’s partially a result of secular pluralism. Regardless, a lot of Catholics have strong opinions about the Church and its practices, but not all, perhaps not a lot, of those opinions are actually thought through. This is because most opinions tend to arise from intuitions, and intuitions can very easily be poorly formed.

Opinions are fine, but I think we owe it to each other, both as fellow Christians and at the basic human level, to ask the follow up question: “How do you know?” And if the response is: “Well, I just know.” Then that deserves the question: “Do you actually mean you really know, or that you just feel it’s true?”

We owe it to each other to hone our understanding. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and to make others uncomfortable. And I don’t just think that’s true. It is true:

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16a)

Christians should not be people who are merely carried along by the currents of culture (like dead fish flow with the river’s current) regardless of whether that culture is secular or Catholic. If we say “Well, I think…” that expression should be based on actual thinking that reflects careful consideration. It doesn’t get us off the hook. And merely removing the “Well, I think…” portion doesn’t make one’s opinions more true. Too many Catholics have become mouthpieces for popular culture(s) while thinking they are holding truly Catholic ideas. Catholics should, instead, create actual Catholic cultures, and that’s no easy task.

Let our thinking be excellent. Then, when we say “Well, I think…” it truly means something excellent and not mere opinion reflecting and supporting a largely unconsidered culture.

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Joan of Arc: God’s Warrior

This is a rather decent biography of Joan of Arc.

The Church calls her a saint. I looked for prayers to, or associated, with her, but found little. I’ve been wondering about creating a prayer to her for the sake of the Church in the world today, that is, for the Church in the midst of its battles with modernity. She is a warrior after all.

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When Faith Drains Away: Thoughts on Ireland’s Abortion Vote

Ireland Votes In Favour of Law Reform In Abortion Referendum

Irish celebrating their pro-abortion “victory” (source)

Ireland voted for abortion. Ireland voted in anger against the Catholic Church. The majority of Catholics in Ireland, and about a third of the Church hierarchy voted for abortion too (so I have heard). The New York Times ran a headline: “Ireland Votes to End Abortion Ban, in Rebuke to Catholic Conservatism.” Many today have asked how did this happen, how did Ireland, once one of the world’s most visibly Catholic countries, become so anti-Catholic in both spirit and in public will.

Naturally many will say the fault lies with the Church in Ireland. Who could blame them? The Church has not been so saintly in Ireland. (Of course, neither have the Irish people, who are just as wicked as people are anywhere, but I digress.) Some would say this is what happens when a government tries to legislate morality. But are not the prohibitions against bank robberies, blowing up parliament, or murder legislating morality? Are there not laws prohibiting the killing of one’s three year old child? Or even one week old child?

My guess is that the real cause is not so much what the Church did or didn’t do (mostly good, some bad), or whether morality should or should not be legislated (which it should), but that faith simply and tragically drained away, and that it began happening a long, long time ago.

Consider this newsreel film of a Corpus Christi procession through Bandon in West Cork, Ireland from 1941:

What a magnificent display of public piety and cultural cohesion. But is it truly a picture of actual faith? See, it gets tricky. When Catholicism becomes so deeply enmeshed with a people’s national and cultural identity, heredity, and national concept, it is not only possible, but nearly inevitable that actual faith becomes irrelevant and even unwelcome to daily life. Great public displays of piety can so easily become a way to signal faith in a group, being “of this group” or “of this people,” in other words it becomes all about being Irish and not about being followers of Christ. Being Irish becomes the thing to be, not being Christian. No matter how many layers of Catholic tradition, habits, actions, language, postures, images, and trinkets populate the Irish landscape, these things become the very things that not only hide faith from the people, they make it easy to not need faith.

Catholicism became the Irish “identity cloak” because of Irish history with its profound and bloody battles with England and its Protestant church. One might argue that Irish “Catholicism” killed true Catholicism in Ireland. But this happens all the time. People claim the name Catholic so they be protected from the truths of Catholicism. One could also argue that the worldly promises of capitalism killed modern Catholicism in Ireland. Regardless, and for whatever reason, faith drained away, and after Ireland’s relationship with England changed, and economic markets opened up, the Catholic cloak of national identity and rebellion became too heavy to wear (except as a commodity), then finally it was all too noxious to bear anymore.

In short, although the Catholic Church in Ireland is inextricably enmeshed in all of this, it’s the Irish people who have turned away from God. It is their own choosing, a product of their own free will, Church or no Church. They no longer love God. Probably none of us wants to suggest this, but could it be possible the God has withdrawn His Spirit from Ireland and is withholding His grace? If so, the withdrawal seems to have begun a long time ago. (We see this already in James Joyce’s novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916. In that novel Stephen Daedalus, the protagonist, leaves the Catholic religion behind in order to be free. A shot across the bow for Ireland and a theme resounding down throughout the twentieth century.) And if so, why? What did Ireland do to earn God’s wrath?

I just don’t know.

But consider these Irish abortion referendum voting numbers from the same county that the video above is from.

Cork vote

These numbers tell us there are people in that video above from 1941 that voted in for abortion in 2018, people who, as children, knelt before the Real Presence as it passed by, people who could not imagine in 1941 being anything other than devout Irish Catholics. Now they are no longer Catholic and just barely Irish in any meaningful sense of that term, other than as a surface overlay to a thoroughly modernist world view — the Irish jigs danced in the streets celebrating their victory were only a hollow shell of a better and more humane past. They have become merely just more neo-liberal humans traveling in a selfish and lost modern world digging wells wherever they think they will find water. I believe it is inevitable they will eventually die of thirst or turn once again to the living water.

Pray for Ireland. God save them.

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Seven Reasons to Love the Traditional Latin Mass

I like this video. It speaks to the same reasons I love the TLM. However, the TLM I go to once a month is a lot more humble than the ones you see here, and also most women do not wear a head covering at the Mass I go to (I’m sorting out my thoughts on that anyway). Still, the reasons apply.

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The Early Church and the Real Presence

Worshiping-the-Real-Presence

When I was a Protestant I didn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I didn’t even know that was an option), and I also believed the Church very quickly became corrupted after the apostles died. That’s why I “knew” our Baptist church was Christian and Catholics were probably going to Hell — nearly two thousand years of corruption until we Baptists came along finally with the true faith of the apostles. In other words, the Eucharist (we called it communion because Eucharist was too “Catholic”) was only a symbol and, of course, any authentic Christian church had to look like the church of the first generation of Christians (whatever we imagined that to be) if it looked like anything at all. I now know this is a lot of foolish bunk, but still popular in many Protestant circles — although those circles seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

One important piece of evidence for a Church of continuity through the ages is the simple fact that a mere few years beyond the first apostles others made statements about the Eucharist that confirm the Catholic teaching, and those others, lo and behold, where connected directly with the apostles. In other words, the Catholic understand of the Eucharist came directly from the apostles, who got it directly from our Lord.

First some quotes. Consider also the names of the authors and the dates:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: “In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.” (Didache, c. 90)

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. (St. Justin Martyr, c. 100)

They [Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 110)

[Christ] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 140)

The Word is everything to a child: both Father and Mother, both Instructor and Nurse. “Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! (St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 150)

Now consider this handy flowchart* I made:

Early Church Fathers.001

Notice the relationships, see the connections.

Now consider Christ’s words: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) Even Hell will not prevail.

It seems to me that the Church has always been a Church of sinners, of struggles, of setbacks, of divisions, but also of healing, reconciliation, and of saints. It has also been a Church of the Eucharist. To think the Church got off course as soon as the apostles died is truly silly. To think the Catholic concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a made-up doctrine that came centuries later is also silly.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)


*FYI: if I redo this chart I would make the lines between Paul, Peter, and John dotted, or something other than solid lines.

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Catholic Liberal Education

It is interesting to hear these people, parents and teachers, talk about Catholic liberal education:

For years, beginning long before we became Catholic, we began to homeschool our children (which also meant homeschooling ourselves). After several years we got connected and involved with an educational program called Classical Conversations founded by Leigh Bortins. It is an excellent program, and I would encourage anyone interested in homeschooling to take a close look at what it has to offer. It is not Catholic, but it is basically Christian, and in many ways basically orthodox for Catholics. I also had the privilege of writing the first draft of the science chapter in Leigh Bortin’s book The Question. And I spent a year with Andrew Kern of Circe Institute studying Homer, Plato, Shakespeare and more. Kern is another significant voice in the classical education movement. As a family we are committed to the idea of a Christian classical education for our children and ourselves. In short, we know something about what a classical approach to education offers, and how it is a kind of corrective, even a profound and radical challenge, to the prevalence of the typical anti-human modern education of our society.

The kind of education discussed in the video above follows the classical education model — at least it has a similar mindset. In fact, I believe one can say that a truly Catholic, a truly classical, and a truly liberal education are all the same if understood from a biblically and anthropologically truthful understanding.

I wish there was Catholic Classical Education in our area — whether for homeschooling like the Classical Conversations program, or a more formal brick & mortar school. The local Catholic schools in our area, though having the reputation of being a little bit better quality than the local government schools, are definitely not classical — and therefore not nearly as Catholic as they believe themselves to be. Actually, at their core they are modernist with some Catholic veneer. Our eldest went for two years at the local Catholic high school and it was a bust. I feel sorry, in a sense, for the faculty and administration at that school. They are products of our modern Catholic culture, meaning they are modernist and American before they are Catholic.

They also are inheritors of the post Vatican II reality. Take away all the nuns and religious who used to be the teachers (because the draining of religious from the Church) and you now have to hire “professionals,” which leads the double whammy of much higher salaries, and therefore higher tuitions, and modernist thinking. In that sense, these Catholic schools too often represent the anti-human educational philosophy more than they realize. Into those schools come students from any family who can afford to pay, which means they are no longer serving the local Catholic community, most of whom cannot afford the tuition. This produces a student body of only about half Catholic. And of the Catholics, only about a third actually believe the tenets of the Church. (Hopefully the numbers are better in your area.) This situation has produced a “Catholic education” system that is not truly Catholic, certainly not classical, basically a poorer education than its reputation warrants.

God bless the folks in the video above who recognize the need for truly Catholic education, and the blessings that follow.

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How to Receive the Eucharist

The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon recently made a video on proper and improper ways to receive the Eucharist. I think it’s pretty good:

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample posted the video on Twitter with these words:

“Here is a short video prepared by our Office of Divine Worship demonstrating how to receive Holy Communion reverently under the Church’s current norms and approved options. Let us bring respect back to the Holy Eucharist.”

However, not everyone liked it. The video is specific to the Mass attended by most Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland, the Novus Ordo Mass. The two ways presented in the video are receiving the host on the tongue while standing and in the hand while standing. What many objected to was the absence of presenting how to receive on the tongue while kneeling.

Nearly every twitter commenter challenged the video, saying the video should have at least included how to receive kneeling and on the tongue, and some called for receiving and standing to be banned altogether. Nearly zero positive comments.

Keep in mind this is the Archbishop who recently celebrated Mass in the usus antiquior form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., broadcast live on television. He is committed to the growth and resurgence of the Traditional Latin Mass. He is actively making incremental changes in his Archdiocese to bring about more reverence for the Eucharist, including the reinstitution of kneeling after the Lamb of God in the Novus Ordo Mass. Those who despise the NO will criticize this move, but it is a step in the direction of greater and more appropriate reverence within the dominant NO landscape. This is a good thing (especially in the region of the U.S. where the “nones” dominate more than in any other area).

Following the criticism the Archbishop’s tweet and the posted video received, he then responded to the critics of the video by tweeting this:

“Concerning my last post – many people commenting on why not show the most reverent way of receiving on the tongue while kneeling. The fact is the Church gives the people several options. We have to deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can. Step by step, people”

To this tweet he got more responses, some actually in favor of going slow, and some seeing no need for kneeling or receiving on the tongue at all (even implying concern about this was silly), but still most were strongly against the message of the video. I feel a few of the comments were actually disrespectful of the Archbishop (a symptom of our broader culture’s steady decline, and of our common social media culture). Others were merely ignorant, which one should expect. Here are some of those comments:

“In allowing the reception of the blessed sacrament in a clearly irreverent manner are we really willing to offend our blessed lord rather than offend those who recieve him????”

“Excellency, the “Church allows” is a low bar. Pastoral reasons can trump that minimal standard at any point, and the fruits of the in-the-hand experiment speak for themselves.”

“As the Archbishop, can’t you just order the priests in your diocese to distribute communion kneeling on the tongue & to do the Mass ad orientium? It’s your diocese, these methods are licit and best practices. Tbh, we’re dying for a Bishop to be a father, demand order, and do this”

“Step by step? How about a directive from a Bishop? Dealing with reality means dealing with it, not punting.”

“Enough already! KNEEL TO RECEIVE THE LORD! AND ON THE TONGUE. Receiving in the hand erodes belief in the real presence, if Catholics nowadays even know what this is.”

“Reality & Options. Simple. Kneel down, open your mouth. Otherwise, stay in the pew. Anything else is Rationalizations & Excuses to be Irreverent.”

Naturally, this topic brings out passionate responses from many Catholics. I have some of the same feelings, I too want more reverence, more tradition, and receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling, but I strongly agree with the Archbishop. Although I would prefer all would receive kneeling and on the tongue (and the TLM everywhere), I believe the Church needs to take this step by step, and do as his excellency says: “deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can.” The reasons are fairly basic:

First, Catholics have been indoctrinated over the past 50 years with some rather significant and, at times, very troubling assumptions. They tend to believe that the old traditions are a sign of rigidity. Many Catholics even think receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is, at best, a weird act of misplaced piety, and most likely an act of pompous showiness, and at worst actually sinful. These are, of course, much like basic Protestant beliefs that come from the idea that true, authentic faith and worship must have nothing else attached to it other than one’s own inner feelings. Therefore, conforming to outward standards of reverence can’t be anything other than pretension, and therefore must be resisted and even eradicated. But this is a false religion born out of a bad anthropology. But if we are to change these ideas, and encourage Catholics to kneel and receive on the tongue, then we first have to address the ideas head-on and not force outward behavior that might, strangely and ironically enough, cause scandal. We have inherited a kind of Gordian Knot that will take faith, prayer, wisdom and, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit to undo.

Second, culture runs very deep, and is made manifest in habitual actions. Those actions are typically copied from others. Human beings become who they are largely by copying what everyone around them is doing (for good or bad). This is how societies are generally formed. The fact that many Catholics treat the Holy Eucharist with somewhat irreverent actions and nonchalant ease comes from having those behaviors and attitudes worked into them by their surrounding culture. That culture includes specifically Catholic culture (what Catholics see other Catholics doing at Mass, for example), but also includes the pervasive consumerist, self-fulfillment, neoliberal culture of our profoundly influential modern age. To put it bluntly, a great many Catholics are simply blind to how their own actions declare a non-Catholic worldview (even at Mass), and they are probably incapable of not being blind except for the work of the Holy Spirit because the culture is so insidiously powerful and deeply ingrained within their souls (I should say within “our” souls, because you and I are affected too). Therefore, merely pushing hard for external changes assuming it will then automatically change people’s hearts and minds is foolish. If fact, it might push people away. This is why prayer is so important. It is also why loving and befriending others while also being the change you want to see may be the best way to encourage change in others.

Third, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is based on some fundamental theological dogmas and assumptions. The traditions of the Church speak to centuries of working out the Church’s dogmas and assumptions into appropriate actions, such as the actions of the Mass. If one is ignorant of those fundamental dogmas, then being asked to do something that feels weird and awkward will be resisted. Rather, teach the right fundamentals so well and so frequently that the Church will clamor for communion kneeling and on the tongue, as well as a number of other traditions now seemingly lost to history. The video above may help by reorienting people’s attention to the idea of reverence for the Real Presence, and to the fact that our actions actually mean something and have real consequences. That then can become a foundation upon which to build. Could the video be better, maybe. Is it a start, absolutely. Is it an appropriate way to reach the Novus Ordo crowd? Yes.

I believe one of the best ways to get the Church be become more reverent would be for bishops to have their priests preach repeatedly each Sunday on the Real Presence and related topics. Reinstitute that fundamental belief, and much good will follow. If done well, and assuming the priests have been taught well and actually believe the truth, then I am convinced that after a year (perhaps sooner) the laity will be demanding a lot of the old traditions be reinstated; perhaps accompanied with weeping for what has been lost but what can still be recovered — weeping tears of sorrow and joy.

For now, though, encourage reverence wherever and however you can. Pray that the Holy Spirit will blow the “smoke of Satan” out of the Church, and that true worship and authentic faith will begin to flourish like never before. And be sensitive to where your fellow Catholics are in their everyday lives and understanding, and pray that we have strong, courageous, and faithful bishops.

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