Category Archives: Authority

The Church is Haunted by the Golden Calf

Golden calf Arthur Boyd

The Golden Calf, (detail) painting by Arthur Boyd.
1946, oil and tempera on composition board, 84 x 89cm. Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection. (Boyd set the story within a contemporary Australian landscape. A modern setting for universal and timeless story.)

The Israelites became nervous. Moses had been too long on the mountain. The people lost patience. They worried. They felt God was distant. They turned to Aaron and he made an idol and presented it to the people. They worshiped the Lord via this idol.

Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:5a-6)

Aaron, because of his role and authority as priest declared this false worship as valid and licit. He made the idol, he declared the day a feast day, he gave the people what they wanted and, one has to assume, the kind of worship they were familiar with in Egypt. But God was not pleased. Through Moses God brought judgement upon the Israelites. God was even ready to utterly destroy them with fire. Remember God is willing to do this.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10)

Keep in mind the people were worshiping God (“Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord”), not some other god, at least in their own minds. What they did was invent a religious expression of their own making, including a false depiction of God. They did not wait for God to reveal both Himself and the proper form of worship. They did not trust that God would provide the worship He demanded. They were in the wilderness. This event has haunted the Jews ever since, always in their past as a kind of specter reminding them of God’s will and the importance of true worship to their Creator.

At some point in the relatively recent past the people of the Church (laity, clergy, and religious — but mostly the episcopate and theologians) began to turn away from “the way” God had given them, perhaps feeling that He was distant, feeling the old way wouldn’t work in the new age. Perhaps they grew impatient. Certainly they were in the wilderness of the modern age. Evidence shows their faith had become, like with nearly all Christians, increasingly feelings-based (the modernist turn) and they wanted a new Pentecost — something that would speak to them in their own language. It could be argued they felt could no longer trust in the old Pentecost, and that the Church needed a new and different Pentecost for the new and different man of the modern age. So the Church took things into their own hands. A Pope called a council and the people of God fashioned a new way to worship.

I have heard it described that this Pope hoped to create a new Pentecost, which sounds to me like a kind of “conjuring” of the Holy Spirit (some might even dare to say this is probably not so far from something like witchcraft, right?) Is that too strong a way to describe it? Perhaps, nonetheless no one can control the Holy Spirit. And man does not change. But I want to be cautious here. It’s easy to get emotional and carried away with interpretations and judgements about the Second Vatican Council, or “spirit of Vatican II,” or the new Mass. It’s easy to fall into conspiracy theories and the like.

Still:

“Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.” (St. Pope John XXIII, 1962 prayer in preparation to opening the Second Vatican Council.)

So, what we got instead of a new Pentecost was the new Mass, and the so-called Spirit of Vatican II, and destroyed and whitewashed churches, and staggering losses of Catholics, including clergy and religious, fleeing from the Church. We also got liturgical abuses upon liturgical abuses. Innovations upon innovations. Confusion upon confusion, and terrible music. We did not get a new Pentecost. We got the opposite. We got a false Pentecost of a different spirit. Could this be the spirit of Vatican II? In their authority the episcopate declared the new Mass valid and licit. That was their right. It is our obligation to accept that (up to a point). And they will stand before God and answer for their decisions, right or wrong. That is the burden of headship. A burden perhaps some no longer believe exists.

Does this not seem a fair understanding of the past seventy-five years? Have we not corrupted ourselves as the Israelites did at the foot of the mountain? Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. I recognize these words are very strong. Who am I anyway to judge those who came before me, whom the Church raised up to positions of authority? My desire is not to actually challenge anyone, but to ask questions in light of profound troubles that have plagued the modern Church.

Here is a question: At Vatican II, and especially with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, did the Church turn aside quickly (it all happened so utterly fast) from the way which God commanded them (the Traditions handed down to them, given to them, received by them), and did they make for themselves something new, akin to a golden calf? Do they not again and again claim that the Novus Ordo is both valid and licit? But why do they need to continue repeating that? Does the Church sense something is not quite right about the whole affair? Could it be that, while the episcopate can declare it so, they cannot, in fact, make it so? I’m no expert in this, so I can’t say, but I do wonder. Regardless, have they not put the Church in a terrible, terrible bind?

I once wrote: “It has become increasingly clear to me that most of the changes and innovations of the Novus Ordo era were promulgated not by men who loved the Church and thought they knew a better way, but men who hated the Church and sought to destroy it.” And for that I was publically called a blasphemer for speculating on the motivations of those men. Am I? I don’t think so, but someone does.

Questions upon questions. I am not a sedevacantist. I will still regularly attend a Novus Ordo Mass and go to the TLM when I can. I accept the Novus Ordo as valid and licit because if it’s not, then condemnation will fall on other’s heads and not mine. My desire is to be true to the Church, an obedient son, to honor what God is providing for me. But I also work towards changing it for the better from the inside through prayer. I pray every day for a renewed sense of holiness in the Church, and a return to right worship, and a proper anthropology. I pray every day for the Pope. And I have hope change is coming for the better.

I believe the Church is, in a sense, haunted by the Golden Calf. It is haunted by the fear that the Church took a wrong turn 50 years ago regarding its worship. If lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi is true, then we can work backwards and say the life of the Church today is the result of the beliefs it holds, and those beliefs it received from the way it worships and prays. Look at where we are and then trace it back to the roots. If you don’t like what you see today, then trace it back.

God was merciful to the Israelites. He did not destroy them, but disciplined them severely such that they would turn back towards Him, and they did, and then they didn’t. We know that God disciplines those whom He loves. He had to discipline the Israelites many times, and similarly He has disciplined the Church at various times. I know He has disciplined me.

So, are we a stiff-necked people? Is God disciplining us? Will some be consumed by fire from Heaven? Yes, for sure, and we were clearly warned by our Lady at Fatima, and all the related appearances and messages given to the Church. We have most certainly been a stiff necked people. And God has looked upon our iniquity.

Now is the time to destroy the Golden Calf, to remove all false worship and wickedness. Now is the time for a contrite heart, for penance, and for right worship. This means we must, as a Church, identify the wrong worship in our midst. We must call out the Golden Calf for what it is and destroy it or it will destroy us. Go back to the root and pull it out. Root it out from our hearts and from our parishes and from the Church. Are we a people willing to do that?

Κύριε ἐλέησον
Χριστέ ἐλέησον
Κύριε ἐλέησον

adoration of the lamb ghent altarpiece detail

Adoration of the Lamb (detail), Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan and Hubert van Eyck, 15th century. This is the only right sacrifice.

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Taking on the Sedevacants

david-bawden

Pope Michael and his mommy leading over a billion Catholics into a new and exciting future. (source)

I recently posted some videos on the topic of sedevacantism. Please know I am not a sedevacantist. Still, I do find this somewhat of an interesting topic, and for some it’s particularly timely because of a plethora of criticism of Pope Francis and the current state of the Church. I imagine the sedevacantists are having a field day with all of the scandals, and perhaps getting more inquiries than normal.

John Salza is an author who has taken on the sedevacantists. Here is a two-part interview he gave to Brother André Marie on that topic, which I think is pretty good.

Again, I know very little of sedevacantism, and I’m no canon lawyer, so a lot of this is over my head. My take is to generally dismiss the sedevacantists as crackpots, but I can’t entirely deny some of their concerns, and I assume many of them have some integrity. But I just can’t accept their position. Salza and Siscoe, co-authors of the book True or False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and Other Modern Errors, have been challenged by a number of sedevacantists. I have not really examined those challenges, but you can find them online. However, me sense is that those challenges are likely rather thin or outright silly.

The fact that Archbishop Lefebvre never gave into sedevacantism speaks volumes regarding the sedevacantists’ claims. Even when Lefebvre stood in strongest opposition to Rome, he always believed the Pope sat on his chair.

Lefebvre-Ordination-1977-b

Archbishop Lefebvre, papist (source)

 

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Fatima and the Filial Correction of Pope Francis

I continue to find examples of how one might connect the message of Our Lady of Fatima to our current day. Here is Fr. Michael Rodríguez, a very traditionalist priest, providing his understanding on this topic. As I have said before, I am in no position to truly judge what he says as being true or false.

But I must be honest and say that I believe what Fr. Rodríguez says makes a great deal of sense to me.

Also, I’ve said this before, but I find it somewhat funny and predictable that the more ardent and conservative (or some might say bordering on “conspiracy theory” vibe) the message the more the aesthetics look forced and unintentionally humorous. Do we really need the smoke/clouds blowing behind him? Still, after a while one just forgets all that and tunes in to what he says. Who am I to judge anyway?

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Sedevacantism

Papal-throne

Seems to me that one can swing a sock filled with manure in a crowd of Catholic traditionalists and eventually hit at least a couple of sedevacantists.

I am not a sedevacantist, and I don’t believe I will become one — I pray I don’t. I lean towards the traditionalist camp, but even then I’m not fully a traditionalist. However, I am curious about the sedevacantist position. I hear this term frequently, especially since I’ve become curious about the traditionalist position. What is sedevacantism and why would someone go there? And what are the arguments for and against the position?

Below are some interesting videos on that topic. By no way do they represent an exhaustive take on the subject. I present them here merely as a way to broach the subject. I lean strongly to the side that says the pope is the pope, good or bad, and our duty is to show appropriate obedience, even if is a struggle. But I find each of the arguments have at least some merit, more or less, for various reasons. (I must say this topic is a complete rabbit hole of endless videos, websites, and conspiracy theory arguments.)

I agree with the video above, in that we should learn more about what sedevacantism means.

Below is a curious artifact. This is a “film” in the pro-sedevacantist camp. If what it presents are actual facts, then what it presents is truly troubling. On the other hand, it feels like a bunch of speculations and dubious claims strung together as facts by some conspiracy theory nutters. And it’s “style” is exactly what one would expect from a group of crackpots living on the fringe any social group. As an artifact it is interesting just for that. BUT… I think it is still worth considering for several reasons: 1) If it is true, then we should know these facts, 2) If not entirely true, it still represents what a number of Catholics (who are trying to be faithful, but may be apostate or nearly so) believe, and it is good to know what these folks believe, and 3) If it is patently false, then at least we can know what crazy ideas not to believe.

Still, I am a bit troubled by this video:

Perhaps someday more facts will come out and we will have a clearer picture of what happened in those conclaves. Honestly, the deeply troubling actions on the part of cardinals and bishops regarding the sexual abuse scandals on many levels that we are daily discovering makes believing in the evil shenanigans of yesteryear more plausible in my mind. It’s become less and less far-fetched to believe in the work of the devil in the Church throughout much of the 20th century.

God come to our assistance.

The perennial Catholic Answers team on more that one occasion has taken on the questions of sedevacantism. Here are a couple of responses from their shows:

I like Catholic Answers. I am not convinced by their answers here. I don’t think they are entirely on the wrong track, but I believe there are decent rebuttals to their answers. I don’t see the “gates of Hell” argument making a lot of sense here. And I don’t see the sedevacantists saying the gates of Hell have prevailed. We’ve had troubles in the past, we will in the future. I think the stories of Job and of the Babylonian captivity can both be seen as images of suffering individual Christians as well as the Church as a whole can and will experience. In both cases it would appear that God had deserted his people. None of this says that the gates of Hell will prevail. God did not abandon His people. Also, every time a pope dies the chair is empty. Sometimes the chair has been empty for years. So I think the Church can suffer through without a pope for a time.

But is it now? I doubt it. Could I and Catholic Answers be wrong? Yes.

The following video is perhaps the best answer I’ve heard from a sedevacantist on the “proper” stance that a sedevacantist should take. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a proper stance, but if there is I think this might be it:

Finally, I think this homily below perhaps says it best. Sedevacantism can be very alluring. It is a temptation to anyone who is very bothered by the fallout since Vatican II. It is a temptation to anyone who struggles with our current Holy Father. It is a temptation while in the midst of the systematic promotion and support for sexual perversion and predation on the part of priests, bishops, and cardinals. How could a good God allow all this to happen? Well… God has always allowed a great deal of evil to trouble His people at one time or another. But God is good. His will be done. Let us not fall into pride.

Still, I am curious about the whole Cardinal Siri story.

siri

Giuseppe Cardinal Siri

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Who’s to blame? Considering Cardinal McCarrick, clerical sex abuse, and complicity

mccarrick

Cardinal McCarrick smiling (source)

This is my own poorly formed, and somewhat indirect, take on the Cardinal McCarrick story. I would like to know if I am way off base or on target, or somewhere in between. Insights, challenges, and comments welcome. My question in the title is intended to be an honest question.

A sentence caught my eye in Matthew Walther’s article, The Catholic Church is a cesspool:

When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.

I believe this sentence contains more than most Catholics want to think about or are willing to admit.

And it’s one of the saddest and most heartbreaking sentences in this whole sordid affair. And that sentence (as I have come to understand about other abuse stories) has repeated itself again and again in Catholic homes, between parents and their sons and their daughters, mostly their sons in these cases.

At every level the sex abuse scandal is horrible. Christ spoke of a small amount of leaven leavening the whole lump; in other words, a small amount of yeast spreads throughout the entire lump of dough. This is how sin works in one’s life. It is also how sin works in the Church. A little infection gets in and soon there is rot everywhere. A little smoke of Satan finds an open window or door and…

We are right to condemn Cardinal McCarrick for his wickedness. We are right to condemn the cardinals and bishops who have participated directly and indirectly in this grave scandal. We are even right to criticize the popes for being so blind and so slow to act. It is also right for us to condemn the priests who have done terrible things. But what about the laity? What about us?

When there is widespread sin, widespread covering up of that sin, and a corresponding widespread blindness or ignorance of that sin, one should expect a pervasive cultural willfulness underlying it all — a kind of unspoken subconscious “if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.” It is corruption, and it is often so subtle, that produces its own self-protecting blindness. We are all too quick to call out “good bishops” and “bad bishops.” Are we being honest? What has the laity gained by choosing to side with their priests and bishops over their own children until proven wrong? That, I believe, is a HUGE question of enormous implications.

Perhaps… perhaps there was a time for that kind of blind trust. But not for a very long time, if ever. I cannot blame Catholics for leaving the Church over this disgusting tragedy. It’s a steady and vile stench hanging over the Church, and it goes back a long ways. I don’t think they should, but I understand.

Have we not become a Church too easily given over to our precious self-images? Are we not a people wrapped up in supporting a kind of Catholic doppelgänger that has more to do with telling us what we want to believe about ourselves rather the truth? If we are to condemn bad bishops, shouldn’t we also condemn bad parents who are so in need of believing that the bishop is pleased with them that they will betray their own children. Do we need to condemn ourselves and the “Catholic” culture we have created? Perhaps I’m going too far, but I know something about the human heart because I know my own heart.

[As an aside: Someone very dear to me was repeatedly sexually abused by her father from age five until high school. Her mother was subconsciously but willfully complicit in the abuse. Once the abuse became public, her mother supported her father. Her grandmother said she was the one who enticed the abuser. She was only five when it started. Only five. He was the abuser, the adult, but the other adults were complicit. She was the child. He got away with it because he knew the world in which he lived would let him. He had power in that world and controlled it because he had willing accomplices because it was easier to not know than to open their eyes. They were all in good standing in their church community. They all saw themselves as good Christians who would never willing do or support evil. They all got what they wanted, expect the victim. Perhaps this makes me rather sensitive to cultures of complicity.]

The question is not primarily whether James’ parents knew about the cardinal, or that any parent knows about the abuse happening to their child by a priest. I believe most of them don’t actually, truly know, at least at first. (I want to believe that if any parents do find out they would actually do something about it. Perhaps I’m naive) The fundamental question is whether or not the parents (or any of us) are willing to believe. Another way of putting this is do they believe the truth of the gospel and of the Church’s teaching, or know why there is a crucifix above the altar. Do they fully embrace the Church’s teaching on sin? Can it be that many Catholics are so fundamentally unbelieving in the story of salvation that they would rather believe there are men walking around as sinless as Christ and impervious to temptation merely because they have been ordained? Do they suppose a clerical costume makes a man a sinless superhero? Can they read Christ’s condemnations of the religious leaders of His day and still not suppose our own religious leaders are just as likely to fall prey to sin and the devil? Sure, the millstone goes around the bishop’s neck, but too often the parents, and the culture they have helped to create, are complicit.

Keep in mind that even our saints do this. In her 2005 book John Paul The Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father, Peggy Noonan tried to explain why the pope didn’t take seriously enough the reports of sexual abuse by priests. In a 2014 article she reiterated the same argument. She writes:

[I]t would have been almost impossible for John Paul to understand the depth and breadth of the scandal because of his history. He had come of age under Nazism and Communism. They hated the church. Priests who fought them—John Paul was one—were heroic. Nazis and communists constantly attempted to undermine the church by falsely accusing its priests of mis- and malfeasance, including sexual impropriety. That was his context when John Paul was told of recent charges of child abuse. The idea they were true would have seemed impossible to him.

It would have been almost impossible for him to understand. It would have seemed impossible to him. I tend to agree with her assessment. It’s a plausible explanation that rings true. When St. JP2 looked at a priest he saw a hero. How could a hero abuse a child? But even if Noonan’s take is true, it still doesn’t get him off the hook. It just makes it easier to understand why he did what he did, and it’s a lot like why we tend to do what we do. He was blinded by his experiences and his desires. We are too.

I say this and yet Saint John Paul the Great is still a hero to me. But I also know he was a man.

Let’s be clear: The parents are in no way directly at fault for the abuse. Cardinal McCarrick is the one who abused. He is the one with the millstone around his neck. The bishops who knew the open secret of McCarrick probably also have millstones around their necks. And there are probably many others. The issue I’m trying to understand (and I know I’m doing a poor job of it) is about parents turning against the words of their own children (“he was told that he must be lying”) and refusing to even consider they are hearing the truth because to do so would contradict the precious image of they have of the wonderful cardinal, or the parish, or of the Church itself, or how a good Catholic should act towards the clergy, or even one’s image of the pope. But this is a form of idolatry. Some of this is certainly generational. Younger Catholics today, sadly, have become more informed, and consequently more cynical, about these things than their grandparents were. But all of us are potentially the unbelieving parent or friend.

However, I have great hope for the laity. As I witness the responses of cardinals and bishops to sex abuse revelations, and as I again and again see a group of men protecting their clericalism and bureaucratic comforts instead of, it would seem, having faith in God, I am also witnessing the rising up of the laity. Too often the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acts like their primary job is all about program administration and publishing official statements, and not about the gospel. They put out statements about needing to have “clearer procedures” in place to handle abuse cases, etc. etc. The “good” bishops (and sometimes “bad” bishops) put out platitudinous statements condemning the abuse, but then do nothing. They risk nothing.

Are we now like sheep without a shepherd? Who will lead us?

Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should publicly identify and shame the “bad” bishops. Perhaps they should not let Rome whisk the abusers back to Rome for rehabilitation and retirement. Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should literally start punching the “bad” bishops in their faces (like St. Nicholas slapping Arius at the first council at Nicaea). Honestly, that might make for one of the best bishops conferences ever.

cardinal_farrell

Here’s a face. Cardinal Farrell: The face of the moment for clericalism.

But I am seeing the laity standing up more and more, calling false shepherds what they are, pointing out the wolves in sheeps clothing, and being less afraid to say what needs to be said because they have come to trust first in God rather than the hierarchy. And perhaps because they have social media at their fingertips. I have hope. I think we are going to hear less and less about parents refusing to listen to their children’s cries for help. I hope we hear less and less about abuse too. I am all for a massive house cleaning.

Finally, if the whole Cardinal McCarrick affair is a prime example of the “open secret everyone knows,” potentially implicating numerous bishops in a vast coverup, what about Catholic media? How many stories were not written, stories buried, leads not followed, questions not asked, and reporters told to back off? How complicit is the media? And how complicit is the Catholic media? How much did those at EWTN, Catholic News Service, National Catholic Reporter, etc., etc. know? Who knew what and when did they know it?

It was an open secret. Everybody knew, or heard stories. Are not Catholic news reporters trained in investigative reporting? Or are they merely mouthpieces for the hierarchy?

Here’s something to consider. Read some of the last lines from the film SPOTLIGHT. Remember that this award winning film is about the 2002 Boston Globe (a secular news agency of course) investigation and reporting on the story of predatory sexual activities by Catholic priests in the Boston area, and the subsequent and systematic coverup by the Church hierarchy, specifically by the revered Cardinal Law. Read this carefully:

SACHA
We’ve nailed down multiple stories on seventy priests.

MARTY
All seventy?

SACHA
Yeah. And with the confirmation from Robby’s source, we’re ready to go. We can have a draft next week.

MARTY
Robby, that source of yours, is this someone we could revisit?

ROBBY
Might be tough.

BEN
But he has no problem helping the church protect dozens of dirty priests. Guy’s a scumbag.

Matt glances at Robby. Who’s looking at Ben.

MATT
He’s a lawyer, he’s doing his job.

MIKE
He a shill for the Church.

BEN
He knew and did nothing.

MIKE
He coulda said something about this years ago. Maybe saved some lives.

ROBBY
What about us?

BEN
What’s that supposed to mean?

ROBBY
We had all the pieces. Why didn’t we get it sooner?

BEN
We didn’t have all the pieces.

ROBBY
We had Saviano, we had Barrett, we had Geoghan. We had the directories in the basement.

BEN
You know what? We got it now.

MIKE
Robby, this story needed Spotlight.

ROBBY
Spotlight’s been around since 1970.

BEN
So what? We didn’t know the scope of this. No one did. This started with one goddamn priest, Robby.

Robby looks at Sacha.

ROBBY
MacLeish sent us a letter on 20 priests, years ago. Sacha found the clip.

MIKE
Are you freaking kidding me? 20 priests?

BEN
When?

SACHA
Just after Porter. December of ‘93.

ROBBY
We buried the story in Metro. No folo. Sacha found the clip.

BEN
That was you. You were Metro.

ROBBY
Yeah, that was me. I’d just taken over. I don’t remember it at all. But yeah.

The room quiets. Gut punch. Ben shakes his head.

MARTY
Uh, can I say something?

They turn to him.

MARTY
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on, and there’s fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived but all of you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.

The team takes this in.

MARTY
Having said that, Cardinal Law and the Catholic community are going to have a very strong response to this. So if you need to take a moment, you’ve earned it. But I will need you back here Monday morning focused and ready to do your job.

Here’s what I believe you should notice: Marty appeals to the precious self-image of the reporters to support their own coverup. Yes, we all “spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark,” but they weren’t in the dark except that they wanted to be. They had the information. They had the evidence. They chose to burry it. Marty’s words lets them get themselves off the hook. Yes, we all have to keep moving forward, and yes their reporting eventually was good and necessary, but Marty has just helped them clear their consciences. They are now “absolved” because, while everyone else is stumbling, “you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”

Precious self-image.

I see the bishops doing the same thing — giving themselves a pass again and again. They set up commissions, appoint overseers, establish new processes because the old ones didn’t work, and then walk away self-congratulated and self-absolved. No risk. No sackcloth and ashes. A brood of vipers.

But remember, we all do this in one way or another, and we support each other in our games. We’ve all got our own precious self-images. And we will protect them fiercely. We’ve all got some viper in us, so let’s be careful in our judgments. But still…

‘When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.’

Pray for one another.

Lord have mercy.

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The Church is a Monarchy — so start acting accordingly

Coronation_of_Nicholas_II

Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (painting by Laurits Tuxen, 1898)

In the United States of American we live in (more or less) a democracy. Our country’s founding began with casting off the “shackles” of monarchy. We also outlawed the aristocracy.  That set in motion many positive things, but also some very bad things. I’m not saying if they could do it all over again they should rather have sought a compromise with King George (though I hold out that might have been the thing to do). But I will say we did lose something by doing away with a king.

We lost a powerful context within which to learn how to act before royalty.

Without a king, and the repeated experiences of seeing how a king functions, and how a king is supposed to be treated and, perhaps most importantly, how a people ought to act out obeisance and reverence to the king, then we lose a deep understanding of the language of kingship in the Bible. That language will be foreign to our ears, and if not foreign, non-visceral, non-intuitive. We will have some head-knowledge about kings, but not much more. And if we don’t have that deep understanding, then we will struggle knowing how to behave and, perhaps worse, being nearly completely clueless about our behavior.

By why does that matter now, in this life? Because we are royalty too, and Christ is our king, and we come before Him corporately every time we go to Mass.

Many have said that a huge problem in the Catholic Church today is a lack of understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I agree. I would argue that a second, and closely related, problem is that Catholics don’t know what to do with that knowledge even if they do understand it. At best, it often seems, Catholics believe the proper response to the knowledge of the Real Presence is an entirely internal emotional stance: As long as one feels strongly in some way about the Real Presence then one has done one’s part. Emotions are good, but a human person is body and soul together. What we do with our bodies does something to us at the spiritual level. This is a profound fact.

When we enter a Catholic Church we are coming before our king. Christ is really and truly present. The glowing red candle next to the tabernacle tells us that Christ is there before us. When we receive the Eucharist we are receiving the body of Christ, truly. A Catholic Church, then, is like a king’s great hall, a throne room. Jesus is our friend at some level, of course, but far more important is that He is our savior, our high priest, and our king.

The Mass is also a wedding feast. We, the Church, are His bride. He is our bridegroom. At Mass we are reaffirming our vows. The bride is married to the King of all creation. It is a royal wedding.

Wedding_of_Nicholas_II_and_Alexandra_Feodorovna_by_Laurits_Tuxen_(1895,_Hermitage)

Wedding of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna (painting by Laurits Tuxen, 1895)

So, how ought we to act at Mass? How ought we to dress? What should the attitude of our heart be? Well.. how ought we to act before our King? How ought we to dress at our wedding? What should our attitude be?

These are hotly debated questions. I’ve seen a mix of responses. But I would argue that, in general, we can do a much better job. But here’s the real deal: Acting, dressing, and thinking rightly at Mass is not about rules, or looking good, or “being a good Catholic.” Doing what one ought to do in the presence of the King, before Whom every knee shall bow and tongue confess, is medicine for our souls. Because this is true, and because God loves us, He has given us the Mass as a gift. It is good for us to act according to our nature. It is good to accept what God has given.

Remember that the humble Mass you attend on Sunday morning, or the even more humble daily Mass, is participating in the great Heavenly Mass. The images of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra above provide a small glimpse into the kind of grandeur, unabashed pomp, and incredible beauty of a proper coronation and royal wedding. Is this the image we have in mind when we attend Mass? Is this a glimpse of what the Heavenly Mass might be like, even just a little?

If so, then let’s start acting like the Mass is actually what it is. Let’s start behaving like who we are, sons and daughters of God, heirs of the kingdom, royal subjects, the bride of Christ. Let’s come before our King as we ought.

This sounds great, but let’s not forget that we may not know how to do this. Our cultural and governmental examples are mostly democracies, and poor ones at that. Kings are gone or irrelevant. Royalty is banished or laughed at or merely entertainment. And I, being like you, am no more knowledgeable. Therefore, what I suggest is that we all begin with the admission that we have a problem. Then I suggest we begin helping each other to learn and then alter our behaviors accordingly.

Finally, something I think we all can agree upon, and one place where we can all easily start, is to dress as best we can for Mass — not letting the standards set by those around us determine our choices, but the fact and reality of the Mass itself inform our choices.

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A Commandment You Can Keep or, it would seem, God vs. Some Bishops

babylon

The Babylonians ransack Jerusalem

We are given commandments by God and are expected to keep them. We hear Jesus Himself say things like:

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

And the Apostle John writing:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. (Revelation 14:2)

We can feel the weightiness of the word “commandments.” For many it seems like an unusually heavy word, a word out of place in today’s world, altogether too severe, to draconian — certainly not American. I sometimes sense that many Christians have a “you can’t be serious” attitude towards the objective seriousness and absoluteness of commandments. Did not Jesus, after all, save us from all that? He took up His cross so we don’t have to, right? Of course He didn’t. Reference the quotes above.

Often these days we hear of a so-called “pastoral approach,” being pushed hard by a number of bishops, that seems to offer comfort and compassion to sinners without also calling for repentance. The argument for this seems to hinge on the idea that the call to holiness (including the call to a marriage that does not end in divorce, or the call that one should not get remarried without a proper annulment, or the call to chastity or even celibacy) is an ideal rather than an expectation with actual consequences.

This seems to be the idea some bishops see the biblical definition of marriage, and even the Gospel itself — as an ideal that inspires. Writing on Amoris Laetitia, the German bishops published a statement on pastoral care of marriage and the family. The bishops wrote:

People see themselves faced by the shattered remains of their life plans that were based on a partnership. They suffer from having failed and having been unable to do justice to their ideal of life-long love and partnership.

Notice that “life-long love and partnership” is presented as an ideal. I suppose holiness is an ideal too. But we are called to pursue holiness without compromise. Is the Gospel itself an ideal too? If by ideal we mean something not truly attainable, or not something we should expect people to attain, then that would seem to contradict both Holy Scripture and Catholic Tradition. But, of course, the German bishops are not writing without precedent. Here is a key sentence from Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, as quoted by the German bishops in their letter:

“The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements.” (AL No. 308)

Given the continuing issues with the German bishops desiring to water down both the Gospel and Tradition, it would seem they see “ideal” as being a mostly unattainable goal primarily reserved for those who have the faith and goodwill of saints, but not anything more than an an example and a slim hope for most Christians.

Naturally, we often hold up ideals as inspirations for motivation, but not as something we can have hope to attain. However, many see ideals as only that. Is this how God sees ideals? Or, perhaps a better question, does God see His commandments as ideals at all, or as requirements?

Consider this passage from Deuteronomy 30: 11-20

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Did the Israelites keep these commandments? No. Again and again no. Did God know they would break them? Yes. Of course He did. Did they break the commandments because of sin, weakness, outside pressures, temptations, foolishness, and folly upon folly? Yes. Did they always have some “reasonable” justification in their own eyes for doing so? Probably. They must have.

And yet, God says: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you.” In light of this cannot the German bishops, and all bishops for that matter, hold Catholics to the actual standards God has given us, offering council, forgiveness, and mercy as is appropriate, but never ceasing to call us all to Christ without compromise? But the way of the German bishops, and too many others as well, seems to imply preaching the Gospel itself is, in fact, too difficult any more.

What was God’s “pastoral” care for His people? God says: “But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.”

Was God too harsh, too draconian on the Israelites? Was the Babylonian captivity God showing a lack of charity? Was the Father sending His Son to die on a cross to much? Some bishops of the Church, it would seem, must think so.

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