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.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
I’m no expert in these matters. Forgive me if I blunder. But, honestly, I’m not saying anything new here, although I might still be saying a lot of hooey.
Sometimes the world seems crazier than normal. Perhaps it is. Or maybe it’s always been crazy, but we just get used to some kinds of crazy and surprised by other kinds. And not a few people are wondering why, when the very real issues of racism are front and center, thrust upon our collective consciousness once again by the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of several police officers (should we call them thugs?), do we suddenly see passionate and violent young Marxist revolutionaries and anarchists emerging from every nook and cranny. See this, this, this, this (and even this from 2015 – because it’s been going on for longer than most realize).
[Note: I am not using “anarchist” merely or mainly in a pejorative way to only indicate the use of violent chaos to achieve some vague ends, rather I mean the more formal philosophical and political positions found in formal anarchist ideologies. And I am not use “new Marxists” to point to the popular contemporary concept of a postmodern Marxism. Rather, I think the new Marxists, if I am correct, are more or less much like the old, but living out their ideology(ies) in the contemporary world and informed by the continued development of language, ideology, strategy, and technology.]
Clearly we are witnessing an emergence (or re-emergence) of what appear to be a new generation of Marxists rampaging our nation’s streets and social media, calling for the abolition of police forces, seeking to rewrite history, and demanding the redefinition nearly every important word in our language. I realize many protesting, hanging out in autonomous zones, or even acting out violently against police and defacing federal buildings would not necessarily call themselves Marxist. And certainly few today would identify with traditional Bolshevism. But Marxian socialism and its pervasive ideological intentions, often in language that doesn’t sound all that Marxist to many of us, is far broader today in scope and more internalized as self-evident truth than was witnessed in the example Soviet Russia. (I mean, troubling though it may be, we are all a little bit socialist in ways that either we recognize or don’t. It’s because of the “water” we swim in these days. I think many would go to their graves denying this reality.) Today it’s less about structural state Marxism and more about seeking a new life world, a new pentecost with a utopian spirit descending like tongues of fire. For many, they were suckled on the Marxist teet in a plethora of subtle ways and have adopted as the very ground of being the Marxist ideology.
It’s clear today’s protests are not quite the same as (though not unconnected to) Dr. King’s nonviolent, and essentially Christian, march for freedom. But it seems clear the eyes on the prize today are different eyes envisioning a somewhat different prize. And surprisingly, if the images we see are accurate, many or perhaps most of the protestors, are white teens and twenty-somethings. Regardless, though the protestors obviously are protesting racism and police brutality, many are protesting much more. It makes some sense to wonder if some of the protestors, or perhaps some of the leaders of the protests, have hijacked the news of the day to promote a different agenda.
Where do these passions come from? On the surface it’s easy to identify: Just watch the horrific video of George Floyd (or numerous others) getting killed or brutalized at the hands of highly militarized cops, and then connect the dots and no wonder people are literally outraged — raging out their anger. My heart breaks over see such brutality by the very people who are paid to protect us, and I too get angry. But why, given the traditional nonviolent approach of past and successful civil rights protests, do today’s protests so quickly abandon that methodology and cross over into rioting and unabashedly resort to violence? It’s hard to say. One could justly assume that the old ways didn’t completely work so they must be abandoned. But another thought is to consider that Marxian socialism (a.k.a. scientific communism; the most well known of various forms of socialism) happens to be the political and philosophical underpinnings of many of those offering their leadership to these protests. Marxism arises from atheism. God is abandoned and thus the ways of MLK, perhaps adequate for a past age, must now be abandoned as well. For Marxists, fomenting dissent was never foremost about the proletariat and poor working conditions. Rather, it was offered as a religious alternative to Christianity and, by implication, Western Culture. We are, I believe, at a crux moment in history. The stakes are higher than ever. It is not a debate, not even a protest, it is a war.
In short, Marxian socialism is fundamentally religious in its origins, in its language, and in its goals. Nonviolent protests make ethical sense to a people informed, as they once were, by a Christian story and a God who gave his life for others. Nonviolence doesn’t make ethical sense to the Marxist whose narrative flows from Hegel to Marx to Lenin and onwards. Christians ought to know this. In fact, Marxism borrows much of its language from Christianity, which is why it speaks so viscerally and powerfully to its followers. This is by design.
I think a lot of people honestly protesting the evil they see in society would be rather shocked to take a closer look at this. But, I have to say, I’m no expert; I’m just trying to understand.
[Pause: Given the state of the world we are in I must state emphatically that I firmly believe that black lives do matter and this sentiment makes a ton of sense today. It is clear our county has been deeply, structurally racist and at times openly violent, and has a problem with it still to this day — and not only regarding African Americans, but Native Americans and other minorities as well. From a Christian perspective and a full understanding of sin this seems abundantly clear, and sadly, expected. Personally, I completely buy into the historical record that shows the political and economic machinations that led us to this time in history. Loosely paraphrasing George Orwell, for too long we have created a country where “all lives matter, but some lives matter more than others,” which has led to innumerable injustices. It grieves me to know that in ways I don’t even recognize I probably have played a part in this system. I realize writing this may put me at odds with many on the right, including the religious right which I am not a part of though I may have a few “conservative” leanings. But I’m not on the right. And sadly, there seems to be a racist problem within some corners of the traditional Catholic movement, a movement for which I have strong affinities, but also struggle with. But this post is not about the sentiments of many ordinary folks, right or left or other, or what they believe they are fighting for or why they are posting #blacklivesmatter in their social media. The sentiment that black lives matter is a truly Christian sentiment. No follower of Christ can say otherwise. And I must say that I have more sympathies even with some of the views of the radical left than I do with the mainstream left (which I generally oppose because they are much a part of the “system” as the mainstream right), but in Christ there are no distinctions. All human beings are equal before God. He died for us all. He calls us to peace, not violence, not to seeking power over others. Violence begets violence, and sinful man loves violence. But Christ calls us to love our brothers and sisters, to love our neighbors, and even to love our enemies. And if we find another in need, including one suffering under the burdens of racism, including systemic racism, we are to be the good Samaritan. We are to cross the road to the “other” and care for that person. Ultimately our salvation will not be found in politics or the nation state. You want to be truly radical, follow Christ — completely. Racism is a sin. We are all sinners. I have no solution but to point to Christ. There but for the grace of God go I.]
What we think of as Marxian socialism began even before Marx was Marx as a stated replacement for Christianity. In France it was hoped, during the decade of the French Revolution, that socialism would replace both Christianity and the monarchy, and thus fill the spiritual vacuum left by their absence in the wake of the bloody revolution. In England, the path forward was promoted by Robert Owen as a kind of rational religion based in science that took shape in a short-lived Utopian socialist community he later founded in the United States. In Germany, it took shaped as the logical extension of Hegel’s philosophy. Socialism became a kind of Utopian ideal replacing Christianity as the next step of the great movement of world history. (This is, of necessity, a pathetically brief overview of these origins and currents.)
More to the point regarding the German strand of Marxian socialism, which has arguably been the most influential strand, Gareth Stedman Jones writes in his introduction to the Penguin Classic printing of The Communist Manifesto the following perspective (emphasis added):
[W]hat became of Marxian socialism in Germany in the beginning had nothing to do with industrialization or the social and political aspirations of industrial workers. On the contrary, it emerged from debates among radical disciples of the German philosopher Hegel, about what should replace Christianity or Hegel’s rationalized variant of it, ‘absolute spirit’. […] In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels made a successful effort to cover over these religious tracks and to set in their place a socio-economic genealogy appropriate to their new communist self-image. […] In this way, the history of socialism or communism appeared to become synonymous with the emergence of the industrial proletariat[.] […] But despite the Manifesto, socialism or communism was never to become synonymous with the outlook of the ‘proletariat’. The speculative or quasi-religious origins and character of socialist creeds, including that built upon the pronouncements of the Manifesto itself, continued to shine through the laboriously elaborated socio-economic façade. It was not the mere facts of proletarianization that generated the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century, but the experiences of social and political upheaval, shaped and articulated through the militantly and apocalyptic languages of communism or revolutionary socialism. For this reason, historians have rightly likened the passions, intransigence and extremism of twentieth-century revolutions to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. […] The end of communism was not ‘the end of history’, but the end of an epoch in which criticism of global capitalism overlapped with the rise and fall of a powerful and organized post-Christian religion that, in the name of science, addressed itself to the oppressed. (Marx 8-10)
While the toppling of the Berlin Wall evidenced a powerful shift in global politics, that post-Christian religion really only died in the minds of hopeful neo-cons.
What we see in the passions, the verbal and physical attacks, the shouting down, the autonomous zones, the overturning of cars, the smashing of store windows, the iconoclasm, and the all too common disregard for logical arguments and historical facts, has arisen like some kind of religious cult with it own shock troops, whether they be those of the Antifa movement or any number of far-left groups. And this is why we are not hearing shouts for workers of the world to unite, or diatribes on class struggle, or that the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. Today it’s not about that, and it never really was. Suffering workers were used as a kind of social lever to move the mountain in the past and anti-racism is used today, but the goal is neither of those things in themselves. It’s bigger. It’s a religious war, like it always has been. It is about the total crushing of Christendom, which is the traditional name for Western Culture, and every possible vestige of it. And if you are surprised by the language, the energy, or the global reach of this “movement,” you’ve been living under a rock.
This is why some who say of course black lives matter and are deeply bothered by racism and stories of police brutality, are perplexed by the apparent hijacking of their hashtags by a violent Marxian agenda. Is this what it’s really all about? Are the autonomous zones the way forward? Why do we need to burn down a restaurant or deface a statue of Mahatma Gandhi?
It can be difficult, probably impossible, to separate agendas into neat boxes. The situation is rather fluid, and people are complex, but that fluidity might be to the benefit of those with specific long-term agendas who have been waiting for large-scale crises they can leverage for their own goals — a kind of disaster Marxism, to borrow and twist a phrase from Naomi Klein. The fact is, many see a connection between global warming, massive scale pollution, slave labor, racism, international corporate control, war, police militarization, the 1%, pandemics, the corporate industrial food system, and the continual cycle of governments lying, lying, and lying some more. Add to this the very real existential crisis of the God-shaped vacuum at the center of every single human soul on the planet and it’s no wonder we are experiencing a tidal wave of angst, rage, and fear washing over the world.
I mean, heck, I actually understand and appreciate Greta Thunberg’s anger.
But still, why all the smashing, why all the destruction? Is it a sign of weakness or a felt helplessness? To some degree, yes. But it’s more than that. With Marxian socialism you eventually get Marxism–Leninism. Vladimir Lenin took the religion of socialism and constructed a plan of action, that is, a truly revolutionary position that is not only unafraid of using violence to achieve its ends, it requires it. The goal was not merely to take hold of the machinery of the the state and make it one’s own. And it’s not actually about fairly distributing goods or leveling the playing field or even creating that so-called socialist economy that so many conservatives fear. The goal is to smash the state as Lenin declared. Rise up! Destroy it all, level it all down to the ground, start over. It’s energy flows forth from a complete and utter lack of faith in the Western historical narrative at nearly every level. It’s all dead. Out with it. Of course, Lenin was not the first to think this. In various forms such sentiments have been around for a long time.
But underneath it all is a hatred of Christ and God’s offer of salvation. (And in no way do I mean to equate state power or the sinful structures of authoritarian regimes with the gracious offer of God’s salvation or the never-fully-achieved ideal of Christendom.) I would hazard a guess that the visible riotous element we see in the headlines represents a tiny fraction of a single percent of the total number given over to the socialist religion. In those rare instances when the cameras pull back to reveal the contexts of the riots, they look small and rather insignificant in relationship to the much larger and actually calm urban landscapes. (Which also implies the headline-driving messages we are typically getting are created, in part, by photojournalists eager to sensationalize.) But we do see everyday the evidence that a post-Christendom West has no tolerance for the Christian message. Reactions go from shrugs to eye rolls to snears to hatred to physical violence as though they are attacking devils. The anti-Christian, and far more common anti-Catholic, prejudices are everywhere just below the surface and often out in the open. But of course most people don’t smash bank windows or peaceniks’ skulls because most don’t want to give themselves over to violence or lose their jobs. (When my new neighbor, as he is moving into the house next door and I’m helping him carry in his furniture, tells me point blank that he hates Catholicism, without prompting or knowing who I am, I am both laughing and crying inside. It’s going to be interesting having them over for dinner.) But the ideas of Marxian socialism, without most people even having a clue, are widespread and internalized by a great many from baristas to city council members to Catholic school principals. We were once warned about the “errors of Russia” and now they are normative “self-evident truths.”
Lenin himself stated: “Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion… We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion.” (Quote found here.)
Some might say what they see looks more like anarchists than Marxists. And they would have a point. Anarchism will naturally be less organized than Marxism and much of what’s happening appears more like rampaging than organized action. However, while traditional Anarchism and Marxism have often been at odds with each other, there is also much they have in common. Daniel Guérin writes in his book Anarchism, “The anarchist is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man” (Guérin 12).
Guérin goes on to describe the anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner, one of the most important and foundational thinkers on anarchism and, in many ways, the forerunner of our contemporary anarchist mindset. While using numerous quotes from Stirner’s book published in 1844, The Ego and His Own, Guérin writes:
In order to emancipate himself, the individual must begin by putting under the microscope the intellectual baggage with which his parents and teachers have saddled him. He must undertake vast operations of “desanctification, beginning with the so-called morality of the bourgeoisie: “Like the bourgeoisie itself, its native soil, it is still far too close to the heaven of religion, is still not free enough, and uncritically burrows bourgeois laws to transplant them to its own ground instead of working out new and independent doctrines.”
Stirner was especially incensed by sexual morality. The “machinations” of Christianity “against passion” have simply been taken over by the secularists. They refused to listen to the appeal of the flesh and display their zeal against it. They “spit in the face of immorality.” The moral prejudices inculcated by Christianity have as especially strong hold on the masses of the people. “The people furiously urge the police on against anything which seems to them immoral or even improper, and this public passion for morality protects the police as an institution far more effectively than a government could ever do.”
Stirner foreshadowed modern psychoanalysis by observing and denouncing the internalization of parental moral values. From childhood we are consumed with moral prejudices. Morality has become “an internal force from which I cannot free myself,” “its despotism is ten times worse than before, because it now scolds away from within my conscience.” “The young are sent to school in herds to learn the old saws and when they know the verbiage of the old by heart they are said to have come of age.” Stirner declared himself an iconoclast. “God, conscience, duties, and laws are all errors which have been stuffed into our minds and hearts.” The real seducers and corrupters of youth are the priests and parents who “muddy young hearts and stupefy your minds.” If there is anything that “come from the devil” it is surely this false divine voice which has been interpolated into the conscience. (Guérin 28-29)
So much is packed in these three paragraphs. And Stirner was writing in the mid-nineteenth century. Consider blaming parents and the Church on one’s conscience. Or that what comes from the devil is what the Church teaches. Or the need for “desanctification.” Or that we ought to listen to the appeal of the flesh. Or that the youth must be separated from their parents. One clearly gets the idea that Christendom must be razed to the ground, all systems and structures of political and social power destroyed, and that all authority disregarded and attacked if necessary. Words from more than a century and a half ago, and now again words for today.
Two possible questions of many: For those who have been fearing a socialist takeover of this or any other country, do you realize it’s not fundamentally a battle over which form of government or which economic system wins, but that it’s a religious war over whose god wins? For those who believe that black lives matter and that systemic racism must be confronted and eradicated, do you want to align your goals with Marxists and their larger agenda? I believe it would be wise for us to keep our eyes open even as our passions burn for justice.
The destruction of religious and political statues is linked to the destruction of Arby’s restaurants and Starbucks windows. This is not ironic. It’s not merely a matter of eradicating racism and corporations, as though that’s even really possible (though, of course, we must continually fight against sin in all its forms, including racism both personal and systemic), it’s about attacking all that smacks of the state, of Western history, of “the system,” of what has been handed down, of what is bourgeois, of what could be deemed vestiges of imperialism, and especially of what is Christian. The violent actions on our streets today are at a minimum cathartic for some, but many have hope for real change. The roots go back to before the French Revolution, but the modern version, I would argue, though linked directly with the radical 1960’s, find its origins in the internet fueled radicalism of the Battle for Seattle and soon thereafter the Occupy Movement. This is when this new Marxian consciousness we are witnessing began to foment and spread. It’s an old ideology playing out in a new technocratic era, and it’s been staring us in the face for a while now.
Marxian socialism is not dead, rather it is a religion being born again in the hearts of a new generation of believers.
Marx, Karl, et al. The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics). 1st ed., Penguin Classics, 2002.
Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism. Translated by Mary Klopper, New York, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1970.
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.
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.
Christ is King. He is the King. There is no other.
By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’ (Isaiah 45:23)
[F]or it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11)
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Christ is king in both Heaven and on the earth. For some time I have been mulling over this remarkable fact. Remarkable because it seems glaringly true that the king of the world today is not Jesus, but Satan. Remarkable because so many Christians today seem wary of claiming Christ as their king. Rather they seek some kind of détente, some kind of peace with the world made of compromises that seem to hide Christ, to downplay or even deny His kingship. This seems to be the way of Pope Francis, who appears to love syncretism and dislikes evangelism.
But I have a growing tension within me. I find more and more that I don’t want to serve two masters. I don’t want to fall into the same old arguments. Instead I want to claim Christ as my king, bow to Him, and give my life to Him as never before. And I want the Church, Christ’s body on earth, His ruling authority over all the world, to stand up and claim its rightful place. This will require martyrdom will it not? Alas, so many of us, so many of the Church’s leaders, are “men without chests.” Perhaps I have been as well.
I do not have an answer, but I am seeking to understand. I do not know what it will look like, or what I will be called to do. At this point I know I am called to serve and support my family. I need to provide for them, so I do not seek to put all that in jeopardy.
The following are five talks given by a traditional Catholic priest. He offers a traditionalist’s critique of the world today, and provides examples of saints and martyrs who have given their lives for their king. I am not yet knowledgeable enough nor mature enough to know if this priest is 100% on target, and as with many videos I present these contain some cultural and social critiques that I’m still sorting through, but I find generally what he says about Christ’s kingship speaks to my heart and mind. I post these here as part of my process to understand and reflect on this important subject, and to better understand what a traditional Catholic perspective might be.
“They believe the future is theirs. If they just hang on long enough the liberal pope they dream of will come.”
“They cannot endure the orthodoxy of the young.”
In 1993 Dr. William H. Marshner gave a two-part lecture on modernism. It is amazing how relevant these lectures are for us today. The modernists now have their liberal pope, and they are utterly perplexed by the young Catholics clamoring for orthodoxy and tradition.
Postmodernism has been a common term for at least three decades. Because of that fact the term modernism may seem to refer to a thing of the past. Modernism has also been used to describe certain concrete developments in the history of art, architecture, literature, and other areas of human creativity. Thus we can speak of modernism in architecture with specific start and end dates, preceded by pre-modern architecture and followed by postmodern architecture. But in the area of ideas it is different, especially in relation to theology and Church history.
Modernism began before the industrial revolution, really earlier with the Protestant Reformers and the embracing of nominalism, and it continues today. In fact, it is so pervasive that one can fairly say modernism is the defacto set of beliefs held by most people, including most Christians. Sadly, I am a modernist in many ways, not because I want to be so, but because it is the ocean in which I swim and its tenets and presuppositions have become second nature to me. In fact, I don’t really see them, and when they are made evident to me I am often surprised. Thus, I have been digging into modernism with the purpose of eradicating it from my life and faith.
I also believe it can be argued that, for the most part, when we look at the Church today what we see is largely a modernist institution rather than a truly Catholic one. Whether that argument can be adequately countered I do not know, but I do think Catholics are very often unaware of modernism and its effects, and thus, because of modernism’s allure and its malleable nature, we are inclined to accept its ideas into their understanding of the faith. In short, modernism appeals to the natural “bent” of human nature, and is thus appealing to all of us if we are not on our guard.
Below are some excellent lectures and discussions on the topic of modernism. Each covers much of the same territory and terms, but each is also different and together they help form a complete picture. For those who love the Traditional Latin Mass, the first video is especially excellent.
Although understanding modernism, including where it came from, what it is, and how it has affected the Church, is an important task, Catholics are then faced with the question of what to do now? How does one combat the leaven of modernism within the Church?
Question: If modernism, the synthesis of all heresies, was significantly at play during Vatican II, and if it clearly influenced the formation of the Novus Ordo Mass, and if the so-called spirit of Vatican II is better called the spirit of modernism dressed in Catholic garb, and if the papacy of Pope Francis seems to be a thoroughly modernist papacy, then what are orthodox Catholics to do?
I may be somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand I am an advocate of Traditional Catholicism, including Traditional Catholic architecture designed to serve Traditional Catholic worship. (If you search through this blog you will know this.) On the other hand I love much of modern architecture. I love many buildings that many others do not like. I grew up in a modernist house, I studied modern art and architecture in college, and I have been a fan of early twentieth century and mid-century modern art and design. With this in mind, I found this lecture about one of the more famous (infamous?) modernist churches to be quite fascinating, not only for its informative content, but also because the lecturer gives a highly (almost ecstatically) positive perspective on exactly the kind of church design many would deride without hesitation.
This lecture below is by monk, educator, and artist David Paul Lange, OSB. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, this is an excellent overview of modernist principles in architecture, especially at the mid-twentieth century point, and why it made sense to people at that time to build a church according to those principles. It is also an excellent “unpacking” of the design, and the ideas behind the design, of a particular church, the Saint John’s Abbey Church:
I find Brother David Paul Lange’s speaking style to be a bit too breathless for my tastes, but he is a great evangelist for the modernist perspective in architecture, and for this church. But I have some questions:
Is his understanding correct about both modernist architecture and his interpretation of this church? I think absolutely.
Is this church a good representation of modernist architecture? Yes.
Is this church worthy of praise? As an example of modernist thinking, yes. As an example of excellent construction, yes. As a place for worship, you tell me, but I think no, at least not within a proper understanding of ideal Catholic worship.
Therefore, does this church represent a different ideal of worship than traditional Catholic worship, I think so. But you tell me.
Notice a few things:
He speaks of praying more than worshiping. This makes sense given this church is for a monastic community which is focused a great deal on prayer, but it is also significant. The focus is more about the nature and needs of praying than offering a sacrifice to God. Praying in a church is a good and normal thing. However, prayer is a part of worship, but not the only part. Many spaces can be prayerful. Only specific kinds of spaces serve the needs of worship.
He speaks a lot of his own feelings. In a sense this entire talk is an explanation of his personal experiences of this church, and his feelings during and about those experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point, but as a Catholic would it not be better to also foreground the Body of Christ as a corporate entity a bit more? In that sense he would then speak more of the nature of man in general and his relationship with God. And then tie it back to this church and how it functions.
This is more about a “modernist space” than a church (hence the title of the lecture), even though it is a church where the Eucharist is celebrated. He points out the way the outside comes into the church interior, reminding those inside of the connection with nature, what time of day it is, what weather is outside, etc. In this sense I gather the space functions a bit like stepping into a forest and praying. I like this in a sense, but when I think of celebrating Mass I wonder about the idea of Heaven on earth and the traditional way churches close off the outside world and creating a space that is more heavenly than earthly.
He speaks of the honest use of materials, and how older churches seem dishonest somehow, using paint to create false impressions and faux marble, etc. This is a particularly important part of the lecture. I too love the modernist focus on materials. I also don’t believe such focus is necessarily bad for church design, but a church interior should be (traditionally speaking) a kind of three-dimensional icon of Heaven. Rough, earthy materials that evoke nature have their place, but they should serve a heavenly image, no? Here’s something I might explore in another post, but consider this: Is not a statue of St. Michael (for example) fake because it is not actually St. Michael? Same for the Holy Mother, etc? Would not any church that aspires to create a sense of the heavenly liturgy within its walls be a dishonest use of materials? Maybe. But perhaps that’s a “dishonest” use of the word dishonest.
The bell tower, he argues, with its horizontal lines, points to (or mirrors) the horizontal earth rather than to God. He claims it reminds him that God is everywhere and in all things, and perhaps that’s a good reminder, but this is a curious claim and raises the question, in my mind at least, what is the purpose of a church? To call us to the earth or to call us to Heaven? Do we not minister to each other (horizontally) because we have first sought out and worshiped God–a vertical action? If we do not begin with the vertical does not our horizontal orientation eventually become skewed?
He also mentions that the population of monks used to be 350, but now are only 150. They don’t need such a big church anymore. Only by way of correlation, but still interesting (and troubling): They commit themselves to modernist ideas, they build a modernist church to symbolically represent that modernist spirit, and not long after they lose 60% of their members. Apparently modernism doesn’t need monks. Perhaps modernism doesn’t really need man either.
At the end of the lecture, just before questions, he jokingly apologizes for going a bit long and keeping the Downton Abbey fans from their show — a show whose popularity arose from a longing for an earlier time, represented, in part, not by modernist architecture, but very traditional architecture, and clothing, and customs, etc. Will future generations swoon over the modernist mid-twentieth century in the same way? Perhaps Mad Men did some of that, but that is an awfully dark show.
The first question at the end, by another monk (I believe), is exactly my question, and worth the time for watching this lecture. I have never been in this church, so I have no way of saying what my thoughts would be, but I also wonder if such a place is naturally conducive to prayer, or liturgy at all for that matter. And I truly get the experience from having studied art and swooning over art that others think is stupid or meaningless. And I also find the questioner’s reference to the new cathedral in Los Angeles being obvious a place of prayer puzzling, since it also has been roundly derided for its modernist and non-Catholic design. The answer to his question included: “Do people get modernism? I think the answer is no, by and large,” and “Until I explain this…” In other words, modernist art and architecture requires explanation in order to appreciate it. This is one of the attractions and weaknesses of modern art. I have experienced exactly that feeling of “getting it” after studying it. And yet, I think this may be why modernist architecture is not a good choice for Catholic churches. He also says we are not actually living in a “modernist” society. In terms of art and architecture this may be true specifically in light of design principles–modernism, from an art historical perspective occured at a time in history which is now past. However, the spirit of modernism as a philosophical and theological undergirding of society and the Church is still very pervasive. How modernism in ideas and modernism in design interrelate is a fascinating topic too big for this post.
In the end I find the Abbey Church a beautiful and amazing space. However, I do believe it is probably best suited as a performance space than as a church. I would not advocate a church being built along these lines. Rather, I think we should be informed more by the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass with its focus on God rather than man, uniformity with the Church through history, and creative use of new and old materials that look to the past for inspiration and the future for permanence and authentic timelessness — which can only be done by beginning with a true understand of both God and man.
Finally, I wonder if much of the problems with using modernist design principles and materials for Catholic churches could be solved if the liturgy was the Traditional Latin Mass. In other words, imagine if Vatican II never happened, and the Novus Ordo Mass never promulgated, could churches have been designed in somewhat contemporary and modernist fashion and still fulfill the needs of the TLM? Can architects build “honest” churches and still be Catholic? I think so. But also keep in mind that the St. John’s Abbey church construction began on May 19, 1958, and lasted until August 24, 1961 — well before the council even began, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.
If you want to know a bit more about the architect Marcel Breuer:
If you want to know a bit more about the building of the church:
I think it is fair to say that I read my way into traditional orthodox Catholicism but then, to my surprise and chagrin, I ended up somewhat disappointed in modernist Catholicism. How can this be you ask? I am a convert to the Catholic Church. I came from a very non-Catholic “version” of Christianity (anti-Catholic really), and I felt nervous going to Mass on my own (and I knew no Catholics at all to hold my hand and guide me). So I didn’t go the Mass. Rather, over a period of several years I read my way closer and closer to entering the Church. I read books, blogs, and articles. I also listened to podcasts and interviews. Again and again the theological answers given to my questions made sense. I also heard many attractive things about the Church.
I heard of the magnificent history or the Church, and of the glories of Catholic art and architecture. I knew something about that already because I had been an art history major in college, and in those courses I studied some of the great paintings and cathedrals of Europe. I heard of the glories of Catholic music. I heard of the Church’s amazing intellectual history. I read more amazing histories of the Church, its battles, its saints, its universities and how it created what we today call science and modern medicine, and I was amazed at all that it has done in the world.
I also studied its theology, comparing it to the Protestant theology in which I was raised. I grew to love the doctrine of the Real Presence. I learned about the sacraments, the role of priests, the value of Tradition, and more. Again and again I was overwhelmed at the riches that had been kept from me by my ignorant Protestant culture, and at just how ignorant I myself had been. I came to see the Catholic Church had better answers to my questions, and a better grasp of Scripture. I also came to see that the Catholic view of man corresponded to both scripture and my experience than what had previously been articulated to me. I began to shift towards a sacramental view of reality. I began to long deeply for the Eucharist. A song was singing to my soul, calling me to the Church. I knew the Church was the home I longed for.
In my mind had growing visions of cathedrals and richly decorated churches. In my mind I heard chant and I smelled incense. I saw old manuscripts and ornate vestments. I sensed history, depth, and a profound connectedness to a cloud of witnesses. This was not a longing for merely a different style or for some medieval live action role playing experience. I longed for an antidote to the ravages of modernity and the false, modernist view of man. And the Church seemed to offer just that. Noted apologists for the Church would tell me to look at the riches of the Church, and I did.
But I also heard stories of clown Masses, and terrible music, including playing bongos in Church. I heard about the indifference and even anger of some Catholics towards their rich heritage. I heard about the focus of the new Mass being on the priest rather than on Christ. I did not really know what “new Mass” meant, but I thought it couldn’t possibly be so bad. I read that some Catholics didn’t like to hold hands during the Our Father, or didn’t like to receive the Eucharist in their hands while standing, or even refused to sing some of hymns because those hymns were terrible musically and, gasp, theologically bankrupt or even heretical. How could this be I thought? I didn’t know a thing.
All of this I heard about and I knew nothing of the debates about Vatican II. I knew nothing of the traditionalists and the radtrads. I knew nothing of Marian apparitions and her prophecies. I just didn’t know much at all. I really had just fallen off the turnip truck in front of the Catholic Church and thought this is the place.
Then I started going to Mass. And there, at my first Mass, was literally a bongo player amongst the guitarists and bassist. And everyone held hands during the Our Father. Parishioners walked all the way across the nave to hug people during the Peace of Christ (sometimes it seemed this was the moment that brought them to Mass). And the music was terrible, terrible, terrible. And the neighborhood Novus Ordo church building was anything but beautiful and glorious. Everything was so ho-hum, so bourgeois and American, so suburban, so blah. And I knew it wasn’t just a question of money. Like when we see a person who decides to buy ugly clothing for the same price as beautiful clothing because they have bad taste, what I saw seemed a reflection of something wrong at the heart of the Church and culture.
And then I looked around some more. I came to realize that all those Catholic glories of art, architecture, music, and all that culture building of Christendom, and all the influence in the sciences and education, were essentially historical realities of past ages and no longer contemporary activities of the Church. The Church had become a poor shadow of its past.
And yet I still loved it. Once I came into the Church I fell even more in love with Catholicism. I love the Eucharist. I love the Real Presence. Sunday Mass is the highlight of my week. But it was still hard. Hard for me and hard to drag my family along to the sappy Mass in the ugly church with of lousy music. I sometimes felt embarrassed and self-conscious about having them with me and knowing I had been promoting the Catholic Church for several years and now abject mediocrity is what they were getting. (Eventually they all entered the Church as well, thanks be to God.)
So I fell back on two things. First, I still got the Eucharist. That, I have to say, has been my sustenance. Second, I thought a lot about a recommendation from J. R. R. Tolkien. I took solace in the reality that most of us live humdrum lives anyway, that Mass is about Christ and the Eucharist, that we shouldn’t get caught up too much in seeking some kind of perfectly celebrated Mass with dynamic homilies and gorgeous music, and that I just needed to do my best to trust in the Church. We also began attending a more conservative Catholic parish (with more traditionally minded priests) that, while still Novus Ordo, nonetheless sought greater reverence in worship — and has a much more traditionally beautiful building, one that is inescapably a church.
I have also met a number of Catholics who have had similar experiences as I have, and are now working towards changing the Church by incrementally steering it back to the traditions of centuries past. This encourages me.
But, the truth remains: Modern (modernist) Catholic culture is radically devoid of almost all of its great riches and depth that, perhaps, were taken for granted in those past centuries. What greatness is still there is like a dwindling bank account of an inheritance assumed to be inexhaustible. But this modernist church’s art, its modernist church buildings, its modernist worship, even its prayers, are poor copies, and at times outright repudiations, of past riches. Modernist Catholicism does not create a true Catholic culture. In fact, it tends to create a somewhat bland culture that does not propagate itself very well. It is only by reaching into the past and bringing forward those riches that we have any at all with us today. This is why, I believe, Traditional Latin Mass parishes (SSPX, FSSP, especially those with noNovus Ordo option available) tend to create richer, more integrated and more complete local social cultures than the modern Novus Ordo parishes. Or so I’ve heard, I have yet to witness that first hand. But I wrote something about it here, based on what I saw in the video of a Traditional Latin Mass in Paris. And I’ve heard others say it is true. This is what I hope. Show me that I am wrong.
When I say integrated and complete I mean more than social programs and a “happening” Sunday evening “youth” Mass. I mean an alternative way of life that sees the family as the domestic church and the fundamental unit of society, the parish as an actual community made of and for believers, the Mass as the central activity of that community, and an unabashedly Catholic aesthetic permeating every aspect of the parishioners’ lives that is born out of a shared way of worshiping rooted in deeply orthodox Catholicism expressed in timeless praxis. I also mean a recognition that Catholicism and the world are inherently incompatible, and thus the culture of the parish must act in light of that truth, forming good Catholics, supporting the struggle of parishioners to be in the world but not of it, and creating meaningful alternatives to the allures and seductions of the secular society that pervades nearly every aspect of our lives.
But all too often we instead get namby pamby bishops talking psychobabble, “listening” rather than preaching the Truth with which they have been entrusted, swooning over an emotions-based modernist faith and the possibilities of a youth-led Church, and making the social-crisis-du-jour their primary concern. Far too often the hierarchy seems to live in a self-congratulatory bubble while showing almost no regard, let alone recognition, of the profound destruction the Church has experienced in the past 50 years.
Perhaps I’m dreaming. But here’s a basic fact: Adults who come into the Church, whether from Protestantism or something else, are often looking for a way of living that is distinctly (historically, traditionally) Catholic, and instead they all too often find something rather thin and bland; aesthetically more like a half-hearted 1970’s experiment to which the person in charge hasn’t had the courage (or balls) to say “times up;” and which is often more an expression of a culturally bourgeoise Americanism (or western Europeanism) than authentic Catholicism. And what’s perhaps most disheartening is that so many Catholics don’t see this. But I think more are beginning to. I hope so. I pray every day we all see it more clearly.
The simple truth is we are going to have to create the culture we want, by God’s grace. It is going to take effort, and some hard choices, and tenacity. It’s going to be a battle just like it was for the early Church. We are going to have to root out modernist ideas and presuppositions. This will be harder than we think. In many way modernism is essentially invisible to us. And if we want a Catholic culture with depth and longevity and substance beyond our own whims, we are going to have to get at it with a vengeance. But also with joy. We must always keep before us that one does not start building a culture by trying to build a culture. Rather, we begin with what (or who) we love, and with how we worship. Culture is the product of cultus, and cultus is not merely a Sunday thing, not merely a TLM thing, although that’s huge for many reasons. It’s a totality that encompasses our whole life in one way or another. Let us then turn our hearts and minds towards God and worship Him as we ought. Let us pray in the manner of the historical and orthodox Church. Let’s live as Catholics are called to live.
So, let’s get to work. Consider this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this. And remember, the Traditional Latin Mass is not great so much because it is traditional, but because it is timeless. Maybe we should call it the Timeless Latin Mass. Also, I hear often of bishops not supporting the TLM, and even trying to shut it down in many parishes. But many bishops are vain and may succumb to increasing pressure if enough Catholics make enough noise. In my parish some parishioners organized a 40-hour adoration event and got good support in our community and from our priests. We also have a great bishop who gets it. There are many things to do other than strictly the TLM. Bit by bit, inch by inch we can take back the precious ground that had been tilled and planted in centuries past.
Of course it is God who creates the culture ultimately. We just do the best be can in fear and trembling, and He does the real work. We, the Church, are His handiwork, and He honors those who honor Him.
Saint Francis, pray for us that we might rebuild the Church.
John Vennari was the editor of Catholic Family News from 1994 until his death by cancer in 2017. Here is one of his last lectures before he died. According to his obituary, “John Vennari’s single mission was to teach people how to recognize and resist the pernicious errors of Modernism, especially since Vatican II.”
I found in this lecture a great overview of the history from a Catholic traditionalist perspective of how we got to where we are today, and providing key insights as to how we should understand Pope Francis’ papacy past, present, and future. I’m am very curious about the traditionalist perspective. I don’t really know where I stand on all of it, but it is fascinating. As you will see, Vennari was no fan of Pope Francis. However, this really isn’t about the current Holy Father, rather it’s a much bigger story, in which Pope Francis plays one part of many. You may agree or disagree, but I hope you are encouraged by considering the complex and rich way the history of ideas has played out, for better or for worse, and how your prayers can become that much more focused.
The video is presented by the Society of Saint Pius X, a group that has a complicated relationship with Rome, and with which I am not associated. Increasingly I find myself having strong traditionalist sympathies, but I don’t (yet) consider myself a full-blown traditionalist, and I have mixed feelings about the SSPX. But I do pray every day they may become fully reconciled with the Church. Until then I keep them at a distance. Nonetheless, I appreciate this lecture and others they have made available.
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.
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.
A lot of Christians in the U.S. publicly complain about persecution at the hands of the godless secular society. They are sued, or spit on, or yelled at, or denied service, or given the stink eye, or sent bad tweets — and they wail against the injustice. A lot of Christians fight back, protesting, holding signs, denouncing their enemies, and even using the court system to make others treat Christians better. And, sadly, many Christian attack each other too. They publicly call out their brothers and sisters before other Christians as well as the godless society at large. They do this on social media of course, but also in the courts.
A lot of Catholics also complain about the Church, about bad bishops and bad popes, about weak leadership and false doctrine. They complain about bad liturgy and poor catechesis. Why doesn’t the Church do this, or that? What’s wrong with all those other Catholics? Why are they destroying the Church?
In short, Christians look at other people and see the enemy. This is not unique to Christians but, if you are a Christian, consider these words from St. Paul:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Do we take these words seriously? If we did what would we be doing differently?
I know Catholics who hate Pope Francis. They complain and denigrate the holy father. I’ve written before about my struggles with the pope. I understand the struggle, but who is the real enemy here?
If the German bishops have gone off the deep end and are very publicly courting heresy, are they the enemy? If Vatican II has wrought such damage, as some say, who is the real culprit? Many Catholics in Ireland just voted in favor of abortion, and then they loudly celebrate their win. Who’s victory is that really?
People have always dug wells where they believe they will find water. But why do they think water is where they think it is? Why do so many people make poor choices? Why do so many people reject God? Why is there so much evil in the world?
No human is innocent. We all have free will. We all must face judgement. But is the real battle between me, who is a sinner, and you, who is also a sinner? If we choose to love then has not the conflict ceased altogether? To battle is to seek the other’s defeat. To love is to seek their salvation. To be a Christian is to be Christ to others, and point them to Him.
We are living in a creation that is running wild with demons. Sin and Satan are the forces at work. They will have their way if we do not fight them. But it is God, in fact, who fights our battles for us. The winds of the modernist demons have swept powerfully around the globe for the past 200 years. They have caught up millions of souls, including priests and bishops and even popes, and certainly many, many Christians. The spirit of the age is the spirit of the evil one — some might argue it is also the spirit of Vatican II. I hope not, but I’ll let you judge.
Our battle, then, is not with each other. Our battle is against Satan and all his works and all his empty show. Put on the armor of God. Remember your baptism. Take up your cross. Rejoice in your sufferings. Love others as Christ has loved you. Let God and His mighty angels fight your battles.
And lean into the fight. Carry the banner. Do not be afraid. God is with you. Trust Him. Pray, and pray, and keep praying.
I write these words because I need to hear them more than I need to write them, but there they are.
St. 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 hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Here’s a fascinating time-capsule from a key time in the feminist movement. Certainly it is dated, and some of it may seem a bit corny to us today, but the core message is still powerful and shocking — and not surprising too.
From a traditional Catholic perspective one can easily see why feminism, at least as it is presented here, was seen as incompatible with Catholicism — it has at its core the destruction of the traditional family. On the other hand, consider how much feminist thinking has entered into our culture and, in many ways, become the de facto position. Something about feminism captivated the collective consciousness of vast swaths of western culture and beyond, and has stayed with us and continued to influence and shape our culture.
In many ways this video is so sad — so much heartbreak beneath the surface of power posturing and strident demands. Consider where our society had to gotten to in order for these women, and so many others, to feel as they did. On the other hand, it’s fascinating to consider how such a radical change in attitudes may have also had a demonic element. I think it’s likely a lot of different elements and motivations were at play, some good and some bad.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a talk on the family by Michael Matt of The Remnant newspaper. Those of you who know of him know he is a staunch traditionalist within the Catholic Church. I am currently of two minds when it comes to the traditionalist position. Having come from a Protestant background I have a strong allergy to anything that smacks of protest. However, I do find myself sympathizing a great deal with the traditionalists.
I am curious what other think of his take on the state of the world, the Church, and the family today, as well as his thoughts on how to combat the problems he outlines. Is Michael Matt on target, or not? Does his understanding of our current situation make sense or is it too one way or the other?
As for The Remnant newspaper, I find it an interesting resource. Sometimes it’s a bit too shrill for me, and sometimes I find myself saying, “Stop fretting so much and trust in God.” But I also like their history and, while they oppose much of what is going on in the Church today, they remain faithful Catholics and in communion with the Church and the Pope. This, I think, is very important.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.
— Henri Nouwen
I am fascinated with L’Arch, the community for people with disabilities begun by Jean Vanier, and now spread throughout the world. Such a simple idea. So basic: just listen, be present to each other, celebrate life, touch, care, encourage, do not judge, love, show mercy, bestow grace, joke, sing, etc. Somehow I know the vision, the mission of L’Arche should not be the exception, but it is.
The above documentary gives a great overview and insight to the L’Arche history and mission. The video below gives an intimate portrait into how the L’Arche mission gets lived out in one community, one person’s life, and in response to one profoundly tragic act turned, as it were, on its head because of that mission of love, community, and mercy.
As I watched these videos I got to wondering. Is it not true that all of us have disabilities in one form or another? Certainly we are all sinners — a far bigger handicap that any physical or intellectual ones. We also cary with us all sort of emotional baggage. Some of the scars run deep. Those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others, especially those whom they have trusted and loved, can spend their entire lives working through the damage. We are just all disabled in one way or another. Could it be the picture we see in such an obvious way in L’Arche is truly the picture for us all, for our families, our communities, and the Church? I think so.
And then I wondered about my place of work. It is not a religious community, but a typical place of employment. We have sales and production goals, we have an organizational structure and group dynamics and all the common issues to overcome. I feel we often work hard to keep what is most important to us out of the work place. Rarely do we tell others how we truly feel, what we really think, if we are hurting, struggling, or depressed. I realize this protects us from strife and issues in the workplace that might not be related directly to generating profits. It is common to tell employees to leave their personal life stuff at home. Still, I wonder if the principles of L’Arche can be applied even in the workplace.
With the careful use of language to avoid offending anyone (most people, I assume, would not like being compared to someone with an intellectual disability), what might it look like to adopt and adapt the mission of L’Arche to a business environment, with the understanding that we are, in a sense, overcoming or accepting the disabilities in us all through listening, being present, building trust, and creating a place where disagreement and struggle are necessarily a part of being bonded together? How that might look is, I believe, worth exploring.
Did the message of Fatima predict the sexual abuse crisis we are facing today? Or the collapse of the Church post-Vatican II? Or the rise of rampant modernism and its evils, even among churchmen?
I find this series of lectures to be both fascinating and profound. In total it’s about fourteen or fifteen hours long. That’s a lot, but it’s worth taking the time. Let me repeat that, it’s worth taking the time. I believe I know the priest’s name, but I will not post it for it has been asked that people not post post his name. I can say I believe he is a “traditionalist” priest of the FSSP, and thus presents what to many listeners might be a very “conservative” — though I prefer orthodox — perspective. He strikes me as a man of deep faith.
I grew up in an end-times obsessed “Christian” semi-fundamentalist Protestant subculture. I read a number of the popular books on the topic in the 1970’s. Eventually I became disinterested and moved on. Now, as a Catholic, I have a different perspective, and I find myself interested again. And this time, largely by way of my growing interest in our Lady’s appearances at Fatima, and in her message, I am drawn to again to the great plan of God and the salvation of the Church as the centerpiece of creation history.
Other than having read many time the typical end-times biblical prophecies, almost all of the content of these lectures is new to me. I cannot say one way or the other that this priest is truly on target, but I find myself compelled to dig deeper. I will say one could find a lot of doom and gloom in these lectures, but I think there is ultimately a lot of hope, great hope in fact. Christ is Lord. God is sovereign. The end is known. Have faith.
[I have gathered together and posted these videos from Sensus Fidelium. I thought there may be value is presenting them as a unit. The priest’s voice is often quiet, headphones help.]
Again, let me repeat myself, it’s worth taking the time.
Lastly, these videos are by a traditional Catholic priest and they contain a traditional perspective on social and moral issues. Clearly this perspective is at odds with the mainstream narrative of our culture. I post these videos not as a wholesale endorsement, but as part of my process of learning about various perspectives in my pursuit of Truth.
William F. Buckley Jr. was a faithful Catholic who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass and did not like the changes brought about by Vatican II or, perhaps more appropriately, the abuses in the name of Vatican II. In 1980 he devoted an episode of his television program Firing Line to discussing these changes, as well as the censure of theologian Hans Kung which had just happened.
On the show his guests were Msgr. Joseph Champlin, Michael Davies, and Malachi Martin. Fr. Champlin was a prolific author and vocal advocate of the new Mass, and a more liberal approach to Catholicism. Michael Davies was also a prolific writer and defender of the old Mass, warrior against the new Mass, and apologist of traditional Catholicism and those who continued to practice it, including Archbishop Lefebvre. Malachi Martin was also a prolific author, former Jesuit, advocate of the old Mass, frequent critic of the Church, television personality of sorts and, some would say, showman to a fault.
Here is the program:
I do not think this is one of Firing Line’s best episodes. Though the topic is of great interest to me, the guests are interesting, and the fact it stands as a kind of time capsule, nonetheless it lacks focus. On the one hand, the topic is just too big for an hour of television. On the other this is more like “inside baseball,” which, in fact, it needs to be but also suffers from. I wondered at times if the audience was bored stiff, thoroughly confused, or both.
Quick takes on each participant:
WFB: Always erudite, but his arguments remain more on the surface, expressing his personal proclivities and, I’m sure unintentionally, providing an excuse for viewers to assume he represents the old guard of stuffy Catholicism afraid of the new and exciting world of modernity and a more youth-oriented Church. And when he pushed on certain topics his interlocutors merely went their own way.
Fr. Champlin: My immediate response was negative. He seemed to represent exactly the kind of wimpy sentimentalist evasive liberal priests that turned the Church away from a cross-carrying, suffering servant, heroic virtue loving, proud-to-be Catholics, and hopeful to be martyrs Catholicism. Of course these are all stereotypes and we should be careful. Nonetheless, my inclinations are probably basically true. In light of a particular section of this program it is worth noting this observation about Fr. Champlin:
He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of “Eucharistic hospitality” in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.) [From here.]
He also was wishy-washy on contraception in his popular book on marriage, “Together for Life.”
I must say, however, that clearly Fr. Champlin was “ganged up on” a bit. He was obviously (perhaps by design?) the only advocate of the new Mass, surround by three passionate and articulate advocates of the old. I think he did an excellent job of maintaining his composure and articulating his position.
Mr. Davies: He comes across a bit like a crusader, and his emotions nearly get the better of him several times. However, of all the participants he is the one I find most compelling. Like him I was a Baptist who converted to the Church. Like him I also have some Welsh blood in me, but not the Welsh culture or accent (actually his accent is from Somerset) . At times he seems ready to explode with information, which makes sense given his life’s undertaking of studying these things (and perhaps his passionate spirit). In short, compared with the others, only his arguments were actually compelling as arguments, though he did not have time to articulate them given the nature of television and the format of the show. He also kept his composure, and I hope he was able to pique the curiosity of many viewers to consider his views and his books.
Mr. (or is it Fr.?) Martin: Always entertaining, Mr. Martin loved the sound of his own voice. He seemed to be making an attempt to turn to show towards himself. I did not feel he contributed substantially to the discussion and, in fact, was a distraction. However, I do believe with a different format, for example a two hour discussion that was allowed the guests to ramble a bit more, and where he sat down with the others as a members of the group, he might have fit within the program better. Still, I never know how far to trust him.
We homeschool. This puts in a strange place within our society — a good place I believe, but not always understood. I wrote this piece below, in a slightly different form, several years ago (before we entered the Catholic Church) in response to a tendency I see within the homeschooling world, and which I feel is still relevant today.
There is a trend within the subculture of homeschooling* that is based, in large part, upon separation from society at large. This makes some sense. Homeschoolers are often defined, to a large degree, as people who want to pull their children out of mainstream society and protect them from “the world.” Certainly not all homeschoolers are this way, and I hope we are not, but it has some appeal given the many troubles this world presents.
Recently we attended a Christian homeschooling conference. As you might imagine we saw all kinds of Christians, from the young hip couple with their cool glasses and lattes to the families with 6+ children all wearing 19th century prairie outfits. The conference had numerous speakers and work sessions. One of the keynote speakers struck me as the kind of homeschooling parent I don’t want to be. I don’t mean to be unduly harsh, and I only heard the one talk (or I should say over-the-top performing-preacher show talk), but I was encouraged by his talk to more clearly define an aspect of why we homeschool and why some of our reasons stand in contradiction to his.
He began by lauding his father for taking his family to an island away from “the world” and homeschooling them. In other words, our keynote speaker was raised on an island cut off from the taint and spoilage of the wider world. He went on to say that that was a great thing and we should not be afraid to separate our children from the world on “islands” where they can be protected and safe. If you are like me you might be chafing at this idea, but it is not unwarranted, and I want to give the idea its due.
This world we live in is most certainly full of may horrible things — war, famine, crime, and all kinds of ugliness. There are also many competing ideas that challenge one’s own beliefs. A Christian parent who is interested in their children knowing God as they themselves know God may want to protect their children from those competing ideas for as long as possible. The same goes for any parent who has a worldview to which they cling. I can understand the desire to keep one’s children away from the corrosive influence of the world. To do so feels like being responsible, and in some cases it certainly is. So I know where our keynote speaker is coming from. I know that feeling. But there is more to the picture.
The concept of “the world” is a big deal in Christian teaching. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. John the Apostle said “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” Paul the Apostle said “do not be conformed to this world.” There is a lot more to be said, and I do not intend to unpack the biblical concept of “the world” here, but most Christians know there is this thing called the world which they must avoid in some way. Christian homeschoolers might see pulling their kids out of public school as pulling them out of the world. Christian families who move to the country far from urban areas may believe they are removing themselves from the world in some meaningful way. Certainly to raise one’s family on an island would feel like the world is far away and one’s family is safe.
However, when John says “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world,” we see that the world is not so much a physical entity as it is a heart condition or a spirit. Also, when Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world,” it appears his intention was not fleeing the world but to bring it light. Elsewhere in scripture Christ followers are called to be light in the world and salt of the earth. And when we read that “God so loved the world that he gave us His son,” we get the idea that our stance towards the world may not be so simple. We may not be able to separate ourselves from the world as easily as we think for “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” comes with us wherever we go, even to an island. Also, we cannot be light or salt to the world if we decide to have nothing to do with the world. And we certainly cannot love the world as God loves the world if our stance is to flee the world which, as we have seen, may not be so easy anyway.
At that homeschoolers conference it became clear that the world could be seen most clearly in such things as 1) cities, 2) public schools, 3) government, and 4) anything other than far right politics. If one didn’t know better one could conclude that homeschooling is all about 1) getting out of the city to the country – a kind of “back to the garden” idea, 2) avoiding any kind of public education, including any education or activities that has public monies attached to it, such as a city funded soccer league, 3) having nothing to do with government or public service unless it is to defend against liberals who want to impose laws on homeschooling, and 4) assuming a political stance and championing the values of such organizations as the Christian Coalition. I may be taking a somewhat extreme critical view here, but I honestly don’t think so. This is what I see coming from much of the Christian homeschool subculture and from our keynote speaker.
But those reasons are not our reasons.
One of the great blessings of Christian truth is the incredible freedom we have. As we love God and His values we find ourselves marveling at this world He created. This world of His includes all that we find, including the incredible variety of humanity and human creativity. We might and should grieve at the evil we see in the world, but we should also love the world. We should love the cities and the arts and the culture and the governments. Wisdom dictates that we do not love folly or evil or rebellion against God. On the other hand this world is full of God’s creative work, it is His sovereignty manifest in all things everywhere, and this world is full of the people He loves – which includes all people. We have the freedom to engage in this world head on. We also have the opportunity to be light and salt. This opportunity is a great privilege. As a parent I can choose to model light and salt, or I can model the act of withdrawal.
Another great blessing is that because I know God is sovereign I can engage in this world without fear. I can live in the city or in the country, work in private business, ministry, government, or public schools, listen to Christian or secular music, visit art galleries and museums, watch popular movies, and even drink, smoke, play cards and occasionally cuss, without fear. If Jesus is my example then I can eat dinner with the most worldly people. If Paul’s theology is correct then I can eat meat sacrificed to idols. Wisdom, and the pursuit of holiness will dictate how I live, and so will my consideration the weaker brother (and I too am a weaker brother), so I may choose not to do some or most of these things at times, or ever, but there is no need for fear. But I must say that having no fear is not the same as not being scared. A man may say he is not scared of the world, and that may be true, but he may still live in fear of the world. To take one’s family away from the world and live on an island because the world is a bad place is to live in fear of the world.
We are to fear God, not the world. Our battles are not with flesh and blood, but against evil spiritual powers — sin and Satan. And it is God who fights our battles. Our greatest weapons are faith, love, and prayer.
There is another kind of separation — the separation through ideology and stereotypes. On our keynote speaker’s website promoting his daily radio program he touts the following: “There are no psychiatrists, professional counsellors [sic], bureaucrats, and seminary professors. But you will find fathers, mothers, grandparents, pastors, and friends.” Other than spelling counselors wrong this quote says a lot. There is an attitude within some quarters of Christianity that sees psychiatrists, professional counselors, bureaucrats, and seminary professors — along with scientists, social workers, and anyone from Hollywood — as being other than fathers, mothers, grandparents, pastors, and friends. Not only is this a wrongly prejudiced perspective more indicative of a passionate narrow-mindedness than of wisdom, it is also a perspective indicative of fear. There has always been a class of persons who claim victim status though they are not victims in a meaningful sense. This class is also easily manipulated by those who point to the educated, or those in government, or big city dwellers, or those in the entertainment industry, as the victimizers. Some politicians can be quite good at doing this, and so are many preachers. Our keynote speaker not only claims the victim status but uses his talents to fan the flames of fear. Fear thrives in the world of stereotypes. And just like the religious leader who prays to God, thanking God that he is not like other people, we can all fall prey to a profound blindness. What we see in Jesus is someone hanging out with the sinners. We see someone not only reaching out to everyone, but doing so without fear, and not drawing lines between himself and the rest of humanity. And, ironically, it is the religious leaders — the upstanding citizens, moral agents, family lovers, Bible teachers — who criticized Jesus for just such activities.
Where does this leave us? Our confusion, like so much in Christianity, is to make the wrong distinctions and then fall into the pit of false religion and self-righteousness. We confuse the world with superficial distinctions as “psychiatrists, professional counselors, bureaucrats, and seminary professors” rather than with a heart rooted in “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.” The world, in this bad spiritual sense, is as much alive and thriving within Christianity as it is anywhere else. When it comes to worldliness there is often no distinction between the Hollywood movie star and the megachurch pastor. In fact we bring the world with us wherever we go, wherever there is humanity, even into the nuclear family unit (a modern entity that, arguably, is the source of many problems in comparison to the traditional large extended family living and working together — but this is not the place to dive into that subject). Only through the grace of God do we have any hope to be free of the world — and that freedom can come to a professional counselor/psychiatrist working for a government agency while moonlighting at a seminary and living downtown in the biggest city as it can come to the man barricading his family against the evils of the world in some distant wilderness. Grace be to God for our hope and freedom.
But what about my charge as a parent? It is one thing to be an adult confronting the ugliness of this world, it is another for a child. As a parent I must protect my children when appropriate. I must also guide them in wisdom. I would rather my children face into the harshness of reality, guided by my example, sometimes stumbling and struggling, but learning to see themselves for who they truly are and learning to love others where they are. I also want my children to grow up without fear. If we can walk through this life together, confronting the variety of human experience and choice, and do so hand in hand, I think my children might have a decent chance of knowing good from evil, of learning humbleness, of appreciating all that God has created, and learning that goodness comes not so much from trying to avoid the stain of the world as turning to God in genuine repentance. We have come to realize that fleeing the world and taking one’s family to an island, even if those actions are clothed in the finest Christian robes of piety, could very well be an act of rebellion against God. Not necessarily, but could be.
This is one reason we homeschool, and we do so within a city context, and we listen to all kinds of music and study all kinds of art, and we are interested in politics beyond narrow “Christian” agendas, and we appreciate MLK and Gandhi, and we appreciate revised histories when they offer clarity and truth, and we don’t believe one can homeschool true faith into any child, for faith is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit. And we also don’t think we’ve got it all right. All we can do is move forward in humbleness (which also is a gift), looking to God for grace and mercy, and seeking goodness the best we can.
* Like many different elements of our society, homeschoolers represent a kind of subculture. However, it would be incorrect to think of it as a single or homogeneous subculture. At best it is a subculture of subcultures, and may be better described as an eclectic group of families that have a rather unique similarity regardless, and sometimes in spite, of their many dissimilarities.