Saturday, May 25, 2013

How shall a Catholic in exile then live?

This powerful post by Boniface, in "The Flame of Endurance" (Unam Sanctam Catholicam, April 9, 2013), addresses the question how a Catholic informed by the traditions of the Church may endure amidst the pervasive apostasy, razed bastions, stripped altars, bare ruined choirs, historical oblivion and contempt for tradition that marks our time (the added emphasis in Boniface's text below is mine, and my commentary follows at the end of his article):

I have a certain acquaintance from a few years back who was raised Protestant. He gradually came to see recognize the claims of the Catholic Church through independent study and was convinced that he needed to enter the Church. He knew very much about the "academic" part of Catholicism; that is, he could offer all the arguments in favor of the Church's claims, knew a lot about her history, and could explain Catholic theology better than most Catholics. He was willing to cross any river or burn any bridge necessary to come home to Rome. When he understood that Latin was the official language of the Catholic Church, he went off an enrolled in a two-year course in Latin to learn the language of his beloved. I was particularly moved by this; how many people, if confronted with a Church speaking a foreign language, would demand that the Church change rather than they change? But this individual's attitude was, "Well, if the Church of Christ speaks Latin, I'd better learn Latin." If only more people took this approach...

Unfortunately, the Church he studied his way into, the Church he fell in love with, in fact did not exist. He spent two years studying Latin because he thought Latin was the language of the Church - and in a technical sense it certainly is - but my friend gradually became saddened as he realized that Latin had been all but banished from Catholic liturgical usage.

The intellectual arguments he learned in defense of papal authority lost their edge as he witnessed the popes apparent embarrassment at the traditional teaching, and their subsequent consistent refusal to exercise the power that they spent centuries previously insisting upon. The boldness that characterized Gregory VII's interactions with Henry IV or Innocent III's dealing with King John had fled, or been banished, from the Vatican. The Church had insisted for centuries that it wielded a sword of spiritual power bequeathed to it by Christ - why now did it refuse to wield the sword that God gave it?

He was saddened and confused that the simple yet powerfully eloquent teachings of the saints found no parallels in modern writing or preaching, and could not understand why the beautiful structures that were the glory of Christendom were being replaced and in many cases destroyed in favor of ugly modern structures constructed on secular humanist principles. Most of all, he was distraught that the Church that had produced so many martyrs, who had suffered death in defense of the purity of the faith, was now no longer proclaiming the uniqueness of that Faith in undiluted purity, but seemed intent upon affirming non-Catholics where they were, implying to them that their own religious traditions were also salvific, and that there was really no need for formal union with the Catholic Church.

The fact that the above mention demolition of the traditions of the Church was not happening externally but was being aided and abetted by the Princes of the Church and the successors of the Apostles was especially devastating. He realized that the Church today is very weak, weak because it chooses to be. Weak because it will not clearly proclaim the message entrusted to it by Christ, weak because its people and prelates do not seek holiness, weak because the Church refuses to take up the weapons and armor our Lord left with it and instead tries to muddle through on its own.

I caught up with this acquaintance a few weeks ago. I honestly expected him to be the sort of person who would have gone over to the SSPX, but surprisingly enough he told me he was attending a standard Novus Ordo parish. We talked about the Church and the future of Christianity and what one could concretely "do" about the problems we are facing. He said that the Church ultimately belongs to Christ, and its destiny is in His hands, but when I asked him what he thought we should be doing to help restore our Faith, he said that years of anger and given way to a more peaceable reflection and realization that the only thing that would restore the Faith, the only thing that has ever restored the Faith, is saints. We need saints. "I am quietly striving for sanctity" he told me, "in my own way, taking the saints and the fathers as my guides, and in many respects, pretending like the current crisis is not happening."

He of course did not mean pretending the crisis isn't happening in the sense of denying it, but it did mean that whatever else is going on in the world, a person's life and destiny is between them and God alone. The path has been charted centuries ago, the road marks are all there, the saints are guiding us onward. This remains true whatever is going on in the Church. His attitude seemed to be, "If things are bad, well, this is another chance to practice detachment and another opportunity for holiness." In a certain sense, nothing has changed - the soul still must seek God, God still makes this grace available, and we still must respond to His grace as in every age.

I was heartened by this response, because too often the mess we see ourselves in can lead us to despair. I myself have been guilty of it- focusing so exclusively on the negatives and the things that are wrong that the virtue of hope gets eaten away until we have nothing left to go on. Ironically, the destruction caused by those who view the Church merely as a human institution to be reformed at will can have the effect of leading us to the same conclusion - the Church as a human institution whose restoration depends on human will alone.

This was part of the philosophy that led me to create this blog's sister site, a place where Catholic Tradition and history are studied and reflected upon, almost without reference to the modern crisis, inasmuch as that is possible. One can never escape the age one lives in, but it is helpful to remember that God put us here for a reason. He wanted us to exist here and now rather than in some other age, and this presumes that He has allowed us to live through these times with very good reason. It is reminder of His plan, which itself is a reminder that He is in control and that we have to keep alive the virtue of hope, by which we not only anticipate the triumph of God back actually appropriate it, making it real even now in a mystical way. This is the foretaste of heaven. This is the spark that vivifies the Church, the flame that gives endurance to the saints and will give endurance to those who remember to seek God's will in all things and desire Him above all things. We must persevere in faith, yes, but allow faith to nourish the virtue of hope, and through the fire of hope to take hold of charity.

I desire the liturgy to be restored as soon as possible. But I desire God's will above that, and if God has willed for us "seventy more years" of exile as He did for the Jews, then I love His will more than my preference. I desire the Church to be glorified and grow and win souls, but God's will. We know how it ends, and knowing this, we can enjoy true rest, true interior peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, even if the Church is in turmoil, even if the faith is forgotten everywhere other than in our own hearts, even if the very world itself collapses around us. In all this, God is in control, Christ is still on the throne, and "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed to us." (Rom. 8:18)
There is a mature wisdom in these words, from which I, and I dare say many of us, can learn. Michael Davies used to encourage high-information Catholics not to become so obsessed with the current crisis of the Church that they lose their joy as Catholics. Pray, receive the Sacraments, sacrifice, and enjoy the abundant resources available for living a full life as Catholics. He would even say that it's "unhealthy" to talk incessantly about problems in the liturgy and Church, and would tell American audiences: "Go out and enjoy a baseball game with your families." Point taken.

Having said that, I cannot help but recall how my own move to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) was motivated, not by preference, but by the ineluctable conviction that certain things about the liturgy in my original parish, as in many others I had visited, were objectively dishonouring and demeaning to God. In this respect, when I encountered priests and others who told me to put God's will above my liturgical "preferences," I felt (as I still do) that an ineradicable incommensurability lay beneath the proposition: How could I bring myself accept as God's will what was objectively dishonouring to Him? Furthermore, the TLM was far from being a "preference" for me, at least initially: as many of you know, the traditional liturgy has a significant learning curve, and is notoriously difficult for a newcomer to fathom.

Accordingly, when we speak of embracing "God's will," we need to ask exactly what we mean. The question calls for a distinction between God's positive and permissive will, between the good that God wants for us and the evil that He permits, including our own sin and its consequences that we bring upon ourselves (both individually and collectively).

It is one thing to speak of "abandonment to Divine Providence,"to allude to the classic of devotional piety by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussaude, S.J. This means facing the circumstances of life that are beyond one's control, whether for good or for ill, with resignation to Divine Providence, with the consolation that God knows all things, sees all things, is in control of all things, and that nothing external to us can separate us from the love of God -- neither tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, or things to come (Romans 8:31-39).

It would be another thing altogether to suppose that God wishes us to adopt an attitude of fatalistic resignation toward whatever happens in our life as thought it were what God meant to be. While it is true that God permits evil that He may bring good out of it, the evil is never intended as a good in itself that we are to passively accept (all felix culpas to the contrary). Under the section of the Code of Canon Law entitled "The Obligations and Rights of All the Christian Faithful," we find the declaration: "[The Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church" (Can. 212, §3). Accordingly, we are obliged for the good of the Church to point out distressed conditions that need addressing.

So there are other issues here that cannot be neglected, as I'm quite certain Boniface would willingly acknowledge. Nevertheless, I am exceedingly grateful to him for the wisdom of his post in what it suggests about the importance of not capitulating to despair or recrimination, but "enduring" through growth in grace, sanctity, and that peace that passes all understanding, which only Christ can give.

[Hat tip to J.M.]



Sheldon said...

I couldn't help being touched by one point of similarity in my recent experience. I sponsored a former Evangelical who was being received into the Church at the Easter vigil several years ago.

She had been reading Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, and other former Evangelical Catholic apologists (I believe IANS had a complaint about these) and had assembled quite a library of Catholic authors in that genre.

Our RCIA class was a bit of an embarrassment. The leaders betrayed their ignorance of church history and Catholic tradition and teaching at nearly every turn.

She nevertheless overlooked these problems and was excited about becoming a Catholic. Her understanding of Catholicism seemed fairly extensive, at least in the sense fostered by these kinds of writers.

At first things seemed okay, but after a couple of years, she became depressed and withdrawn. When I had a chance to speak with her in depth, she confessed to a profound disappointment with parish life. It was not merely that other Catholics seemed ignorant or indifferent about the details of their faith. The problem was, as she put it, that very few Catholics she got to know actually seemed to "know Christ." They just went "through the motions" of practicing Catholics, by going to Mass. Few went to confession.

After another year or so, she started going to an Evangelical church on the other side of town, after going to an early Mass at the Catholic church. Then after another few months, she stopped going to Mass at all.

Who to blame? Her? Or the fact that the Catholic church she thought she was entering "didn't exist," as Boniface puts it in this post about his friend? Very sad all around.

bill bannon said...

Your honest post would have been blocked at far too many Catholic blogs. Your friend in my little opinion left for reasons the Latin Mass people can't help her with either...note where she went. Whether in English or Latin, the Mass is non spontaneous and Evangelical services are creative and spontaneous. Our sermons and readings amazingly have no intonation, no crescendos, no singling out a word for emphasis...they are like a person reading the phone book. Watch ewtn even where you'd think Catholicism would place a person with intonation and dramatic pauses well book. That is not a NO vs Latin problem. That is caucasian minuette, dewey decimal, cost accounting non drama as culture as the rule in either Latin or NO Masses. We are dull culturally partly because many want dull at Mass because they have drama at work....Mass is a break from surprises. Evangelicals....Joyce Meyers can fill a stadium of people taking notes and smiling and laughing...spontaneity in spades. This is not about religion. This is cultural. Those who feel great at any Catholic Mass have a cultural difference from your friend who left.
AND....little community... an elderly parish lady could have died last week and no one knew...and her elderly sister had to pay for pall bearers because there was no youth in her family. Impossible for such lack of community in the Amish. No one pays for pall bearers there. And sex rules obedience is high with no Pope. Compare.
In short, Rome needs a think tank working on these problems because she is gaining primitives in Africa and losing educated like your friend here. But there is no think tank....because we constantly flatter the Church 24/7 in her cultural blandness implicitly by having two bland cultures at war....the Latin and the NO. At the end of history, the Mass will resemble neither and will more likely resemble the last supper/ passover....where there was community and intonation during speech.

Anonymous Bosch said...


Your point is one a sociologist of religion might make, though that may not address the whole issue. The woman could have reverted to Protestantism because she concluded that the claims of Catholicism, while fine in theory, are a sham in practice. Most homilies these days are pathetic, as we all know. Few of even Catholics who go to weekly Mass these days have more than a superficial grip on their faith at best, and often hold an amalgam of heretical ideas along with various proper beliefs.

On the other hand, you could be on to something, though I doubt it's something as simple as intonation at Mass. I've witnessed charismaniatic services where there was plenty of intonation and "yes-Jesus" pentecostal "what's-Jesus-doing-in-your-life" personal "encounter" talk, but life in that neighborhood could be just as arid if it were preceived by her to lack any substance in real "teaching."

You could be missing something on the Latin vs. NO Mass front, though. I've also witnessed a number of SSPX communities where that woman would have found plenty of substance, not only in terms of homilies, but seriousness among parishioners about living out their Catholic faith in a no-nonsense nuts-and-bolts kind of way. SSPX priests are apparently not easy-going confessors. They can be hardcore. They demand seriousness in the confessional and out of it, when it comes to taking sin and sanctity seriously, for example. I've also seen this in other Latin Mass communities, which generally seem to take the content of their faith much more seriously. They tend to read and talk about the content of their faith much more than typical NO parishioners, even though you can find exceptions on an individual level.

Where you're on to something sociologically, in my opinion, is in the breakdown of almost any sense of organic community among Catholic parishioners these days, though I think that's more a reflection of a general societal development than a problem unique to the Catholic Church.

In times past Catholic parishes had plenty of "community." You attended your parish church and you knew the people there and they knew you. You played ball with the kids down the street who went to the same parish. You didn't have to whoop and holler and roll in the aisles to create a sense of community (how freaky can we get?), because you already had community in spades.

On the other hand, not all Evangelical types are the whooping and hollering sort, from what I understand. Presbyterians and Puritans have been notoriously called "the frozen chosen," and the historian Joseph Strayer, I believe, calls their Sunday services "four walls and a sermon," which hardly sounds like rip-roaring fun.

I don't think it's simply "cultural," as you suggest. Joyce Meyers may generate a huge following (she's apparently entertaining and engaging, and that's also big money), but I've also read that she entertains some significant heresies, which could have been a deterrent for the woman revert as well.

Thanks for your thoughts, though, because they made me think.

JM said...


Can only empathize with the convert/revert. If the Church is indeed a living organism, it is doing a great Play Dead performance. Now with an Argentine stumping for "the Poor" and slamming "Rigidity" even as U.S. parishes are museums of laxness, I don't know what to say, except for at least Calvin had some doctrinal passion.

Doctrine... maybe the Pope could look the word up. Just saying...

Beefy Levinson said...


I can sympathize with your friend. In the original thread at USC, I said I had an experience similar to that of Boniface's friend. Contemporary parish life was an immense disappointment to me. I wasn't expecting a museum of saints, but I couldn't even call it a hospital for sinners as the confessional got so little use. Ignorance and indifference is the best way to describe it. Many of my fellow parishioners were ignorant of traditional Catholicism and, what's worse, they recoil in horror from its emphases on sin, grace, redemption, sacrifice, death, judgment, heaven and hell.

But I've stayed. To whom else would I go? To return to my old life, to leave the Church, is unthinkable to me though the temptation might exist. God does not will for us to be so lax and indifferent, but he's allowing it. The Church being in shambles does not mean we should allow our own spiritual lives to be in similar ruin. God has always repaired his Church by raising up new saints.

Anonymous said...

Sheldon: “After another year or so, she started going to an Evangelical church on the other side of town, after going to an early Mass at the Catholic church. Then after another few months, she stopped going to Mass at all.”

Me: If I looked to other Catholics for the truth of the Catholic Church the above quote could be my path as well. I have no Catholic friends and the part of my family who are practicing Catholics live in another state. I am unwilling to say that Catholicism is a sham in practice. In *practice* it is beautiful. But I *do* suffer a type of loneliness even among friends and loved ones. Having no one to share my faith with except for my husband is sad but it is my chance to join my suffering, such as it is with our Lord’s.

I went to one (count ‘em, one) meeting at my parish it was regarding the new translation of the Mass. There were other subjects discussed. The ignorance of those people was breathtaking. I think that this is the apostasy written about in the Bible but I think it began with the reformation and became worse exponentially after the so called enlightenment. I don’t like the Catholic Culture but I love the Catholic Church. Scott Hahn played a small roll in my reverting to the Catholic Church. Yes I know about his sometime problem with the doctrine of the Trinity and Original Sin. But he has made it more than clear through history, Tradition and biblical text that the Eucharist is indeed the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The book that I have begun to read is written by Peter Kreeft called SOCRATIC LOGIC. If I were this woman’s friend I would ask her how she justifies turning her back on such a wonderful gift of Jesus Christ Himself. Would she divorce a wonderful Husband because her in-laws are jerks? If she was a “fan” of Professor Kreeft maybe you could invest in that book for her and ask her by what logic she can convince herself to exchange the Truth for warm fuzzies. I wonder if you and your family could be that Catholic family friend to whom she can relate.

If the above post is a bit disjointed, chalk it up to the chaos in my house just now and I have no time to proofread :).


Pertinacious Papist said...

Dear Donna,

"Would she divorce a wonderful Husband because her in-laws are jerks?"

Bravo! So well put! Socratic Logic indeed! That book, by the way, is the best introduction to Traditional Classic Logic you can find, which means that it shows how logic is related to grammar, thence to metaphysics, and reality itself. Beautiful.

I suppose the woman justifies her move by telling herself she's not divorcing JESUS, but only ONE of his CHURCHES. That, of course, is an easy move to make given the yield of sloppy ecumenical jabbering over the last several decades, which hasn't helped clarify matters at all.

Thanks for your thoughts.

BONIFACE said...

Pertinacious Papist,

Yes, you are correct - I did not mean resignation in the sense of fatalist resignation, but rather in the sense of "God is still on the throne" and "we know how it ends" and there is reason for hope in the midst of crisis so long as we do not lose our joy.

Thanks for commenting and linking!