Friday, August 29, 2008

Nancy Pelosi: Hypocrit of the House

I'm both horrified and gratified. Horrified that Nancy Pelosi made such a stupid remark to Tom Brokaw on August 24th's Meet the PressI. I don't really need to to into the details, as it's been played repeatedly, and discussed repeatedly.

But I'm also gratified that it happened, for selfish reasons.

1. I was right in a post I made to this blog during the Pope's visit to the U.S. when I said that the behavior of Catholic politicians was tantamount to Henry VIII demanding that the Church bow to him. Catholic politicians are now stating "Church doctrine," which is not Church doctrine at all (in the first place), and is not their purview (in the second place).

2. The dispute is out in the open. Prior to this, most people who don't know what the Church teaches could be led astray with comments like Pelosi's.

3. The Bishops have actually had the strength of character and faith to actually confront her!

Now I only hope that they will go further and outright condemn this kind of c***.

Actually, I don't argue the abortion case on the strength of the human being having a "soul." I argue it on the strength that human beings are exceptional, self-aware creatures, and if we start categorizing them as "wanted" or "unwanted," how far are we from Nazi Germany?

I don't support the death penalty, either, but not so much because of the "worthy of life" argument. I think if someone has committed a truly heinous act (killing a little child, for example), they've pretty much made themselves unworthy to be among the rest of us. On the other hand, I don't want to give that kind of power to state. If we let the state decide who has the right to live and who should die... well, Nazi Germany again.

I think there is plenty of argument against abortion without bringing religion into it - and it's probably counter-productive when it is brought in, because then it is too easy for pro-abortion folks to dismiss the position.

Now, Pelosi has a point - the Church I grew up in did counsel us that we all have a free will and a conscience - it was hoped that this was a "Catholic" conscience, which would guide us along Catholic principles. So, if we were starving and had no money, would it be a major sin to take an apple? Probably not - but this would be an area for one's conscience. If I killed my child (at whatever state of development) is not a matter of my conscience deciding the right or wrong of the matter. This is a mortal sin, by any measure, in the Catholic Church.

I stopped practicing the Faith many years ago because I couldn't justify what I was expected to do, and I couldn't live up to it. I felt it would be hypocritcal to attend Mass and the Sacraments if I was not able to at least try to live up to the rest of the program.

Nancy Pelosi should do the same.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A New Catholic Blog

I've decided to create this new blog to give full attention to issue to do with matters catholic and Catholic. The Church had been a huge part of my life growing up, but thanks to Vatican II and more particularly the aftermath, I was disaffected for a long time. Thanks to the unswerving dedication of the SSPX (about which much more to come!), it again is a huge part of my life, Deo gratias!

Italian Lady at a Latin Mass

First Published: Monday, July 21, 2008

This Sunday at Mass I sat next to an elderly woman who was clearly Italian. During some portions of the Mass, she read from an Italian devotions booklet. However, when the congregation read or sang responses (Et cum spiritu tuo, etc.), she joined in, clearly understanding where we were in the Mass.

I write this as a good laugh on all the NO people who insist that "in the bad old days" there were so many "little old ladies" in the pews, reciting their rosaries, and not understanding what was going on in the Mass.

I also write this to reinforce the idea that for someone who does not understand the local language, having Mass in Latin can be a real grace - it can be one place where you will always feel at home, and understand what is happening.

The Multicultural Church

First Published: Thursday, May 15, 2008

I found this on the "New Liturgical Movement" blog. It is about how the traditional Catholic Church's chant and plainsong was so much more multicultural than the new, vernacular, modern, "inclusive" Church. Multicultural in that all members of the Church had the same experience, could speak the same "language," worshiped with the same words, and felt at home in Church wherever they went. The Church transcended cultural differences, it did not pander to them.

The fact is, the Church was founded in Israel under Roman rule. It grew up and flourished under Rome and in Europe. That it spoke Latin, and built churches that reflected European culture was apparently as it was ordained. Jesus did not found his church in the Sahara, or the Orient, or the Americas. But church members were expected to take this church, this experience of the numinous, and spread it to the world - and for better or worse, that included the language, the vestments, the rituals, and the architecture. Well, here, this blogger says it better:

Multiculturalism. The other day I met a priest from Uganda who was visiting the United States for the first time, and the topic quickly turned to music. He sang a Kyrie and I picked up on it, then I sang a Sanctus and he knew that one too. We then turned to propers and sang some of those. It was an instant connection of two completely different worlds. There is no other music that is capable of engendering that type of total global unity. The Catholic Church is a universal Church and we need universal liturgical forms that reflect that.

It is easy to tell the difference between fake multiculturalism and the real thing. The fake kind ends up being patronizing of other cultures, a disguised form of elitist imperialism in which we conjure up what we imagine what the foreign peoples of the world—aggregating their class interests—might desire. The real form deals with reality, and the reality in Catholic music for the world is that chant is the great unifying force. And by the way, this applies to issues of age as well. It is the music that unites the generations.

Nancy Pelosi to Slap the Holy Father!

First Published: Thursday, April 17, 2008

I've been watching - and really enjoying - Showtime's The Tudors series on Sunday nights. We all know that Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, establishing himself as Head of the Church in England. We know that he did this for ostensibly personal reasons - he wanted to divorce and remarry (repeatedly). But there was a climate of religious rebellion in Europe at the time that went far beyond Henry's willful actions.

Watching this series, I am caught up in the intrigues, the politics, and the power plays that lived behind the scenes, both on the side of the Church, and the various nationalities involved in what would later be known as The Protestant Reformation.

And then I happened to read an article this morning about how Nancy Pelosi and other wayward "Catholics" intend to humiliate the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Church, by presenting themselves to receive Holy Communion when he offers Mass in Washington, D.C. Here's the story:

"Benedict's stance on abortion and Communion has been painful for elected officials who inhabit the troubled zone where Catholicism and their political beliefs intersect.

Pelosi was one of 48 Catholic lawmakers — some who support and some who oppose abortion rights — who signed a letter in 2004 complaining about statements by "some members of the Catholic hierarchy."

"If Catholic legislators are scorned and held out for ridicule by Church leaders on the basis of a single issue, the Church will lose strong advocates on a wide range of issues that relate to the core of important Catholic social teaching," they wrote. "Moreover, criticism of us on a matter that is essentially one of personal morality will deter other Catholics from entering politics, and in the long run the Church will suffer." (So in other words, if Catholic legislators are asked to live up to the rules of their religion, they will quit the Church? And if they want to avoid the scorn and ridicule, all they need do is not show up for Holy Communion!)

None of the Catholic lawmakers interviewed Wednesday said they hesitated to attend Thursday's celebration of Mass. This event, they said, is about bigger themes and values, such as hope and compassion."

And it dawned on me that I am watching a power play no less enormous than Henry's when he demanded that the clergy of England swear fealty to him, above their oath of allegiance to the Church. They caved. The question is, what will Benedict do?

The Epistle for This Sunday

First Published: Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Epistle for this Sunday (the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas) brought an idea into focus for me.

The Epistle reads this way: Brethren: As long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the master of all; but he is under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father. So we too, when we were children, were enslaved under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that he might redeem those who were under teh Law, that we might receive tee adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba, Father." So that he is no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, an heir also through God."

The message made me think of a plot line for a sci-fi story, in which evolution and God's creation were indeed one; God chose a point in the evolution of man to imbue him with his Godlike qualities, and as man has grown and developed his mind and his faculties over time, he is being brought closer and closer to his own divinity.

Well, in fact, it is no sci-fi at all - whether in that way exactly, or in another, whether we were created perfect and fell away, or created imperfect with the job of moving forward, we are here to become better and better in all ways so that one day we can be worthy of the presence of God.


First Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The long-awaited Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI has been released, and I think it is just the beginning of what will likely be a recovery for the Catholic Church.

Bear with me on this: one of my big problems with Liberalism (progressivism) is there is no stopping point. Joseph Bottum put it very well when he said his turn toward Conservatism came because he reached a place (abortion) beyond which he could not go. If you examine most of the arguments for Progressivism, it's clear that there are no stopping points.

If the definition of "marriage" s not a man and a woman creating a family, but is a (lifetime) commitment between two people who love one another, then why not a man and his daughter, a woman and her sister? Why bother to sanction the state at all?

If the definition of human is not the human being at every stage of development from conception to death, but is "worthwhile" or "happy" or "productive" or "able to live on its own," then we can discuss the continued life of old people, retarded people, people who have lost their limbs, Alzheimer's patients.

As usual, the progressives want to open the doors as they see fit, not as the doors are likely to be opened once the limits are removed. Yes to Gay for marriage. No to fathers and daughters. At least for now. Yes to aborting human fetuses,no to routinely offing the wheel-chair bound. For now.

So with the Catholic Church. The idea behind Vatican II was ostensibly to "open the window" and let the bracing air of modernity into an ancient and yes, in some ways, creaky institution. But as Benedict clearly knows, once under way, the changes became their own excuse. The Church, essentially, disappeared. There were no real differences between the post VII Church and most Protestant sects. Argue though they will that there is still "the Real Presence" in the Eucharist, the behavior of the "people of God" at Sunday Mass would suggest that these people thought otherwise: if you really believed that was Jesus in the Host, would you be showing up for Mass looking like you just rolled out of bed? Would you bolt out the door still chewing the Host? If you really believed the Church was God's authority on earth, would you go to Mass at Easter, but then talk in favor of abortion?

It's not easy to be a Catholic. I abandoned the Church following VII, and when I later found a traditional Church and felt as though I wanted to return, I wrestled for a long time with my willingness to try to be at Mass every single Sunday, to go to Confession, to change my open attitudes toward relationships, what movies to see, and so on. It's a commitment, a way of approaching life. And it sounds like Benedict is going to ask that we work a little harder at it than we have been.

We've Got "The Cookies"

First Published: Monday, January 22, 2007

I was emailing with a friend recently, who, like me, returned to the Church after many years absent, and a life of spiritual inquiry. He said he felt that many religions had value, but that Catholicism - Roman Catholicism - was for him because it had "the cookies." That is, The Eucharist.

I actually didn't even really react to that. When I was a child, had I heard someone refer to Holy Communion as "the cookies," I would have been horrified. We were even afraid, as children, to let our teeth touch the communion wafer, as we feared harming the body of Christ. We crossed ourselves when we passed a church, knowing that Jesus was physically present in there. Now, it's "the cookies." And sad to say, it may even BE cookies.

Anyway, we were going back and forth about the NO vs. Traditional Mass, until he cut the conversation short as no longer of any real value. He was happy with "his" version of the Mass. He acknowledged that all Masses are not the same any longer, and that many abuses occur, many NO masses are pretty irreverent, even goofy, but that has no effect on him, because the NO mass at his particular parish is reverent enough, and includes some traditional gestures.

Again, so trained am I to accept such statements that I didn't react to that, either. But the more I thought about it, and the more I considered the many posts I find on various forums discussing the state of the liturgy in the Church, the more I realized that what he was, in effect, saying, is exactly why I object to the changes in the church.

As a child - my last real extended experience with the Church - I attended Mass in several places. My home parish, a little Carmelite chapel near my home, at a church near my mom's birthplace, and a few others. One church may have been more elaborate than the next, one priest a little more formal, or a little louder. By the time I came up in Catholicism, some organic changes to make the Mass more accessible had already been made - the congregation said many of the responses out loud, in Latin. We also sang much of the responses, such as the Agnus Dei, the Gloria, the Credo, the Kyrie. We certainly knew what was going on, and we participated fully (that is the topic of another post!). The main thing is, Mass, no matter where it was held, was the same Mass. I always knew where I was (at a Catholic church); I always knew what was going on (the Mass); I always knew where I was in the Mass; and I always understood the ground rules for being there and being Catholic (that I could not receive Communion, for example, unless I was free from mortal sin, and had fasted for three hours).

Now, you get what you get. "Mass" can be a relatively benign affair, with some hint of the old Catholic ceremony. Or, it can be like the service at my current "home" parish (though that is not where I attend), a basically Protestant service, with a crowd of performers on the altar in jeans and sneakers, and often as not, a slide show for a sermon.

I realized, however, with my friend's comment, that his mass was ok, and therefore, he saw no reason to be concerned over the whole NO vs. Traditional discussion, that is the heart of the problem.

In the old Church, the Mass was the Mass - the same for all. Wherever you went, you had access to the real, true, nearly changeless Mass. If you traveled to Germany, it was still the Mass - and there were plenty of churches, and plenty of Masses for the faithful. Now, Masses are a relatively rare commodity, and some can be downright painful to attend - perhaps even leading one into the occasion of sin with their lack of piety, and offensiveness.

If I were lucky, I might be in a parish like my mom's, where the priest, though openly gay, is reverent, and can conduct a good ceremony. While the Mass is not my idea of a Mass, still, I could probably bear it and be, as many NO Catholics insist we must be, "obedient" to the Holy See. But I don't have access to that gentle a Mass where I live. I can only choose between bad and worse.

But that's not the point. I shouldn't HAVE to. The very fact that the service conducted can be so completely different from one place to another - benign at best, outrageous at worst - is testimony to the failing of the changes inspired by Vatican II. Surely no one ever intended that I would not be able to find a Mass that didn't hurt me to attend - literally bring tears to my eyes, or cause terrible anger and frustration. Surely they never meant to turn the Mass - however much some of them may have felt it was "old-fashioned" and inaccessible - into a sideshow, or bad high school play. (Have you seen the "Punk Priest," seen his get up and listened to his "sermons? Do that before you judge.)

And one Catholic should not be dismissing the pain of another because he's got "the cookies," and the other does not. The pain felt by Traditional Catholics at the destruction of a Mass beloved to them, and that endured for 1500 years, should not be dismissed because it "doesn't effect" another Catholic. Just as the church of 1950 did need to examine the life led by its faithful, and take into consideration the word they were forced to live in when defining some of its alterable rules, and to be sympathetic with their pain, to do a better job of educating them and thereby helping them understand the Mass, the Church today should not be ignoring and making light of what the Traditional faithful are experiencing.

At least, that's not the Catholic behavior I was taught as a child. Has the church changed SO much?

The Empirical and the Divine

First Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I am an ecumenical reader (and now, podcast listener). I try to make sure I am hearing all sides of a story. It's easy to read the things we agree with, and cheer inwardly at our own good sense - "look, this published writer agrees with me!" - and it is much harder to read, and even give points to, The Other Side.

Recently, I listened to two podcasts: one on Catholicism (which, with all its "faith traditions" and "Liturgies of the Word" and "charisms" sounds an awful lot different than the Catholicism I grew up with), and one from the Center for Inquiry (the podcast is called Point of Inquiry), a pro-science, anti-religion think tank affiliated with the University of Buffalo.

Neither was surprising. The particular Point of Inquiry I listened to was an interview with Ann Druyan, wife of Carl Sagan. A self-professed agnostic, she was nevertheless full of "awe" and "wonder" at the profundity of creation, and expressed a desire to "know what life was all about" before she died.

The Catholic podcast, on the other hand, was painstaking in its attempts to demonstrate, by empiricism, what "God wanted us to do," and what "God's purpose" was for us - even how God wanted us to chat with Him.


The scientists want science to effect us like religion - wonder, amazement, humility, and awe in the face of the expansiveness and constant surprizes of creation. And the religious want us to reasonably and through research come to the conclusion that this, not that is God, because it can be proven.

I laughed as I listened to the scientists insist that science was always open to new and extreme ideas - oh, really? tell that to Louis Pasteur. Scientists demand that we believe Science has the answers to all human problems - suspiciously like God, isn't it? And the odd thing is, the more we learn, scientifically, the more we realize how much we simply don't know, and how wrong we have been in past declarations.

I laughed, likewise, as I listened to the religious podcast try to set limits on God by trying to define Him - to profess to "know" what He was all about. Yes, if we believe that there has been revelation, we can say we "know" certain things. But how can we be so absolutely sure we have it all figured out? Isn't God a lot greater than that? How do we wrap our feeble little minds around eternity, for example, or free will? Some thing we simply have to resort to Faith to accept.

I have never understood why science and God can't co-exist peacefully. If anything, it seems the divide is ever wider, and ever more stridently expressed by adherents of one or the other. It seems to me that, whether the Universe was made for man's delight and entertainment, or whether we are simply another small part of it, there still has to have been some Prime Mover. No matter how many mysteries Science unravels, there will always be the twin mysteries of the first moment, and more profoundly, WHY? These are things that mortal man, fixed as he is in Time, will probably never be able to understand. We can only hope that at some point in our existences, whether they are one or many, we will have advanced enough beyond our human limitations to begin to comprehend. And for that, we need God.

I have also never understood why atheists/agnostics resent our need to characterize God in ways that we can understand, or our need to express organized humility in the face of the profound. I doubt that God really cares if we say the Rosary - and perhaps God really did ask that we do so, understanding that human beings like pattern and repetition, and that our minds will be more open to His presence as we meditate - but I sincerely doubt that the Rosary is for him. That does not make it a bad thing to do. And because we humans are wayward creatures, who needs rewards and punishments to keep us keeping on, is there anything necessarily wrong with the Catholic Church urging us to say the Rosary?

In the final analysis, I think religious people are more tolerant of atheistic scientists than the other way around. The more than science discovers, the more amazing we learn God must be to have created all this. Just because we can understand a phenomenon does not make it any less wondrous - or any less likely to have originated in the mind of God.

Nor should believing that God is responsible for all this deter us from trying to understand it. Note, I say "understand," and not "alter" or "control." With great power, as Spiderman tells us, comes great responsibility. It is our belief in God and our attempts to understand God's purpose, that set limits for us - not in our understanding, but in our use of the wonderful things we discover.

I watched an old episode of The X-Files last night - Ice - in which a mystery creature is turned up in an ice core. The creature infects human hosts and causes them to become violent, ultimately destructive. Mulder wants to study the creature. But since it kills, Scully wants to destroy it so that it can't infect the population. The age-old face-off between science and ethics. Should we have developed nuclear power? We won't know until we learn one day if nuclear power may save us from freezing in the dark.

Mankind's greatest hope is in the wisdom of men of science informed by strong, dare I say it, religious beliefs. Discoveries of the world, the universe, around us, governed by a respect for that creation and its laws and purposes, is the only way we can survive. And I think that ultimately, God does want us to survive.

More Confirmation

First published: Friday, April 28, 2006

A confirmation I recently attended brought back to me in full force the question I keep asking: if people didn't like/reverence/believe in the Catholic Church the way it was for 1500 years, why didn't they just leave? Why was it necessary to destroy it from within?

The Protestant Reformation was supposed to have accomplished what seems to have been the objectives of the Post Vatican II desecrations: make the church simpler, vernacular, congregation-centered and personal. Why couldn't the disgruntled just join one of the already numerous and varied Protestant sects if this was the type of religious experience being sought?

Two possibilities come to mind: avarice (the Church has a lot of money and property), and sheer ego gratification. "I don't have to change, YOU have to change."

But, to return to the Confirmation. The church in which it was held is a lovely old building, a spacious gothic-style structure with beautiful stained-glass windows, carved, polished wooden pews, and what must have once been an inspiring sanctuary. Now, of course, the High Altar is gone, the altar rail is gone, the pulpit is missing. At the focal point of the altar is a chair. The Tabernacle had been move to the side - it was a strange looking, plain metal box with a little rust on the hinges.

I had to assume that the "communion table" contained some relics, as everyone made a great show out of bowing to it (or to the chair in which the Bishop sat?). No one bothered to bow to the consecrated Host, supposedly the living presence of Jesus Christ, sitting forlornly in the Tabernacle off to the side. In fact, when the confirmation candidates came up to present the "universal intentions", they completed their speeches, with bows to the communion table and/or the Bishop, and then lined up in front of the Tabernacle, with their backs to it, and nary a bow, let alone a genuflection, to God Himself. It actually made me feel sad to see Christ so pushed aside, so neglected, so ignored.

I was a bit horrified by the clothing worn to the Confirmation. Allowing for styles, it was still disconcerting to see people in flip-flops, jeans, capris, way-too-tight, way-too-short skirts, and low-cut, tight shirts. I'm not opposed in theory to scanty dressing - on the beach, in a club, in the park. But it just seems wrong somehow to show up that way for a solemn, not to say sacramental rite.

I don't think it was just for purposes of ceremony that the kids were all in graduation gowns - I think it was a choice made to cover up the possibilities.

Communion, of course, was taken standing, in the hand, and I saw more than one person returning from receiving it chewing. Again, I don't suppose there is anything wrong with that - it just seems terribly irreverent.

Finally, when the Confirmation was complete, the congregation remained in the "hall," chatting, laughing, backs to the altar and to the Tabernacle, taking pictures and exchanging gifts.

And I guess that brings me to the crux of my distress. I left the Church when I was not much older than these kids because it seemed I went to Mass one Sunday and it was Mass as I had always known it, and I came back the following week and someone had taken my Church. But it wasn't just the outward symbols and grace and beauty and tradition of my Church. It was all the things I had been taught to believe were fitting and proper, even, in some cases, matters of what was and was not sinful.

The Church was a harsh mistress, and I did not always want to do what I was told was right. As a teenager at the time, I did not want to abide by the rules of proper sexual behavior. I never thought abortion was right, but I also thought that birth control was a serious social issue. And I didn't really object when a Saturday afternoon service sufficed for a Sunday obligation. I was justly horrified as I learned about errors and sins of the Church in times past, and even not so far past.

But I really did not want it to change.

It's rather like being a kid vis a vis a parent. From about age two on, a child tests and torments his parents. He questions, goads, tempts, antagonizes, and frustrates their best attempts to establish limits, instill a sense of right and wrong, and provide guideposts for living a decent life. While the child may fuss, fume, even outright rebel, the last thing the child really wants is for Mom and Dad to admit they were wrong, abandon all the rules, and let the child do just about as it wishes.

Imagine the horror of a child returning home from school one day to find all the furniture replaced by office furniture, Dad upstairs canoodling loudly with the male neighbor and the door open, Mom out "somewhere," a note on the refrigerator saying "Help yourself," and the TV on The Playboy Channel.

For some children it might seem at first like fantasy land, but for most kids, it would be a nightmare from which there is no awaking.

So it is, I think, for many Catholics.

Yes, we disobeyed and chafed under the seemingly gratuitous rules. No, we didn't like it when our friends said we were superstitious and ignorant. Yes, it was distressing to learn (as all children must) that our Mother Church had made terrible mistakes, and done terrible harm at times. But we also found comfort and strength in the sameness - the solid, unchanging, stalwart, reliable sameness of Mass each week. We were grateful for its unswerving dignity - we really didn't want to see our moms in mini-skirts, did we? - for its adherence to the precepts and rules (nothing is more disconcerting than being told something is absolutely wrong, and then in the next breath learning that, actually, maybe it is ok), and for its staunch belief that it was in communion with the real presence of Jesus Christ (and if that is so, why is the Christ the King sitting - Like Prince Charles? - off to the side while the congregation celebrates and preens itself with readings, sing-alongs, and hand shakes?).

But it is more than tradition, beauty, and the norms that have been lost in the changes to the Church.

Again using the metaphor of parents and children, it isn't much fun to be the parent. It's difficult to take a stand, and declare that this is ok in our home, and that is not. It's a burden to try to behave as you wish your children to behave. It's embarassing when you do make blunders to admit that you broke your own rules and that it was a mistake, or worse. It's not easy to stay with your spouse, to get the kids up on Sunday morning for church, to keep the house clean and maintain a job. It's a pain to wake up in the middle of the night and change a wet bed; it's worse than a pain to deal with the aftermath of a teenager's automobile accident.

But our children want and need us to do all of this. When we try to become their friends rather than their parents, they end up with no parents.

Today, it seems that the Church wants to be a kid, too. After all, it's a lot more fun. It's fun to create your own rules according to the demands of your life (you want to have sex with your boyfriend, so not only premarital sex but birth control must be ok with God; you are gay, so it must be fine with God to have gay relations; you are sick of your spouse, so divorce without cause can't be that wrong), it's fun to write the liturgy (I've always liked Goth music, so wouldn't it be cool to have a Goth Mass?), it's fun to be the center of attention (I want to stand on the altar and read from the Bible!!).

The "old" Church made you behave, dress appropriately, be "clean," and abide by the rules of the family. But it was also there for me no matter what I did, it made me feel fresh and new after I'd confessed a mistake, it assured me that my path was right and true when I was doubtful, and it conducted itself in a way I wished to emulate.

I speak for myself, and probably for some other Catholics as well, when I say that I very much miss that strict, adult, safe, protective, and loving Church of my childhood.

Some numbers on Catholicism

First published: Monday, April 17, 2006

The reason I've become so interested in the state of the Catholic Church is that I recently found a small church that offers a traditional Latin Mass.

So? Well, for years I just wasn't interested in being a Catholic anymore. You have to understand, I was born Catholic, and attended parochial school for 9 years. I loved my school, was was a devoted little Catholic - I had some visions of being a nun at one point - and remained faithful even through those tough high school years.

But by 1969, when I was in college, and things started to fall apart in the church, I was feeling pretty betrayed, and of course it was a vulnerable time for religiosity anyway (both in terms of my age, and the era).

So, I stopped going to church and for the most part, did not return until I found what had been missing.

It's easy to dismiss my disappointments as mostly cosmetic. Ok, they changed the altar to face the congregation. Ok, they stopped the Latin Mass. They took all the beautiful music and shelved it. No more bells, incense, candles. Even the Host was moved to the side and downplayed. The priest was as likely to wear sandals as a chasuble. In fact, everything beautiful, mystical, spiritual and God-directed had disappeared. And yes, I definitely felt it on an aesthetic level.

But it was far more than that. It was a total change in orientation, and complete about-shift in meaning. And I have been gratified lately, as I read and learn more and more about the disaster than was Vatican II, to learn that my instinctive reactions to these changes is reflected in the more educated views of many who write on this subject.

When I was young, the Mass was oriented toward God. It was an unbloody sacrifice, re-enacted and offer TO God, of His Son, who died for us so that our sins could be forgiven. As such, it was offered, appropriately, toward the altar, toward God. We all stood behind the priest as he, in his role of Christ on earth, presided at the sacrifice. Ok, that all made sense to me. Since it was a re-enactment of an ancient rite, it seemed appropriate that it not be offered in common, every day language, or costume, or style. It should be "other." Moreover, it always seemed to me that in setting religion apart from everyday life, making it beautiful and terrible and powerful, the Church was on to something.

Part of it, of course, was that that was the nature of Catholicism. Religion was about the after life - not about this one. It was not about good deeds, it was about faith. And repentence. But more than that, the ceremony, the style, they prayers, the language - they all pulled you out of yourself, and into another realm. (Funny, it's ok to chant mantras in Hindi to invoke another state of mind, but we frown upon the same formula when reciting the Rosary.)

So for me, Mass had been a short vacation from my everyday life, and brief trip into the numinous - a glimpse of something more, something other than this day to day life.

I was recently at a Novus Ordo Mass. And it was everything, and less, than I remembered. And I remembered why I stopped attending church. The priest did not speak til more than halfway through the "celebration." The church itself was bare and bright. The prayers were not Catholic - or at least, not especially so. Any Protestant church congregation might have said them. There is no particular reverence for the host. There are subtle shifts in wording that render the meaning something other than what I recall. (Especially the sops to angry feminists who insist that God is not a father but androgynous.) The music is execrable. Oddly, every single person on the stage (I can't even call it an altar) with the celebrant was a woman. All in all, I had the feeling I was attending a not-very-good local theatre musical. Bad acting, bad singing, cheesey costumes, and a spare-parts set. How sad.

In fact, a Catholic "leader" recently wrote about the church and verified my worst fears: it is his belief that Christianity is about good works, political involvement, activism. It is not about actively converting souls, but about do-goodism. (Which I am not denigrating, it is very important to do good - I jsut always believed the church was more concerned about the health of the soul than of the body.) The focus is on the congregation, not on God. The priest is playing to the people, not to the Kingdom of Heaven. The mass is a communion on with Jesus, but with one another.

Statistically, the resuls are disastrous. The number of Catholic priests has fallen from 58,000 to 45,000. By 2020 there will be 31,000 and half will be over the age of 70. In 1965, 1,575 new priests were ordained, but in 2002, the number fell to 450. At present, some 3,000 parishes are without priests. Between 1965 and 2002, the number of seminarians fell from 49,999 to 4,700, a decline of over 90 percent. Since 1965 two thirds of seminaries opened have closed their doors. (A look at the reasons for the steep decline of priests will come later in this article.) The number of Catholic nuns, 180,000 in 1965, has fallen by 60 percent. Since the close of Vatican II the number of teaching nuns has fallen 94 percent. Their resolute obedience to orthodoxy and recognition of their vital role in educating Catholics has been replaced by mostly lay people, some of whom are not even Catholic. When one sees a nun today, if one even recognizes a nun, the impression one is more likely to get is that of a professional businesswoman. About half the Catholic high schools open in 1965 have closed. Almost half of the 4.5 million students in those schools in the mid-1960s are gone. A great treasure has been lost. Now, only 10 percent of lay religious teachers accept the Church's teaching on contraception, 53 percent think a Catholic woman can get an abortion and remain a good Catholic, 65 percent say Catholics have the right to divorce and remarry, and a New York poll reported that 70 percent of Catholics aged 18 to 54 believe that the Holy Eucharist is just a "symbolic reminder" of Jesus. Only one in four Catholics attends Mass on Sunday today, while in 1958 three out of every four Catholics did so.

Random Thoughts on Conservatism and Catholicism

This won't be a long post, it's more of a question that I can't help ask, even though I am not crazy about the answer I usually reach: how can conservatism possibly work in a world already gone "on?"

There is a reverence for the idea of "moving on" in our society. "He has moved on" is said as a mark of great honor and respect when talking about someone who has suffered a loss, or who has made a mistake, or who has been an utter idiot.

But it is also shorthand for the idea that it is better to "move on" that to stay fixed.

There was a time when fixedness of purpose, when "sticking to your guns," when consistency, fortitude, strength of purpose, firm belief, all that sort of thing, were the "right" way to go.

Not so now. John Kerry was actually honored for being bendable. His constant (at least that was constant about him) shifts were seen as mental sophistication - nuance was the word, as I recall. He was not a "shifty sidewinder," he was a nuanced, worldly sophisticate to George Bush's stubborn, inflexible doofus.

I was at a Traditional Roman Catholic Latin Rite Mass the other day, and while I was enjoying the beauty, and the tradition, and the link to history - the brief glimpse into the Medieval World - I was also struck by the fact that the Church, as an entity, has "moved on." The Liturgy has changed, the tradition has been lost, the meaning has been wiped away, and the "other guys" are in charge of the institution. You don't "go back" from there. The only real answer is something akin to schism. Perhaps the Church will be willing to accomodate traditional Catholics, but unless they separate entirely, they will never again be the common voice of the church.

Reading the website of my (geographic) parish, it does not even seem familiar to me. If I were to stumble across it, not knowing what it was and lacking a title that claimed it was Catholic, I would be convinced that this was a protestant church, possibly Episcopal. But I would certainly not mistake it for what I had always believed to be Catholic. But it is these people who are now running the Church - not "my" people.

I was in a religious items store in Olean recently, and I asked the female clerk if they carried Latin Missals. She said they did not, but that they could be obtained. I mentioned that I attended a Latin Mass. She looked skeptical and asked me if it was the one in Bradford (PA). I said no, and she said, good, because they do not accept the pope, they are excommunicated. She then went on to say that it was a good thing the Mass had changed; it was a good thing that one mass featured a rock band and another a folk group. "Different strokes," she said, nodding wisely.

This runs so contrary to my feelings growing up as a Catholic. When I set foot in a Catholic Church as a child, I was reaching back in time - perhaps not so far as to Jesus and the disciples themselves, but certainly to the first millenium of the church. I was touching tradition, seeing rites that had stood firm against time and alteration. The inside of a church was a comforting zone of sameness, of consistency in a mad world, of steadfastness of purpose and belief in the face of all uncertainty and doubt.

Now, I enter a church and I cannot find that light burning above the altar that reminded me I was in the presence of God. I cannot find the beautiful, if romantic, images of the saints that reminded me, again, of individuals who did dedicate their lives to God. When I see a priest or nun, I am not sure they are a priest or nun... I had always assumed the "costume" was to set this individual apart as having dedicated his or her life to the service of God. Now, these folks are really social workers, dedicated to the service of man. This is not a small shift.

Yes, a priest was a "shepherd to his flock," but more importantly, he was a conduit to God. As a person dedicated body and soul to the numinous, he set himself apart from the rest of us, and his job, or at least so I always believed, was to turn our thoughts away from our day to day lives and toward our spiritual lives, our life with God. He was not so much concerned with us as neighbors and "clients" as he was with us as souls and sinners.

Again, one of the reasons I felt a comfort and safety in the Catholic Church was that here, I was a child. Here I could abandon my own "control" of life, of making the decisions and calling the shots and taking the helm, and become, as Jesus suggested, "as a little child." Not in the sense of being irresponsible, but in the sense of giving this control up to the authority of the church and the mercy of God. Even if bad things happened to me, I could trust that it was as it was supposed to be, and the purpose would eventually become clear. (It always has.)

I do not get this feeling in the Novo church. The congregation runs the church. I would not be surprised to learn that rather than a Bishop appointing a priest to serve in a given parish, the parishoners were to start interviewing and hiring as they do in Protestant congregations. At a recent Novus Ordo mass, I was stunned to find that fully 2/3 of the mass was over before the priest spoke so much as a word. It seemed more like a really badly written and acted amateur theatrical put on by the Neighborhood Playhouse than like a mass.

But, that's me. And I don't want to move on. I want to conserve... I want to hold on to the old beauty, pageantry, mystery, dignity. But the church has moved on, and while some few of us may continue to go to the Latin Mass, and may continue to pretend we can maintain the "old ways," as Thomas Wolfe told us, "You can never go home again."