Monday 29 September 2014

My Journey To Tradition

The social setting in which I grew up didn’t encourage religion. We were all working class folk where dog racing, football and weekend beer instead of Church were the way of life. My elder brother and his best pal were among the very first skinheads in our town, and that fashion was taken up later by both me and my younger brother (not the lifestyle: drinking and its associated violence had sadly played a large part in the disruption of families in our social circle). I was more disengaged from the lifestyle than my brothers, but that didn’t stop me being worldly enough to get tattooed, buy a motorcycle, enjoy a smoke or have a beer or two.

I converted to The Faith at 20 years old, partly because I had seen the damage the atheistic lifestyle (and attitude) did to families and persons, but also because I had looked to Catholic priesthood as my path in life from about the age of 8, having seen The Song of Bernadette and fallen in love with ‘the lady of Lourdes’. At the time my family advised me to be an Anglican/Episcopalian, “because then you can get married as well”, but my response was always “No; I want to be a proper priest” –it just seemed to me that if Henry VIII had started his own Church it couldn’t be Christ’s Church, and I knew “Catholics have been around forever”. But I wasn’t a Catholic, so being a Catholic priest was not a possibility, it seemed. At any rate in my teens other things got in the way. There was a girlfriend or two, and the great, happy experience of a Juvenile marching band (see here).

I took instruction in The Faith when I was 20 because my mother had booked us onto a pilgrimage to Lourdes and if I was going to Lourdes, I was going as a Catholic. The priest who instructed me used “Drinkwater’s Abbreviated Catechism with explanations”, an expansion of the old ‘Penny Catechism’ (akin to the Baltimore Catechism). When I asked Father to explain the Trinity a bit more he annoyed me by patting my head and saying ‘accept it on faith’. Me being me, that didn’t satisfy and I went off to the local Catholic bookstore where I bought F J Sheed’s “Theology and Sanity”; Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” and Philip Hughes’ “A Popular History of the Catholic Church”. The correlation between all these books fed me well, and I simply found myself living with the ancient Faith. I had discovered the Sacred Tradition quite by accident, and even accompanied a lady from the parish to some SSPX TLMs so as to experience ‘the old Mass’. Still, adherence to Rome was important to me, so it was to the local Seminary that I applied. Once there I was told that although I was an older entrant I could not have a shortened course because I was “too narrow and needed to be opened up”.

The seminary had some sound professors but I was aware of an unhealthy fascination with Vatican II, so that anything from before 1965 was viewed rather negatively; we were even to be ashamed of our ‘imperialistic’ missionary work. But it was the emphasis on replacing ‘clericalism’ with ‘pal-priests’ and replacing Canon Law with ‘pastoral care’ that did me the most damage: I could filter out the errors in what we were taught, but ordained as a ‘pal priest’ under the banner of ‘God loves us just as we are’ gave concupiscence a free hand, allowing me to ditch the clerical collar in favour of my biking gear even when doing pastoral work. It also disabled me in both seeking and promoting holiness of life.

To be honest, my ‘biker’ gear caused me some problems as a priest. The locals saw me as ‘just one of the lads’ (presuming I was ‘into’ all that the ‘lads’ were ‘into’). I celebrated liturgy as reverently as I could, and I preached The Faith as it has been handed down, but I held to the 'God loves us as we are' idea which meant I frequently failed to challenge folk in 'irregular' lifestyles. Thus there was an incongruity about me that destroyed my inner peace (external peace was lacking too, since on the basis of my liturgy and preaching some accused me of being ‘pre-Vatican II’ and were less than supportive, though I must say all of my Bishops have been excellent with me; I can truly see each one as a Father to me). Still, disturbed by my incongruity I requested and was granted a sabbatical period to return to my previous profession for a year. On my return to ministry I was given the opportunity to celebrate the TLM for a priest friend going on holiday, and I suddenly rediscovered what I was about. That brought inner peace, but wasn't always welcomed by priests and parishioners, who are often unwelcoming of anything that is even remotely ‘pre-Vatican II’.

I couldn’t discover my integrity in the Novus Ordo because when one is facing the people and taught to engage with the people, one unavoidably becomes a bit of a performer, focusing on the people and the here and now, rather than on God and the eternal. Celebrating the TLM stopped me in my tracks: this was how the ancient saints celebrated -how can I be seen around in my biking gear, be careless with my conversation then come in and offer the Mass as it has been handed down to us by the great saints? How could I offer the Sacrifice of the Mass and be making little or no sacrifice of myself in daily life? I rediscovered my Traditionalism and returned to the wearing of the clerical collar for my pastoral work.

I remain ‘Traditionally’ Catholic because I see where the alternative leads us by subconscious submission to concupiscence. Indeed the person-centred attitude in the Church of today is dancing to the tune of concupiscence and bringing souls of pastors and people alike to the brink of destruction. I am deeply concerned by this because the people of God are being led astray, which is not countered by pastors who have been fooled by the false light of the person-centred Gospel. Thus they support homosexual pairings, cohabitation, contraception et al, as though these are alternatives within the Gospel rather than alternatives to the Gospel. I believe that too many have erred and unconsciously swapped spirituality for psychology; swapped Christ for Carl Rogers; swapped the understanding of human nature passed on by the saints for the theories of Freud, Jung, Klein et al., which is why they fail to speak up clearly, consistently and publicly for human life and natural marriage in all its facets. Fundamentally, the ‘do not judge’ of the Gospel has been wrongly equated by them with the non-judgementalism of the therapeutic world, yet they are entirely different: the Gospel requires us to judge acts and attitudes for the sake of souls (cf.Jn.7v24; Matt.18v15-17; Jas.5v20; Gal.6v1; 2.Tim.4v2); the therapeutic world repudiates such judgement.

We must pray for our priests (of both presbyteral and episcopal rank) and for the Synod, that they may rediscover Gospel Truth. All have been shaped by the psychological theories of the 1950’s and 60’s and cannot see their errors simply because these are not errors when viewed through their kind of ‘formation’ –which has also affected the priests who trained under them. I still believe today what I first argued in a philosophy assignment in seminary: ‘our real battle is not with Galileo and the physical sciences but with psychology’; with those psychological therapies which are inherently “person-centred”; therapies which seek to make the person free from “external oughts and shoulds” (such as the Ten Commandments) and which locate our negative behaviours in past experiences rather than in original sin. I do not want to say that there is no truth in these therapies; I honestly think they have some merit. But they are not the whole truth, and they miss the Core Truth of sin and redemption. As Catholics, we have the task of restoring that understanding to the world –after we have restored it to the Church. I hope the forthcoming Synod puts us on that path.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Synod & Francis Set to Change the Faith?

The Holy See has announced the establishing of a commission to look at reforming the annulment process. As Rorate Caeli says (here), this ‘somewhat preempts the Synod on this path (the Synod propositions will certainly mention it anyway), leaving the New Kasper Doctrine as a focal point of discussions’. Indeed it leaves the Synod free to focus on debating the nature of marriage and sexuality as its primary focus. With so many bishops and priests currently watering down the Church’s teaching on these by favouring Communion for the Divorced and civilly ‘remarried’, as well by supporting homosexual civil ‘unions’ under the guise of protecting civil rights, the Synod is in great danger of denying the Gospel and Christ.

Though it is becoming increasingly difficult, I am always encouraging people to hope and trust that Francis will not allow the Synod to deviate from the established doctrine that marriage is a permanent union between one man and one woman, exclusive of all others, open to the procreation of life. I encourage this hope because it is a teaching consistently taught by the Church right up until and including the so-called ‘Vatican II Catechism’ (formulated as recently as 1992 by the entire hierarchy of the Church and their theological advisors, and promulgated as the sure norm for teaching The Faith by Pope John-Paul II). If the Synod holds to this Faith, all will be fine. If the Synod recommends allowing Communion to the remarried Divorcee, cohabiting couples, and/or supports civil ‘unions’ for homosexuals even in order to protect their civil rights, then Pope Paul VI’s ‘smoke of Satan’ will have surely entered the Church, because the bottom line is this: if Francis and/or the Synod declare a change to Church teaching on marriage and sexuality they do not actually change the Faith, they actually abandon the faith. It is useless to say the Pope is our Supreme Teacher and that we must give submission of will and intellect to his teaching, because that holds only when he holds himself bound by revelation and defined dogma, of which he is but the custodian, not the originator.

I cannot bring myself to believe that Francis will allow an attempt to change doctrine happen because it would take the arrogance of hell to proclaim that the faithful and the Popes have been wrong for over two millennia, and I am unwilling to ascribe such arrogance to any man. Can we really ascribe it to Francis and our Bishops? And if not, can we ascribe to them simple stupidity, or a faithlessness that has seen them fall into relativism? I hope not.

If the Synod and Francis do attempt to impose a new teaching which contravenes defined teaching, we are at rights to decry that new teaching for as long as it takes to have it declared erroneous -and not only the right, but the duty. Let us hope and pray that what the Synod does is look for the reasons why the world fails to accept the importance of family and natural sexuality, and find ways of addressing that failure so that Gospel Truth can once again be valued by the Church and by the world she is sent to teach. 

Friday 19 September 2014

Keeping Faith In Francis and In The Synod

I have never (I hope) tread upon the reputation for personal holiness ascribed to any man, and I hope that I stay clear of that in this post, for in this at least I am at one with Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?”.  I am not about then, to judge the holiness of Pope Francis or the members of the up-coming Synod. That said, and taking seriously the duty to point out Truth from error and good from evil, it is clear from the Catholic blogosphere that many Catholics are distressed by Pope Francis and some of the hierarchy, almost to the point of being theologically scandalised by them, scandal being the loss of faith due to the actions of another:

Scandal is an attitude or behaviour which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbour’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. CCC.#2284

Many Catholics fear that the up-coming Synod is pre-determined to rid us of defined moral doctrine in order to gain acceptance of the Church by the contemporary world. Personally, I retain hope that Francis will not allow the Synod to deviate from our moral doctrine as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, since he will not want to endanger his own soul or the souls of the people of God. This loss would be the result of truly scandalising the faithful by throwing out the teaching of a Catechism which was prepared by Rome in collaboration with the entire hierarchy of the Church and the assistance of numerous theological consultors; put together under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and promulgated as the ‘sure norm’ for the teaching of the Faith by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. 

If Francis does allow the Synod to deviate from the Catechism, we may be obliged to respectfully call him and the Synod to account, for their influence over people for good or evil can be great even though neither a Synod, Council or Pope have the authority to overturn the Deposit of Faith.

As the Universal Pastor, Francis is personally responsible (at the cost of his salvation) for ensuring the Synod does not deviate from the Faith of two Millennia because, as the Catechism reminds us:

Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing. CCC.#2285

We surely do not want Francis to go down in history as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We have had enough Popes in the past who have scandalised the faithful of their own time and whose reputations still tarnish the Church today. We do not need another. Let us then pray for the faith, humility and courage of the Pope and of the Synod members. Our parish have been saying the following prayer at Sunday Mass for the last few months, and we will continue to do so until the Synod is over.

Most Holy Trinity,
from whom all families take their origin and meaning,
as we pray for the exaltation of Holy Mother Church,
and for the conversion & peace of the world,
we ask you to bless and guide the forth-coming synod on the family.
Open minds and hearts to the place of marriage & family in your plan for our salvation.
Help your holy Church and the world in which she lives,
to uphold the sanctity of human life from natural conception to natural death;
the rightfulness of natural marriage,
and to find grace-filled solutions to the breakdown of marriage and family life.
Seeking the intercession of Our Blessed Lady, of St Joseph her spouse,
of St Michael the Archangel and of all the angels and saints,

we make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Card-Carrying TLM Nutters?

James Preece has announced that he and his wife have joined the Latin Mass Society and thus became “bona fide card carrying nutters” (see here). Sadly, this is how many who support the TLM are seen; as eccentric nutters; a people who are afraid and seek security in the past. This is entirely wrong. Those who join the LMS or attach themselves to the TLM as their form of worship are like the sensible man who “built his house on rock”; they are men who remain attached to their roots for firm anchorage in “the faith delivered once for all to the saints”. 

Joining the LMS, which I heartily approve of, may make a man seem like a ‘card-carrying nutter’, but only to those who do not, will not, or cannot value Sacred Tradition; those who want a form of worship that affirms the people, and a ‘do not judge’ Church which gives them the autonomy in moral and doctrinal matters that Adam sought in eating the forbidden fruit. Before God and the saints, I dare to say the card-carrying nutters are seen as fully and authentically Catholic, and those who abandon the Doctrine and worship of their forefathers as the nutters. Yes, TLM’ers are, like all of us, sinners, but they are folk who ‘push the envelope’ to encompass the whole of the Catholic Revelation and not just that portion which began in the 1960’s. Thse who do not, will not or cannot value Tradition box themselves off into a seriously flawed standpoint: that of following the latest moral and sociological fads to which they must constantly adapt in order to be ‘relevant’. As one Anglican clergyman said, “He who marries the spirit of the age is bound to be a widower in the next”. The Church is now packed with such widows who do not seem to see that the death of their spouse is the result of their pursuing every new novelty as though it were a new revelation.