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.