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.
Father, the grace of God kept you from falling into the lifestyle of the atheist and the skinhead, though having a smoke, a drink and riding a motorcycle aren’t necessarily sins, you know. It was also grace which showed you the truth of the Catholic priesthood and Tradition.ReplyDelete
Whether you blame it or not, the seminary encouraging you to be a pal-priest and to avoid judging people’s lifestyles does create problems for priests who preach the faith truthfully yet have to be ‘accommodating’ in day to day pastoral life. That you were able to rediscover yourself was yet another grace from God, and granted via the TLM, I venture to say. Our Lord (or the Lady of Lourdes?) certainly seems to be looking after you.
Thank you TJ.Delete
I agree that all is by the grace of God. One grace I have not mentioned is having quite severe asthma in my youth, which prevented me from getting involved in all the 'antics' of the lads around the estate. I think it was the asthma that helped keep me out of the disruptive lifestyle. Thanks be to God, even illness can be a grace.
The TLM was pivotal in recovering myself, and I'm sure Our Lady had a hand in bringing it to me. Its challenge to be holy remains with me to this day.
Wonderful article and great discernment!ReplyDelete
Michael, in the US,
Thank you, Michael.Delete
I'm pleased you enjoyed the sharing.
God bless you and yours.
Many thanks for this postDelete
Thank YOU, Father, for your blog.Delete
Glad you found this sharing of mine interesting.
Thank you Father for sharing your path to Faith with us. Pleased to know that learning about Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes lead you there.ReplyDelete
As a convert of nearly 50 years I am always interested to know what leads people into the Church .Providence seems to have many paths but for me it was also Lourdes. In 1958 I read about Lourdes for the first time and later was influenced by another film 'Il suffit d'aimer' and was lead to enquire and eventually to accept the Faith.
Thank you, Pelerin.Delete
I suspect Our Lady plays a part in leading into the Church anyone who enters the Church, whether he hand is seen or unseen.
We are blest to have be shown her hand so clearly.
God Bless, and Our Lady guide you.
Very interesting post and always interesting to hear other journey in the Faith. I have been a cradle Catholic for 54+ years and only recently, 4 years discovered the TLM by accident - I still feel anger that the hierachy denied me this treasure for the majority of my life and I tell everyone what a joy this form of the Mass is.
My youngest son has just started 6 form at the Catholic school he has attended throughout his education. One of his subjects is psychology and I will show him your post with as a spiritual view of this subject. He shocked me only last week when he informed me that the only spiritual pupils at the school are the muslims! My one regret is sending both my lads to a 'Catholic' school because neither have had a positive Catholic ethos given them. Bring back Tradition.
Thank you Patrick.Delete
Psychology can be fun and does yield some useful information, but one has to be careful that one does not take it as the new Gospel, which many do. There was disagreement between Maslow and Rogers, both humanist in their approach, because Maslow saw that Rogers had forgotten to take account of original sin. Rogers himself came to see the dangers of his theory years later, as stated by William R. Coulson, one of his closest collaborators. He has an article on this, much of which can be located at the following address:
PS What is annoying is not just that the hierarchy kept this from us (when it is our rightful heritage) but that many of them still try to take it from us for their own, ideological reasons. They don't seem to see that their hindrance of our attaining our spiritual needs and rights is oppression -though they spout of about the materially oppressed very easily and yet it is not material poverty the Church has been sent to address but spiritual poverty: the lack of the Gospel.
A wonderfully honest and insightful article which points to the mysteries of grace. Thank you Father.ReplyDelete
Alan and Angeline
Sorry for the late reply...and thanks for the comment.Delete
How mysterious grace is! The greatest mystery in my life is that garce gets through to me at all!
Thank you, Father. You are a great witness to the truth. You speak like a true pastor of souls, which is so rare in our time. Blessed Michael, protect you.ReplyDelete
Sorry for the later reply Lynda...and thank you for the comment.Delete
If only I had been able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk over the years. That period of incongruity has not left me unscathed...
I can understand your journey to Tradition, but personally I am not a Traditionalist. No, just an ordinary Catholic.
I am a bit older than you and I grew up and served as an altar boy in a large parish with the Mass which would have been fully recognisable to St Gregory and before, the Mass of Ages. As for the chaos that descended on us all in the 60s/70s, well me and my peer group, we were all too busy raising families and establishing careers, to pay all that much attention - until it was too late.
I can now see that had little to do with Catholicism.
But one thing I do envy you, deeply. I was never able to go through the motor bike phase. National Service saw to that.
Some people just don’t know how lucky they have been!
Thank you, Jacobi.Delete
I hope I am just an ordinary Catholic too! I just like the Faith to be taught, defended and promoted as it is and not as society would like it to be; and I like my worship to be celebrated with reverence, faithfulness and focused on God.
Yes, my days of biking were great. Difficult as a priest though, because those I rode with went out on weekends. Sundays for me were taken up with Mass, so I was never able to do much riding with them once I was a priest. So while you missed out due to national Service, I lost out to Sunday Services! and I still miss it...
I recall the pre-Vat II days and have never 'fallen for' the new ways. I was shocked to read, some time ago, that priests coming to this country from such places as Poland and Africa were subject to 'supplementary training' as they were considered too 'old fashioned' and 'harsh'. I find it astonishing that many people of my generation happily accept that much of what they were taught by dedicated and devout teachers and priests as the unchangeable truth has now somehow become 'untrue'. I am grateful to you, Father, and priests like you for your witnessReplyDelete
Thank you, Lepanto.Delete
It is astonishing that people can give up what they once believed to be absolute truth and even taught others was absolute truth. This discarding of what they were taught is more than intellectual weakness; it is a straying from God in the blinding false lights of satan. The reality is that those who were weak in the Faith have lost the Faith. I may be spiritually weak and so find it hard to practice the Faith, but I am faith-filled enough to believe and to teach the Faith so that those who are stronger than I can be exposed to the Truth which leads to eternal life.