Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Useless


"There are many souls who close their ears against Him because they prefer to speak and hurry through vocal prayers as if a task had been set them to say a certain amount everyday. Do not imitate them. You are doing more by occasionally repeating a single petition of the Our Father than by repeating the whole of it many times in a hurry and not thinking [or willing] what you are saying." --St. Teresa of Avila


The contemplative life has always been attractive, yet intimating for me. I am not a Type-A Martha by nature, always needing to "do." And yet, in the past I had always found myself unable to sustain periods of solitude for more than a few days to a week. I do not feel like I am a "spiritual" person, nor do I fit in with people who are preoccupied with interior castles and locutions and this and that spiritual thing. And yet, when all is said and done, the spiritual life is all that really matters. 

 So, I'm in this kind of limbo--I'm a beginner in the interior life, but having the desire and will to grow in it for the soul purpose of growing closer in relationship to Christ. Lately, I have been doing that alone with regular visits to the Lord. I signed up for an 11pm slot to be an Adorer at our local chapel as well, so that I would be more systematic and accountable in my prayer life. 

I also joined an contemplative apostolate, which I was really on the fence about. If it weren't for the nudging of a woman who had been praying for me, apparently, I probably wouldn't have considered it. After all, I've been pulling back from my own men's group in favor of more time alone, and in more focused and intentional prayer. I feel like there is this gentle pull to go "into the deep" in order to grow in intimacy with God.

Since I run in largely traditionalist circles, there is this tendency to "check the boxes"--the vocal prayers in the Missal, the Office, the rosaries, etc. The objective litmus's of a robust prayer life that you can point to and ennumerate. 

But for anyone who has been in love, you know that the "doing" is merely a secondary byproduct of the "being." When you are in love, you could be walking along the beach or reading together or watching your beloved clip their fingernails and it would all be Heaven. Because the physical "doing" is merely a receptacle for the ethereal "being." In other words, it doesn't matter what you do--your time together is a "waste" by objective standards. And yet nothing could be more desirable or important to the lover.

For me, this is why the act of adoration fits well in my spiritual life. It's largely "useless" time spent, "wasted time," time where you are not "doing" anything. But the absence of activity, of distraction, of achieving or checking things off or mastering or completing...all this is really, well, the point. 

Everyone knows the story of the farmer St. John Vianney encountered who replied, when asked what he did in the church looking at the tabernacle, "I look at Him, and He looks at me." Could anything be more true, more to the point, and more essential? Love is not complicated. But the heart of love is not in the window dressing, the wrapping paper...it is in the gift of itself--that is, the gift itself. 

But adoration, through the eyes of the world, really is both an act of faith and an exercise in absurdity. A friend recently mentioned when he was in campus ministry at a Jesuit institution that even some of the priests scoffed at the "cracker worship" taking place. Sometimes I wonder myself, were the Lord in the monstrance replaced with an unconsecrated host, how it would change my prayer. If I couldn't tell the difference, what does that say about my prayer life, or even what we are willing to worship? It's a strange thought. You wonder how Isaac could have mistaken Jacob for Esau, or how Jacob could have mistaken Leah for Rachel? Does the power of our prayer in Adoration depend on our belief in True Presence, or the presence of the True Presence? It's something to ponder.

I have also been more intentional about "clearing out" a lot of activity that keeps me from spending this useless time in adoration; just as we have been trying to clear our physical house of "stuff" to make more "empty space" (a kind of minimalism-lite). There is value in the "white space" as any musician knows--the space between the notes is just as important as the notes themselves. 

Largely, though, the time spent in this kind of "useless prayer" in which I produce nothing, say nothing, sometimes even feel nothing is, I think, well spent. I hope to grow in my spiritual life, but not for its own sake, but only that I can draw closer to the Lord who remains hidden, small, and silent. I don't have that engineer type brain that needs to constantly be optimizing or quantifying. Sometimes it's enough to just be, and love, and accept love and confess love.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Not "Clown Masses" Nor "Golden Unicorns": The Truth of the N.O. Lies In The Liturgical Mean


 I think the mistake neo-conservative Catholics make is they point out the occasional "quasi-traditional" reverent Mass (ie, the "Golden Unicorn") as examples of the Novus Ordo done well, as if this was a representative example of most Catholic Churches.

On the other hand, you have other figures, such as Joseph Sciambra, pointing out every possible liturgical abuse, "gay Masses," liturgical dance, etc in fringe San Francisco and other lefty churches as if they were a representative example of most Catholic churches.

The problem, in my opinion, doesn't lie in the extremes of clown Masses or that the Novus Ordo has occasional reverent lipstick on. The truth is in the mean. And the fact of the mean is that the Novus Ordo commonly celebrated in the majority of parishes in the U.S. and abroad is objectively and comfortably lukewarm--neither liturgically hot nor cold. 

Let me give you an example. We have in our area about ten or so run-of-the-mill suburban Catholic parishes where I can attend daily Mass. I went to one this morning at 6:30am because of an evening conflict with the TLM I usually attend for First Friday. 

I've been to this church before, and it stacks pretty similarly to the other ten in our area. They are all cut pretty much from the same cloth, and the only reason someone would attend one over the other is because of schedule or parish loyalty. The aesthetics are one thing--not the be all end all, but not unimportant either: 1970's carpet, a cinderblock wall behind the altar, non-descript stained glass, circular configuration of the pews, music stands and instruments for the "music ministry," tabernacle off to the side, Eucharistic ministers and female lectors, sign of peace, congregation skews older, etc etc. 

The homilies are always safe and comfortable. The congregants seem to know what to expect, and the pastor delivers accordingly. The priests, of course, are older, near retirement age, at most of these parishes--change isn't easy for anyone, but the impetus to change the 1970's liturgical foundation is just not there. Too great a task, too much possible resistance, and not worth it when you are only a ten years away from retirement or death. Why bother. 

As soon as I step in to these churches, my demeanor changes, sinks kind of. I fall into line--I know the New Mass by heart, because for most of my life it's all I knew--and go through the motions. But everything about it feels...lukewarm. I don't know how else to describe it. "I wish you were either one of the other (hot or cold)!" (Rev 3:15) 

Now, maybe if I was in Nigeria or some other country where the faith burns hot at a Novus Ordo Mass it would be different--the orthodox faith of the fervent faithful would cover a multitude of liturgical shortcomings. But here, as St. John writes, "You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17).

I hate feeling like this, this kind of perceived "liturgical snobbery," but it's hard to unsee what you've seen when your eyes have seen beauty and reverence, not as an overlay on a shaky experimental foundation, but on a rock of tested tradition (which is the Usus Antiquior). Like I said, the truth is not in the extremes, but in the representative means. I'd wager 90% of Catholic churches in the U.S. are like the church I attended this morning--not overtly abusive, not overly reverent. Just...meh. 

Which means that 90% of Catholics are shaped by this liturgy. It is a fantasy to think the Extraordinary Form will comprise 90% of Catholic Masses in the way the New Mass currently does. But what if it did? Would it transform Catholic culture? Lex orandi, lex credendi and all that. 

Many find sanctity and personal holiness in the Eucharist and personal devotions, and some do it in spite of the banality of the communal worship in the new rite, not because of it. For others, they might be comfortable in it because it's all they've known since 1962, never experienced it another way, and live out the beatitudes anyway. A saint the Latin Mass does not make on it's own, nor does the Novus Ordo necessarily preclude it. But I wonder if we did make the environment more conducive not to coolness or lukewarmness, but being hot so that we all might say, like it was said in prophecy of our Lord, "Zeal for your house has consumed me." (Jn 2:17)


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Review: "Man Of God" (2021)

When I was in high school, before I became a Christian, I read a story from the Orient that stayed with me for years. It went like this:

 

The master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. 

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, he parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin. 

In great anger the parents went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he has lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth--that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again. 

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"


Man of God follows a similar trajectory in recounting the tale of St. Nektarios, revered in the Orthodox church as a saint known for his piety, kindness, love for the poor, asceticism, and holy detachment in the face of detraction and slander. 


The false accusations leveled at him throughout the film--from the clergy who try to exile him from Egypt so he will not be a potential threat in the Episcopy, to the mother of a young nun under his care who accuses the holy man of impregnating her--are undertaken with a holy indfference. But it is also humanized in his character as one who feels the pain of being misunderstood, of losing his reputation and facing scorn from others. And yet, in the end, all that matters to St. Nektarios is the will of God, and alligning himself with that will.

The film (set in the late 19th century) was beautifully shot, and the acting was excellent. Alexander Petrov personifies the kind-hearted, gentle, and austere docility of the saint. He also has a John Vianney moment when he takes work as an itinerant preacher in a place no one else wants to go; he is reviled and ignored as he preaches to a group of disinterested local men. Eventually, he is left all alone, talking to the wind in the empty church walls..

There were some humorous parts too; as the principal of a secondary school, when he is confronted with misbehaving boys, he says, "You leave me no choice--I must punish...myself." Rather than inflict, he inspires, and in this instance undertakes a hunger strike until the conflict is resolved. The boys are impressed by his sincerity and authenticity, and many become ascetics modeling themselves after him. At one point, he secretly cleans the dormitory toilets because the janitor is ill and he knows he has a family to support. In other instances, he is seen clearing brush and hauling rocks to bring beauty to the grounds.

His companion--a boy from the school who floats his writings to publishers--carries with him the anger of the injustice in him not being elected Patriach. Nektarios is relieved to be free of the temptation to power and prestige, which he knows come with that vocation. He is content to be a priest who identifies with the poor, the outcasts, and those who hunger and thirst for the word of God. 

In the final scene, before his death, he is in a simple hospital room (which he shares with a poor man who fell from a cliff and is paralyzed, played by Mickey Rourke). He is drawing his last breaths, at in a moving vision, speaks his last words: "Are you speaking to me, my Lord?" And then with a few gasping breaths, enters into his repose. The saint's garment--which is laid on his companion during his passing--brings with it the blessings of a miraculous healing. 

I found Man of God to be a simple, inspiring, and very human film which painted a portrait of holy detachment and indifference, love of God and love of neighbor, and a willingness to bless those who revile. Very well done, and very much worth renting.   

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Evening Word


 Sometimes when visiting the Lord in the chapel in Adoration, I split my time in contemplation/adoration and reading/meditating on the Word of God in scripture. I figure if the Lord is there before me, and I in His presence, he speaks in both silence and through the inspiration of the Spirit through the Word. 

Both St. Francis and the Little Flower were known from time to time to pray before opening the scripture at random for the Lord to speak. It's a practice I have taken up as well. I figure there is nothing in Scripture that is not true, not wasted, or not inspired--it is all good. And also that when we put our trust in God, He can speak to us as He sees fit in that moment if we defer our judgement to His will in that moment. 

So, this evening during a Holy Hour when I was in the chapel alone, I prayed and openened the Scriptures to the Book of Micah. And I read it, and the Lord spoke. Maybe you will find some wisdom and solace in the scripture as well, or maybe it was just meant for me in that moment. Regardless, scripture is never wasted. Take from it what you will, and have a great evening.





Sunday, July 31, 2022

"The Older Will Serve The Younger:" The Novus Ordo And The Stolen Birthright


 The liturgical noose seems to be tightening in many parts of the country. The ICKSP getting booted in Chicago; Savanah and DC, among others, issuing restrictions on the Traditional Mass. It's crazy to think about, especially if you love Tradition. 

Most well-meaning but largely ignorant Catholics who may not know or care enough about the significance of the changes to the Mass after the Second Vatican Council might wonder what the big deal is, this liturgical "preferencing." Out with the old, in with the new. If they are sympathetic, they may even throw consolation bones, like "we have a reverent Novus Ordo where we can receive on the tongue. And we even have Chant and incense too!" 

I'm not steeped in the history of the liturgical reforms by any means, but I've read and been exposed to enough to know that it was the machinations of a few (Annibale Bugnini being the chief architect) that intentionally switched the tracks in the train yard, and took things where they were never intended to go. It was not accidental, but by design.

In the readings at Mass today, we see the praising of the dishonest steward in Lk 16:1-9. So already there was this theme running through my head about deceptiveness, guile, and switch-a-roos. And it brought be back to Genesis 25-27: the story of Jacob and Essau.

Now, I don't have these thoughts worked out; this is just a dumb blog post, not a scholarly article. We know that the Christ comes through the line of Isaac, not Ishhmael; through Jacob, not Essau. We also know that Essau is first born, and so is in line to receive the blessing and birthright. We see in the birth story, Jacob "gripping Esau's heel" (Gen 25:26) and coming out a close second. Note the words of the Lord spoken to Rebekah:

"Two nations are in your womb,

two peoples are separating while still within you;

But one will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." (Gen 25:23)


Strange, right? Now let's look at the two things first: the selling of Esau's birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew (Gen 25:31), and then the stealing of the blessing in Gen 27. 

Esau himself sold his birthright (gave it away, basically) in exchange for food. Jacob is like the shrewd steward who is commended in the reading today. "First sell me your right as firstborn." The implications were long-standing. Later, Jacob continues his cunning by donning a hair suit and sneaking in to Isaac's chamber to trick him into giving him the blessing instead of Essau. He puts on the hairy suit to pretend he is Jacob

Think about that a minute. 

When I think of the Consilium, I think the Esaus in the Church didn't realize at the time, perhaps, the value of what they possessed. But other, more shrewd churchmen who sought to remake the liturgy could only do so by a kind of swap-a-roo, akin to the deception of Jacob's hair shirt. Not only do they lose the birthright, but they lose the blessing. And the words of the Lord spoken to Rebekah seem to be actualized today: "Two nations are in your womb; two people are separating while still within you. But one will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."

Even when Isaac summons Jacob and blesses him in Chapter 28, what does he tell him? "You shall not marry a Canaanite woman!" (Gen 28:1). He doesn't, but Essau does. I don't know what to make of that one.  

The Novus Ordo is a kind of liturgical "stranger"--it's birth came about by way of a kind of deception, a cunning and shrewdness (imagine Bugnini in the hair shirt and Paul VI as the aged Isaac) in how it was forumulated and carried out, that robbed the unknowing faithful of their birthright. And now, if Rome has its way, it will be "the older serving the younger."

How all these liturgical battlelines, prophecy, human deception, and Gods' will in it all plays out remains to be seen. And I'm not coming to any conclusion here--only noting some interesting themes in scripture, here. Take the disjointed thoughts for what they're worth--which is not much, really. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Habits Of The Home

 

Until recently I was the only guy in my neighborhood with a push gas mower, since everyone here has riding mowers. Now, I'm the only guy mowing his half acre with a manual, old-school reel mower. And I'm really digging it.

For those who aren't familiar, these are the old school non-gas, non-electric mowers with blades that rotate by muscle power. They are usually intended for city/small lots, but I found one that was wider at 20" which almost matched my previous gas push mower. It cost me $40 on Craigslist. The cut is fine, you have to overlap the rows a bit more than you would with a normal mower, and it's definitely more effort than a gas or self-propelled electric. But since I sit on my ass all day at a computer during the week, and don't belong to a gym, I consider this a forced workout--and it's a good one.

One nice thing too is I enlisted my 10 year old to do half the lawn for me for $20, while I do the other half. I know he'll hate me as he gets older, but I have more comfort that there's no gas to mess with, or electric cord to run over. He was struggling a bit at first, but I'm proud of him in pushing through and completing the whole back last week. Besides an occasional backlapping/sharpening once a year, there's really nothing to do with it--no oil to change, no battery to charge, nothing to plug it into. It's more effort for sure, but it comes with very little maintenance upkeep and cost. 

Then there is the dishwasher. This is our second dishwasher in seven years, and this one is only four years old. The heating element seems to have gone, which means that it washes but doesn't dry the dishes that well. When our washer died last year, I made sure to get an older model used on Craiglist that were built better and to last, without any bells and whistles; I got a 20 year old toploader for $50 and it is holding up fine--I plan to repair it if it needs it. 

But since dishwashers are in the kitchen, there's some ascetic considerations; I dont necessarily want one from the 1980's. I found a similar stainless steel model from a guy on Craigslist who upgraded all his appliances and is getting rid of his working GE (again, for $50) that I will take a look at next week. But I may not even do that if we end up washing dishes by hand.

Like the mowers ("won't start, not sure what's wrong with it, for scrap") put out to the curb on Craigslist, dishwashers and other appliances are becoming more commonly rendered inoperable after four or five years. A new circuit board might cost upwards of $200, so people just scrap them and buy another one. Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of this cycle personally--I would gladly pay more to have something last twice as long. But now I'm questioning the unquestionable--why do I need this at all? 

I spent the morning getting some additional things to make this new "system" work. I have it all set up, and have been testing the "system" since last night--it is working much better and easier than I thought it would! It needs buy in from the family (check) and a different approach to out usually slovenly habit of leaving dishes everywhere, and just grabbing new ones--kind of a new "clean as you go" approach.


I have one dish basin filled with two gallons of soapy water in the sink on one side where dishes and silverware can soak for a bit. When that gets close to full, one can use a stiff bristled brush sitting in a cup of dish soap and water to wash the dish/bowl/silverware and then simply drop it in the other dish pan on the counter (filled with 2 gallons of water and 2 tbsps of bleach or a few drops of tea tree oil) for a quick rinse, take out, and put in the dish rack right next to it. It's shockingly simple, and not much more effort than some of the additional steps needed with the dishwasher (plus no bending, which is a plus). Plus if a piece of cultlery or a plate or bowl is needed, it can just be grabbed from the dish rack, futher simplifying the constant need to be loading/unloading/putting away from the dishwasher. 

I did crack during the heat wave and turned on our twenty year old central air for the week. Now that nightime temps are dropping back down to the low seventies in the late evening, I may go back to opening up windows and running the box fans at night to bring in the cooler air (though it does raise the humidity in the house a little). We still have our mobile air conditioner in our bedroom as well, if the central AC ever does conk out one of these days. 

And of course, we haven't used the dyer in years, except very rarely. Drying the clothes on giant racks in the bedroom under the skylights have worked really well, and now we don't even think of it as an inconvenience. It's just the way we dry clothes, by hanging them. There's nothing to break, nothing to repair. And it really doesn't take much more time either; pluse the clothes when they are dry are right by our dressers, so we just take them off, fold them, and put them away right there. Easy.

Not all things that are old-fashioned are better (I'm reminded of the clever funny ad about 'hand-crafted artisinal toilet paper') --but not all things that are new are either, and they come with a cost for convenience that we don't always think about. Everything is a trade off in one way or another, and engineer-types would be best to remember that sometimes the simplest solutions are better than the most optimized or efficient. 

This is in the trial stage right now--the reel mower, the handwashing dishes, the fans--but I'm hopeful it may be one more thing we do somewhat intentionally, and one less thing we have to worry about breaking down. I think a change in mindset will be important too--mowing the lawn isn't a chore, but a chance to exercise. Washing the dishes isn't a bother (well, we'll see) but a chance to relax and do some Christian meditation over the suds and rinsing. The fans--well, maybe that's an opportunity just for mortification.


Regardless, I'll let you know how it goes. For softies like me, what's old is new again. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Art of Being Alone


I'm not alone very often these days. But since Wednesday, I have been, as my wife and kids drove to the beach to spend time with my parents. 

I declined the invitation to go down with them. I needed go through detox from nictotine (yet again), and needed to be alone to do it in order to keep damages to a minimum. Since I had been in the house all day for the past two days trying to work while drying out, I decided to go have a drink (alone), then dinner (alone), and then spent the rest of my Friday night praying (alone), and later perusing Target and Dollar Tree (alone) looking for a certain kind of dish basin. 

You see, our dishwasher wasn't working correctly, and I was tired of trying to diagnose it. So I asked my wife if she'd be ok just not using it, as I'm growing weary of repairing and replacing appliances, and she obliged. "It will be just like on vacation," I said. There is a part of me that wants to be more intentional about these things, though--slow down my life so I can make time to do dishes by hand as an activity, not a nusiance or inconvenience, but work it in as a natural part of our family routine. Seemed like serendipitious timing. We'll see how it works out. 

I literally had nothing to do this evening. A friend tried to get together but it didn't work out and I was unwilling to make the drive. And so my time was suddenly my own, and I didn't do much with it-didn't waste it, but didnt optimize it--I was just existing, on a Friday night, in a Target, shopping for a certain kind of dish basin.

This used to be my life, before marriage. I would go to the weekend movies at the Ritz at the Bourse alone. I would take the bus from my apartment and drink whiskey on the ride down Ridge Avenue to Center City to be alone in company at parties. Sometimes I would throw my bike on the rack, and later bobbing and weaving after midnight, make my way back by moonlight up Kelly Drive along the Schuykill. When I got back, I would put on some music and make some tea, and sit on the couch, or smoke on the porch.

You think of things to do with your time. There were times when the loneliness was acute, but most of the time it was just life--existing, functioning, trying to make do with our individual burdens that are unique to our state in life. I was generally okay being alone most of the time, but sometimes it was too hard, too heavy, not having anyone to keep me in check. I longed for a partner, that when my motorcycle broke down I had someone to call, that I had someone to share my fears with, wrap my arms around, and vice versa. 

My family will be back tomorrow. I spent the evening after getting home arranging our new dishwashing-by-hand-system: a basin with clean water and hydogiene peroxide for rinse, another in the sink for soaking, a nice drying rack arrangement. I sewed some linen hand towels, drank some iced tea, listened to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme

I'm afraid to sit on the patio out back--I'm not in the clear yet, need at least 24 more hours til all the drug is out of my system and then maybe I will be nice, will be affable and join good-natured company again. Until then, I'm sequestering for the good of everyone. I punched the gas by the minimart on my way home and let out a searing Ffffffffff-!!!------ but I didn't stop. I kept driving and made the best of my patheticly nice, indifferent Friday evening.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Prophetess

The other night I was sitting on the patio praying. I have a personal policy that anytime someone comes to mind I either shoot them a text or call, since there's usually a reason why the Lord placed them there in my consciousness. That intuitiveness can sometimes feel like a cross, but I figure God gave it to me for a reason.

Who came to me in prayer that evening was a person I had no former contact with, but felt could help me with some things I have been struggling with. Her name was Mary.

Mary is around eighty years old. She comes to church in a frumpy jacket even when it's a hundred degrees outside, and uses a sit-down walker. She comes to church, and often stays, and prays, and stays. I had never spoken to her directly, but I knew she was a woman of prayer who seemed to have a direct line to the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit. When I thought about her, I recalled the words in Luke's gospel about Anna the Prophetess: “She never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37).

On Monday, I took my daughter to the 5:30 Mass with me for a little daddy-daughter date, and lo and behold, there was Mary sitting reading the scriptures. I asked if I could sit next to her and she kindly obliged. My daughter and i prayed a rosary together, and after Mass I leaned in and asked Mary if she could pray over me.

We headed downstairs and sat in the uncomfortably warm foyer outside the soup kitchen. Mary recounted her time spent at the Vatican, and told my daughter and I about the time she was gifted a relic by a nun--a crucifix that had touched the blood of Padre Pio, the blood that came from his stigmata. She pulled it out from her shirt, and invited my daughter and I to touch it. She encouraged me to undertake the Seven Dolores of the Blessed Virgin Mary devotion, which she said many graces had come from for her, and then prayed with us, additionally writing our names in her little weathered notepad with a pencil so that she could continue to pray for us. She talked a lot, a bit rambly, and eventually I had to let her know we had to leave or we would be late for gymnastics.

I felt a good deal of peace upon leaving the church; a natural peace, not necessarily supernatural. Mary had cancer, her air conditioner gave out during the heatwave, but she seemed unfazed by any of these things. "The Lord will provide." It gave me a reminder and assurance that "Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her." (Lk 10:42)

Mary is the kind of woman you want praying for you. I can't testify to her sanctity or know much about her, but anyone who spends all their waking hours in church and in prayer has their ducks in a right row, whether they are a prophetess or not. And at this moment in my life, I feel these often overlooked figures in our midst are valuable spiritual currency. I don't always pray as I should, but Jesus also had help in carrying his cross as well. In my mind, every church needs an Anna, and every sinner like myself can use a Mary in their life to pray on our behalf.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Should You Have a Liturgical "Plan B"?


A priest friend in the diocese texted me the other day after the vindicitve queen'ing of Cardinal Gregory that he thinks our diocesean TLM's days are numbered. I replied back, "I guess we will have to just wait and see." 

Part of my response was trying to smooth out any unnecesary inner-alarmism on my part, and part was that I really don't have a firm backup plan should the only Latin Mass offered in our state be taken from us.

If we were to list out our 'options,' here's where it stands:

-There is a Ukrainian Catholic Church about ten minutes from us. I am Byzantine by rite; my wife doesn't care for the liturgy. I have written about why we don't attend the Divine Liturgy here.

-There is a SSPX chapel about ten minutes from us as well. I really don't want to go the SSPX route, though it is always an option for occasional Mass. I've written about how I've (at the moment) come to that decision here.

-The FSSP Latin Mass is about a half hour from us. It's a large quasi-parish. We know people here, I've gone to events there, but there's no local connection for us. It is an option, I suppose.

-We could keep attending our local parish; the Novus Ordo is now offered ad orientum, reverent, etc. For lack of a better expression, it's still lipstick on a pig, though, which I'm having trouble getting past.


I honestly don't know what if any "concession plan" we have were the TLM to be no mas here. Do we need to have this figured out now? I don't feel the Lord will abandon us, even if our ecclesial snyonder's throw us out to pasture. It wouldn't be the first. 

Part of me fears the resentment that has the potential to scab over in my heart if forced to attend the Novus Ordo by the heavy-hand of Rome. It's hard to go back to chuck when you've been treated to sirloin. I wouldn't say I'm opposed to this concession (because let's face it, I would never go back if my arm wasn't pinned behind me in the way TC is trying to do), but my heart drops when I think about the prospect. It would be an act of penance and humility, but also brings with it those awful feelings of years ago having to "offer up" the endurance of the banal liturgy and casucal offensiveness of not offering God the choicest cuts of worship.

I don't even ask "why" anymore, though (ie, WHY is this happening to us? What did we do wrong?). That would imply that those in the upper ecclesial echelons have our best interests at heart. They don't. There is not order and right reason, but disorder and confusion, which is of the Devil. Perhaps this is a chastisement from God, and the just will have to endure it as part of their sanctification. Nothing happens apart from His will. From the prophecy of St. Francis:

“There will be such diversity of opinions and schisms among the people, the religious and the clergy, that, except those days were shortened, according to the words of the Gospel, even the elect would be led into error, were they not specially guided, amid such great confusion, by the immense mercy of God….

“Those who persevere in their fervor and adhere to virtue with love and zeal for the truth, will suffer injuries and persecutions as rebels and schismatics; for their persecutors, urged on by the evil spirits, will say they are rendering a great service to God by destroying such pestilent men from the face of the earth…

“Some preachers will keep silent about the truth, and others will trample it under foot and deny it. Sanctity of life will be held in derision even by those who outwardly profess it, for in those days Our Lord Jesus Christ will send them, not a true Pastor, but a destroyer.”

—Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, published in 1882 by the London-based Catholic publishing house R. Washbourne, 1882, pp. 248-250.


So, I think at this point, we will continue to trust God and not try to pre-formulate a "plan" of our own. I don't know what we will do if the rug is ripped out from under us, but we are more fortunate than many (whom my heart burns for), and we trust God will supply us as a family with sufficient grace necessary for our state in life. We aren't owed anything. Maybe the pain of wanting to offer fitting worship and being unable to will cloak us in the pain our Savior bore in dying for ungrateful, sinful men. I don't know. I've been holding on to this scripture in the meantime concerning being ok with not having a "plan B" until the Lord reveals it to me as the spiritual head of my household:

"And when they shall bring you into the synagogues, and to magistrates and powers, be not solicitous how or what you shall answer, or what you shall say; For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what you must say." (Lk 12:11-12)

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Homegrown Missions



 “Youths or young men who feel a strong desire to toil for the souls of heathen people and who are willing to go afar with no hope of earthly recompense and with no guarantee of a return to their native land are encouraged to write, making their letter personal, to the Editor of Field Afar.” 

This 'call to vocations' was printed in 1911 by James A. Walsh, M.M., editor of the Field Afar. It was a call to join the Maryknoll congregation for foreign missions. The complete story can be found at America here

The Maryknoll call to vocations doesn't sugarcoat the difficulties of missionary life; from an earthly standpoint, it looks univiting and without recompense. And yet that didn't stop scores of men and women from enthusiastically signing up to labor in the Lord's vineyard abroad. I would like to see data, but from speculation I don't think this is common today.

When we think of missionaries, we think of going out to foreign nations, evangelizing indigenous tribes maybe, like the Apostles, the great St. Francis Xavier who baptized tens of thousands en masse in the East, or more recently, priests such as Ven Aloysius Schwartz in Korea (check out my friend Kevin Wells' book here). In the modern age, it is less common to equate "Catholic" with "missionary," while the Pentecostals, Mormons, and other evangelicals have stepped in to fill the vacuum left as Catholic clergy age out and the Vatican poo-poos the need for "propheletizing." 

In my mind, though, a missionary's call is simple and straightforward: to bring the Gospel to the people, and the people to Christ. It exists for the purpose of saving souls. When it loses that vision or impetus, it can be very hard, I imagine, to persevere in these backwater hellholes when there is nothing greater to compel one to remain at work there.

Then there is the "New Evangelization" put forth by Pope John Paul II, the call to re-catechize in our own backyards to the modern man who have been baptized but are essential pagans. These are largely "Christian" people who have forgotten the meat of the Gospel; they are very difficult to reach, because they do not see faith or religion as having any role in their lives. I don't know how successful this endeavor has been in making converts--I suspect it is the seed that falls on thorny ground, never taking root. It was a good and noble effort though.


We are not all called to go to India or Africa or the MIddle East, but we are commissioned by our baptism to make disciples of all nations. We can do that right where we are if there is need (and there is), starting in our own backyard. It requires no fundraising, no travel plans, no capital--just time, prayer, zeal, and a willing spirit. 

As more and more people fail to marry and continue to divorce, the rate of loneliness and living (and dying) alone will continue to increase. Especially vulnerable are the elderly who may be shut-ins or forgotten about. They may have literally no one in their life to call, or even pay them a visit. No one may even know they have died until the smell reaches the outside. What tragedy.

What if "missionary work" consisted or identifying these people, beginning correspondance by letter or email, and making periodic visits to listen, help clean their apartment, and share the Gospel with them? This is just one example of doing the work of a missionary in no formal capacity. Of course it could be of great benefit to go "two by two" as our Lord told the disciples. This is just one thought among others. But it gives one a place to start, with souls in one's backyard, as long as one is willing to labor.  Loneliness is going to be a great epidemic in the years to come, and is for many worse than death. 

There is so much we can do as Christians to labor. We can be as creative or simple as we like, but we must be obedient and willing to do the work. We don't have to go to faraway lands, unless that is where God calls a person. We can start in our own backyard doing the work of mercy. A soul is a soul is a soul, and a life a life, that some might be saved.