Thursday, May 26, 2011

Eucharistic "Miracle" at Medjugorje demonstrates disobedience

The following is account of an alleged "Eucharistic Miracle" at Medjurgorje. This story appeared in the May-June 1993 Caritas newsletter, the official organ of the Medjugorje group out of Birmingham, Alabama (the place where one of the seers obligingly had an apparition on some property owned by Terry Colafrancesco, who subsequently made a ton of money, but that's another story).

A certain Protestant woman a Caritas group from Birmingham on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje (Pilgrimages to Medjugorje have, of course, been forbidden by the Bishop, the lawful authority in the diocese, and so every organized pilgrimage there constitutes an act of disobedience to lawful authority). At any rate, when it came time for Mass, this Protestant lady was irritated that she could not receive Holy Communion. Since she was not in danger of death and had made no profession of belief in the Real Presence (the extraordinary conditions under which a non-Catholics is permitted to receive Holy Communion), there was absolutely no justification for her to receive Communion.

But, it would appear, Our Lady was more concerned at the displeasure of the Protestant than with adherence to the canon law of the Church, and so she arranged for the lady to receive Communion in circumstances which Mr. Colafrancesco describes as a "Eucharistic miracle." Here's what happened next, as reported in the Caritas newsletter:

"When distribution for Communion came, the first priest off the altar came toward the group leader. He and the others around him expected to be given the Eucharist, but instead the priest walked through the crowd which opened up. The leader, as well as the group, watched stunned as everyone was passed by while the priest walked directly to the spot where the woman was sitting in the pew. He held up the Eucharist for her to receive. The leader and the group and she herself stared in disbelief at what they were seeing. Though it was but a moment, it seemed the hesitation lasted for minutes. While she sat there and Jesus in the Eucharist was held up before her, she hesitated at first, not being sure, then willfully received Him. Everyone around her who was not weeping were fighting back their tears because all knew the priest could not have seen her until he was before her, much less known that she was not a Catholic. Only a few months later, the pilgrim who did not want to become a Catholic, received the Holy Eucharist a second time as a new Catholic."

Well, that's very touching that the woman became Catholic in the end. Too bad her journey to the Church began with a formal act of disobedience to the Church's law, which states plainly that it is the Magisterium, not a priest acting under the influence of some alleged apparition, that determines under what conditions sacraments may be received:
"Since the sacraments are the same for the whole Church and belong to the divine deposit, it is only for the supreme authority of the Church to approve or define the requirements for their validity; it is for the same or another competent authority according to the norm of canons 838 §§3 and 4 to decide what pertains to their licit celebration, administration, and reception and to the order to be observed in their celebration" (Can. 841).

And what has the competent authority stated in this matter? Canon 844 §1: "Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone." The reception of Communion by this Protestant woman clearly violates these canons, as well as Canon 913§1 which requires "sufficient knowledge and careful preparation" before reception of Communion. I suppose "Our Lady" trumps Canon Law.

Can anybody really believe that a legitimate apparition of Our Lady would lead to activity like this? Priests distributing Holy Communion outside of canonical norms to non-Catholics? This is even more serious because it is being out forward as a "miracle", that is, as something willed and effected by the direct power of God; in other words, God and Our Lady willed for this priest to disobey the Church's guidelines by leading him to give Holy Communion to this non-Catholic.

Is this the good fruits I keep hearing about?

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Program for Parish Renewal (part 4)

Finally we get to the last installment in this series and come to our happy ending. Last time we looked at how our pastor introduced some traditional elements into our liturgy. This time we will be looking at the introduction of Masses ad orientem, the introduction of the Traditional Latin Mass, and some other devotions and activities introduced at the parish.

I do want to deal with one objection a reader brought up last time; I mentioned that within a month or so of the issuing of the motu proprio, there were 70 people and families who signed a petition to have the TLM at our parish requesting to have the Extraordinary Form Mass said, but that it was nevertheless three years until my pastor actually said it. One reader suggested that perhaps my pastor was disobeying the guidelines of Summorum Pontificum by not offering the Mass immediately upon its request. Although my pastor has already answered this objection in the combox to part 3, I would like to address it here as well. If so many requested the EF Mass so early on, why wasn't it said for three years?

There are several reasons why the pastor allowed this interlude, if you will allow me to defend him here. In the first place I must note my pastor's conviction that anything that is done must be done properly, deliberately and with a high degree of excellence. Just because the EF Mass was now available did not mean that he was going to rush out and say a slip-shod Mass that was hurried and without the proper training. My pastor was simply not ready to say the TLM; he had barely begun learning it when Summorum Pontificum hit. Our pastor studied the Extraordinary Form with an admirable dedication—he attended two weekend seminars put on by the Canons of St. John Cantius for priests learning to say the EF Mass. He practiced the EF in "dry runs" weekly until he got comfortable with it; he even had a priest from the FSSP come out to observe him for a weekend and help him learn it better. All this training was in addition to his regular pastoral duties, funerals, weddings, visits from the Bishop, etc. and many personal medical problems that left him precious little spare time.

In addition to this was the fact that we had none of the implements of the Mass. He had to purchase vestments, which he did with much research and great care as to quality; we had to get a biretta, altar cards and purchase the Missal. More importantly was the altar servers—as you all know, the EF Mass requires altar servers who know the liturgical rubrics intimately and can say the Latin responses. These servers had to be found and trained from scratch, which took a considerable amount of time and had to be done on top of all of his other duties. He needed to find a cantor knowledgeable of the Extraordinary Form who could commit to a weekly schedule; we never did find our own and ended up "borrowing" a guy from another parish. We also had to find a "Master of Ceremonies"; we were fortunate to come across a young man who was part of Una Voce who was able to fulfill this role. All of these people's schedules had to be coordinated to find out which day and what time the EF Mass could be said.

I also want to clarify that last time, when I said there was a petition circulated with 70 people and families in support of the EF at our parish, it was not as if there were 70 families demanding or asking for the EF. There was one gentleman who was quite intent on getting the EF said. He, on his own initiative, created a petition and circulated it, and 70 people and families signed it, saying that they would support an EF Mass at the parish and would attend it if it was made available. It was not as if there was this big group of people asking for it; rather, it was a large segment of the parish who expressed support for the idea and were open to it should the pastor choose to implement it. I suppose you could say they asked for it passively rather than demanded it actively. You may think this is hair-splitting, but it is an important distinction.

My pastor also wanted to spend a lot of time on catechesis, for which purpose there were weekly bulletin articles on liturgy, tradition, Latin and  the EF for many months leading up to the introduction of the Extraordinary Form. He had witnessed what happened when a priest tried to rush things through without proper catechesis or preparation and was careful to not go down the same road.

Finally, with regard to this delay, I want to mention and commend the docility of the parishioners. When the EF Mass was freed up by the motu proprio and the pastor did not immediately make it available, they did not start complaining and bickering with him and puffing themselves up about their rights being violated and this and that; perhaps they would have done that if our pastor was a Latin-hating progressive, but since he is a faithful priest and one of the most orthodox in the region, they were very docile to his actions and quick to assume the best possible intentions on his part. "Our pastor is a good man who loves the Faith," we reasoned; "if he is delaying, he must have a good reason." This is rare in parishes today, where people are so quick to demand their way and start hurling accusations if they don't get it. Therefore I commend our parishioners, who were faithful enough to request the TLM but humble enough to wait patiently on the pastor's prudence for its introduction. It was finally introduced in October, 2010 to a very large and supportive congregation who was used to Latin from a year's worth of practice, used to ad orientem, accustomed to receiving at communion rails, and prepared for the TLM by a year or more of catechetical instruction from the pulpit and the bulletin. It's introduction took awhile, but the transition was successful and flawless.

Therefore, though at some times I did not understand my pastor's reluctance or thought he was moving too slow, in hindsight I see that he was vindicated in his approach and think him to be blameless in his conduct.

But we are moving too far ahead...let's go back a bit...


Don't panic; I mean experimental in a good way. What I mean by this term is that, as our pastor began introducing more and more traditional elements to the Novus Ordo liturgy, he did not do them universally to every Mass. He picked one specific Mass (in our case, the Sunday 10:30) as his "experimental Mass" to try these things out in. Those who were predisposed to Tradition could attend this Mass while those who were not would not (yet) be alarmed by the introduction of Tradition into their accustomed Masses. If the changes he made to the 10:30 Mass went over well, then he would talk about them at the other Masses, tell them, "Over at the 10:30 we've been singing the Gloria in Latin and people love it!" This let the more recalcitrant of the parishioners know that the changes were already happening at other Masses and gave them a chance to get their minds settled on the idea that they may be coming to "their" Mass, though not all of the changes were introduced to every Mass. Even to this day I don't think my pastor says the 8:00 or Saturday 4:30 Mass exactly the same as the 10:30; I suppose this is where he called a "truce" with the people, though even these two Masses are much more traditional than any others in the region.


I have already mentioned how Latin was introduced piecemeal. The next step was to get the parishioners away from "hymns" and move them towards chant. Sappy, post-Vatican II hymns had already been abolished circa 2007 and we were singing good, time-tested hymns from the 18th and 19th centuries, but still the pastor wanted to introduce the people to chant proper. The abolition of hymns in favor of chant was done in three ways:

(1) The entrance hymn was replaced with a chanted introit. It was (and is) done in English, but it is chant in a traditional mode done as a response between the congregation and the cantor. This helped dispose the people to prayer more as the Mass begun, much better than the "entrance hymn."

(2) The offertory hymn was replaced by an offertory responsorial chant, again done in a traditional mode but in English with responses between the people and the cantor.

(3) Most importantly, the communion hymn was replaced by the communion antiphon chanted a capella in Latin. I cannot tell you how much more reverent and sacred this made communion feel; I think this was the most important musical change that was made. Even now the beautiful Latin chant at this most solemn part of the Mass moves me to tears.

Thus, by these few changes, three "hymns" were eliminated and replaced by chants, two of them in the vernacular, but a step in the right direction.


Our pastor began doing Mass ad orientem in January 2009, about a year after he restored the altar rails. Ad orientem Mass was prepared for by a lengthy series of homilies on the liturgy, sometimes teaching right from the GIRM that this was the preferred manner of saying Mass. When ad orientem finally happened, some people were a little put off, but most accepted it. By this time, our priest had been there long enough and had a strong enough following to basically say, "I'm going to do this," and then do it. Nevertheless, it was great news. Father asked me to write a bulletin article on my reaction to the ad orientem Mass, and this article ended up on Fr. Z's blog (here). Once people got used to it, he never went back. The Novus Ordo has been ad orientem at my parish for ten years now.

Communion at the rails was introduced shortly after this. By this time, the rails had been restored for over a year and Father had preached on how to receive communion several times. People had been well catechized on the reverence due to the Eucharist and were well disposed to begin actually using the rails that had at first ostensibly been put up just for "aesthetic" reasons. In preparing people for this, our pastor preached on two themes (1) the reverence due to our Lord in the Eucharist, and (2) the fact that nowhere in Vatican II or in the post-conciliar documents was it ever commanded to remove the altar rails.

After preaching on this, he basically just made the change, although he allowed one caveat—since the bishops of the United States, and of our diocese, allowed that standing was to be the "norm" for reception, our pastor could not forbid it; that is, he could allow and encourage reception at the rails on the tongue, but could not forbid reception standing up in the hand. Therefore, he allowed that those who wanted to receive standing up could come up the middle of the aisle and receive in the hand. It was an awkward arrangement to have three "lines" (one at the left rail, one at the right, and one in the middle standing), one I never approved of, but I don't really know what else he was supposed to do, since he could not forbid reception standing in the Novus Ordo. This is still the practice, although the vast majority of persons still choose to receive kneeling rather than stand awkwardly in the middle line. I think this line is mainly used by visitors who have no idea what communion rails are. He also initially allowed communion of both kinds at the rails, which was a little unusual. Eventually as people got used to receiving at the rails he abolished this. Communion was still offered under both kinds in the Novus Ordo, but those receiving from the chalice did so after receiving at the rails in a separate line. Many people simply chose not to receive from the chalice.

Once people began regularly receiving at the communion rails, full-blown Latin Gregorian chant was introduced for all the regular Mass parts. We'd already been doing Latin communion chants. By now, the parish was fully in support of Latin and this change only made things more beautiful.


Look at how far we have come! We have come from liturgical dancing and puppet Masses to this point. The Traditional Latin Mass was introduced in October, 2010. By this time the parish had been receiving communion at the rails for almost a year. Even the Novus Ordo Mass was ad orientem at the neo-Gothic high altar. Latin permeated the liturgy, both in the ordinary parts and the changeable antiphons, which were chanted in Latin at communion by a skilled cantor. Orthodoxy was preached and Mass was reverent. To those who had been happily introduced to orthodox preaching, Latin chant, ad orientem celebrations and communion at the rail, what else was standing in the way between them and the TLM?

When the TLM finally came it was very well attended, both by members of our own parish and by visitors who had heard about it and wanted the blessing of attending the Extraordinary Form in Michigan's second oldest parish. The pastor had done such a good job over the past five years that, when the Traditional Latin Mass finally came—which in my opinion was the jewel in the crown of all his labors—nobody complained at all. The faithful who had come to our parish from other parishes had long anticipated it; many of the old group of parishioners had been catechized and made ready for it; and those who were extremely hostile or recalcitrant had either long ago left the parish or simply gave up complaining, seeing the restoration of Tradition as a fait accompli.

I believe I have misspoken; I said above that the saying of the TLM was the crown of my pastor's labors. I take this back. The true crowning glory of this beautiful story was when, a few months after the saying of the first TLM, the Bishop of our Diocese, His Excellency Earl Boyea, came to my pastor personally and asked him to continue to say the TLM and make it widely available. Then, as if to place a most beautiful and glorious jewel at the pinnacle of an already glorious crown, the bishop affirmed and justified everything our pastor had done by visiting our parish in April, 2011 and himself said Mass in the Extraordinary Form (see here). Hallelujah!


Lest it seem that all this renewal was simply about liturgical changes alone, I should mention that everything coincided with a deepening of the devotion of the entire parish, both new comers and the older folks. Our pastor relentlessly promoted First Friday Adoration every month and tirelessly preached on the merit of Eucharistic Adoration, getting as many of his people as possible in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Confessions were made widely available. A guest priest of the Oblates was brought in by providence to lead small groups in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. A vibrant homeschool co-op teaching in the classical tradition was formed there and now thrives with 70+ students. May crownings of our Lady. Beautiful Corpus Christi processions. A renewed Knights of Columbus council. Pro-Life activism by the Youth Group. Enrollments in the Brown Scapular. Enrollments in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Choir concerts featuring traditional Catholic music. Parish missions by excellent priests. The parish is a dynamic center of apostolic labor and intense spirituality, and all because one pastor had the courage and common sense to simply preach the truth, say the black, do the red and be faithful. The TLM is attended enthusiastically and the Latin Novus Ordo Masses are standing room only.

It happened at our can happen at yours!


This last section is an amendment, written 8 years after this original series was published. The pastor I spoke of so fondly in the articles has been gone since 2016, but the TLM remains and much of what he did remains intact. The TLM is not only regularly offered, but sacraments according to the traditional rubrics are available as well. We have done the Pentecost Octave in the Extraordinary Form for many years, and other traditional feasts and practices have been offered, such as the Candelmas Mass and procession.

What strikes me most about this renewal, reading these articles eight years hence, is how this was the actual conversion of a congregation to the TLM. When the TLM began being offered, it was not simply cannibalizing an existing TLM community, but rather Novus Ordo Catholics who had not regularly gone to the TLM before were now attending it. And the reverence and devotions encouraged by the TLM seeped back into the Novus Ordo. I never believed in Benedict XVI's idea of "mutual enrichment" between the TLM and NO; the TLM needs no enrichment from the NO. But if the enrichment is one directional only, I can definitely see this. Our celebration of the NO definitely benefited from the presence of the TLM. While still being inferior to the TLM objectively, it became infinitely better and more reverent than how it is offered in 90% of Catholic parishes. The result is that rather than simply subdivide among an existing group of traditionalists, the changes in the parish rather opened up regular Novus Ordo Catholics to the riches of the traditional Mass—Catholics who would not otherwise have been exposed to it.

Despite this wonderful story, there is a hint of injustice in all of this. Though my pastor did a wonderful thing with this parish, it is inherently unjust that the access to our tradition (or lack thereof) should have had to depend on the preferences of a particular pastor. Really, all of this should have been accessible to us just by virtue of being Catholic. The parishioners should not have had to wait for fate and the passage of time to finally send them a priest who would simply give them the Catholic tradition. Stepping back and looking at this saga's meta-narrative, it's inherently ridiculous that we needed a heroic priest merely to do what any Catholic priest is supposed to do. But, such are the times we live in, and I am grateful for what we have.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Baptism of Blood in St. Bede

The martyrdom of St. Alban of Britain

For the sake of those who deny absolutely that a person can be saved apart from water baptism, it is sometimes helpful to call to mind examples of the "baptism of blood" from ecclesiastical history. A great example is St. Emerentiana, of whom the Divine Office says:
"Emerentiana, a Roman virgin and the foster-sister of the blessed Agnes, while she was still a Catechumen, burning with faith and charity, rebuked the idol-worshippers who were full of fury against the Christians, whereupon a mob assembled and stoned her. Praying in her torment at the grave of Saint Agnes, and having been baptized in her own blood, so generously shed for Christ, she gave up her soul unto God" (Matins, Jan. 23rd).
Other examples are St. Genesius of Arles, St. Rogatian and St. Victor of Braga, of whom you can read more about here.

I would like to add one more that I just came across today - an unnamed martyr killed alongside St. Alban, mentioned in Chapter 7 of St. Bede's History of the English Church and People, written around 720-731. In Bede's account (which he places around 304, though some suggest the persecution of Decius as more likely), St. Alban is brought before the pagan judge and refuses to abandon his Faith in Christ, which of course provokes the judge. At this point, Bede tells us:

"The judge...ordered this holy confessor of God to be scourged by the executioners, believing he might by stripes shake that constancy of heart, on which he could not prevail by words. He, being most cruelly tortured, bore the same patiently, or rather joyfully, for our Lord's sake. When the judge perceived that he was not to be overcome by tortures, or withdrawn from the exercise of the Christian religion, he ordered him to be put to death. Being led to execution, he came to a river, which, with a most rapid course, ran between the wall of the town and the arena where he was to be executed.

He there saw a multitude. of persons of both sexes, and of several ages and conditions, who were doubtlessly assembled by Divine instinct, to attend the blessed confessor and martyr, and had so taken up the bridge on the river, that he could scarce pass over that evening. In short, almost all had gone out, so that the judge remained in the city without attendance. St Alban, therefore, urged by an ardent and devout wish to arrive quickly at martyrdom, drew near to the stream, and on lifting up his eyes to heaven, the channel was immediately dried up, and he perceived that the water had departed and made way for him to pass. Among the rest, the executioner, who was to have put him to death, observed this, and moved by Divine inspiration hastened to meet him at the place of execution, and casting down the sword which he had carried ready drawn, fell at his feet, praying that he might rather suffer with the martyr, whom was ordered to execute or, if possible, instead of him.

While he thus from a persecutor was become a companion in the faith, and the other executioners hesitated to take up the sword which was lying on the ground, the reverend confessor, accompanied by the multitude, ascended a hill, about 500 paces from the place...Here, therefore, the head of most courageous martyr was struck off, and here he received the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.

At the same time was also beheaded the soldier, who before, through the Divine admonition, refused to give the stroke to the holy confessor. Of whom it is apparent, that though he was not regenerated by baptism, yet he was cleansed by the washing of his own blood, and rendered worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then the judge, astonished at the novelty of so many heavenly miracles, ordered the persecution to cease immediately, beginning to honour the death of the saints, by which he before thought they might have been diverted from the Christian faith."
If we take the teaching on this from the Fathers, together with St. Thomas's affirmation of the various kinds of baptism (STh III. Q. 66. Art. 11; III. Q. 68. Art. 2), of which he says baptism of blood is the most excellent, the clear teaching of Trent and of the modern Magisterium, St. Bede's testimony from the 8th century provides a helpful link between the patristic and high medieval periods, demonstrating that even in remote places like the monastery of Jarrow in what is commonly asserted to be one of the darkest periods intellectually, this teaching was still acknowledged within the Church, and that Bede says that the fact of this martyr's cleansing by the shedding of blood is "apparent", meaning presumably all his readers would understand and agree with the statement.

Book One of Bede's history is available online here. I don't know whether the whole work is available online, but if somebody finds it, please let me know.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hawking: Heaven a "fairy story"

Atheist windbag Stephen Hawking was popping off again this week on  his opinion that the universe does not "need" a creator God to explain its existence or complexity. He made sure to blast the Christian belief in heaven, which he said was "a fairy story" He stated:

"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first...I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark" (source).

The interesting thing about Hawking's comment is what it reveals about the way people tend to interpret the human person. Ideally, technological advancement should give us the tools and  insight to get a  more accurate and objective view of the world around us, including (and especially) the human person. Instead, what happens too often is  the reverse - people get enamored of a new technological or scientific advancement and start to see the human person in terms of the technology.

In the Middle Ages, when a spiritual view of the cosmos pervaded society, man was seen as an enfleshed spirit - an organic unity of body and soul. When the Industrial Revolution came along and technology started to change, mankind was seen as a complex machine made up of interworking parts. When atheistic evolution became popular around the turn of the last century, man was seen as another beast (albeit a very advanced one), competing against his beastly competitors in the merciless march of Social Darwinism. Now that we are in the computer age, the human person is viewed as a kind of super-computer, and the brain as a vast and complex Internet. This is how Hawking has apparently allowed the computer to affect his view of the human brain, which he sees fundamentally as "a computer."

But just for fun, let us grant Hawking's premise that the brain is ultimately a big computer. Even if we grant this, it should be evident that computers can have a sort of "eternal life" after their own nature. First, observe that, while the actual computer hardware is certainly important, what really gives a computer its value is what programs or software it has installed, that is, the data contained on or in the computer. This data could be likened, in our analogy, to the soul of the computer; just like what is most important about a human is the immaterial part of him, so a computer's most important part is the data it contains, the software.

Typically, this data "dies" when the hard drive it is contained on crashes or dies. Even though in this scenario the hard drive and the data are lost simultaneously, we make a logical distinction between the hard drive itself and the data, the stuff "on" the hard drive. Because we understand this distinction, we know that the data contained on a hard drive can go on "living" after the hard drive's demise. This is why we email things to ourselves, make back-up hard drives and put things on a flash drive. When your computer goes the way of all hard ware, you know that the data (the most important stuff) can go on living by transferring them to a new computer, a new "body."

Now, all hard drives eventually crash, and so in real life data never gets to a "final destination"; it actually kind of gets reincarnated over and over again on different systems. But suppose we posit a theoretical "perfect hard drive" that would never crash; a piece of equipment that could store an infinite amount of data forever without ever suffering from material depreciation, a hard drive where "moth and rust do not destroy" and from where we would never need to remove our files again. If such a thing existed, our files could indeed enjoy a kind of "eternal life" forever in a perfect hard drive. It is theoretically possible. Now, if we can see the logic of this in the world of computers, than why is it so hard to admit it's possibility for human beings, who according to Hawking, are nothing but biological super-computers?

But back to the common atheist assertion that we no longer "need" God to "explain" the universe. This is kind of a canard - since when have we had any Christians out there seriously asserting that we needed strictly supernatural explanations for any of the biological, physical, chemical or other natural processes that go on in the world? I think the debates about "spontaneous generation" were the last time any Christians seriously asserted that. I suppose some strict, young-earth creationists might fall into this category, but do they really represent the majority of Christians? Our belief in God is not based on any sort of "god of the gaps" mentality where we insert God simply because we don't understand a natural process. I don't understand how Jupiter got its big red storm or why sharks in a tank always swim clockwise, but I bet there are natural explanations for both without having to say "God does it miraculously."

There is one conspicuous place where I do think God is necessary, however, but this is not anything to do with the natural processes within the universe; rather, it has to do with the very existence of the universe. Since nothing comes from nothing, and since nothing that is generate itself, the only alternative is a Creator who brought forth being out of non-being, and to go from non-being to being, a Creator is necessary - a Being  powerful enough to call forth being from nothing, "something that everybody calls 'God.'"

This gives a teleological framework to the universe- it answers the great "why" which man has always asked. It is interesting that, when these atheist scientists say that science has all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, when presented with the question of why the universe or any individual exists at all, their response is to scoff and say that asking "why" about life is a meaningless, useless question. Since all that is is the product of pure randomness, any questions as to its teleological purpose are baseless and ultimately meaningless, so says the atheist evolutionary.

If that is the case, then why is man, the pinnacle of biological evolutionary seem programed by evolutionary development to ask "why"? If evolutionary developments favor the most helpful traits that give a species an advantage, why did the most advanced species ever to walk the face of this earth evolve with the trait to ask and ponder the meaningless question of "why", and why has this question been so central to man's existence? I would say the ability to ask "why" is what distinguishes men from beasts. Dogs and other animals can ask "what" in their own way; whenever a dog sniffs a new visitor to the home, he is, in his own way, asking "what is this?" Animals can ask "how". When a rat cleverly finds a way through a lab maze to get to a piece of food, or performs other feats of stunning complexity, his brain is answering the question "how do I get this food?" But no animal can contemplate "why" or surmise a teleological end to his existence. This is reserved to humans alone and sets them apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. But why should a trait so central to man's existence be at the same time "meaningless" and "useless" and yet be bestowed upon him by the same evolutionary development that supposedly only permits useful and meaningful adaptations to endure? If why is a meaningless question, why did evolution allow for the highest creature (man) to ask this meaningless question? It doesn't make any sense. It sounds like something out of a fairy story.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Rob Bell: Stressing the Fault Lines of Protestantism


(Earth Sciences / Geological Science) Also called fault plane Geology the surface of a fault fracture along which the rocks have been displaced

a potentially disruptive division or area of contention

(Collins English Dictionary)

This spring, Protestant pastor Rob Bell of Grand Rapids, MI. published a controversial book entitled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person that caused controversy to erupt throughout the evangelical Protestant world. The book basically presents a Protestant version of the heretical Balthasarian doctrine on hell - that in the end, we can expect or at least hope for a universal salvation of every human. He asserts that hell is simply what we created for ourselves by rejecting the will of God, but does not see it as an objective state of a damned soul in eternal separation from God. This book has prompted everything  from blog responses by irritated evangelicals (here and here) to formal critiques in Christianity Today (see here) to television interviews (here and here).

It is not my intention here to critique Rob Bell's heresy; as Catholics, we know this has been done centuries ago and settled de fide at the Council of Florence. Plus, as you can see above, evangelicals have already given this false prophet a severe drubbing. I am more interested in what this controversy reveals about Protestantism in general based on the evangelical response to Bell's controversial book.

This controversy exposes and stresses some of the theological fault lines intrinsic to Protestantism in all its forms, fault lines across the concepts of authority and biblical interpretation, i.e., sola scriptura. Here we witness the failure of sola scriptura in practice. Look at the evangelical response. Everybody faithful evangelical knows Rob Bell is wrong; they are alarmed by his heresy and incensed by it, but other than appealing to the Bible, they have no way to conclusively prove Bell is inaccurate and, more importantly, no other standard against which to judge Bell other than the same standard he himself is using for his own justification - the Bible.

Granted, many arguments are more or less biblical even without and authoritative interpreter; we don't need to appeal to the Magisterium to disprove from the Bible the Mormon doctrine of a universe populated by billions of gods with their own planets having celestial sex for all eternity. St. Thomas says that as long as heretics admit some truths of Divine Revelation, appeal to Scripture is appropriate: "Hence Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation; thus we can argue with heretics from texts in Holy Writ, and against those who deny one article of faith, we can argue from another." (STh, I, Q. 1 art. 8).

But sometimes appealing to the Bible alone does not do any good. The Arians and the orthodox both appealed to Scripture during the 4th century Arian controversy. Both sides brought forth Scripture as evidence supporting their arguments, for two months, in fact; but in the end, it was apostolic Tradition and an investigation of the early Creeds that firmly established the Truth that the Father and the Son were of the same substance. As long as two sides are simply arguing the Bible to each other, each can simply say that the other is misinterpreting or misreading passages, as the Arians did to the Catholics and vice versa. As long as both sides simply say the other is misreading the passage, all the respective sides can really do is preach to their own people that the other side is wrong without really disproving the other's position.

This is further compounded by the fact that apostolic tradition is not appealed to. If Rob Bell were a Catholic priest or bishop, it would be an easy matter to roll out before him the long testimony of the Fathers and the Saints on the matter; we could present him with Benedictus Deus of Pope Benedict XII (1336), which states, “According to God’s general ordinance, the souls of those who die in a personal grievous sin descend immediately into hell, where they will be tormented by the pains of hell.” we could take him to the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which stated, “Those (the rejected) will receive a perpetual punishment with the devil.” We could have reminded him of the Union Councils of Lyons and of Florence, which declared that the souls of the damned are punished with unequal punishments (poenis tamen disparibus puniendas). Dz 464, 693. All of these are de fide explanations of the data of Sacred Scripture. Here there is no wiggle room - no potentiality for accusations of "misinterpretation" or "misreading." Here, since doctrine is settled not just by appeal to Scripture but by the testimony of Tradition, which is an interpretive testimony, there is no argument. If he were Catholic, his errors could be authoritatively condemned, his opinions anathematized, and himself excommunicated if he persisted in them (of, if he happened to write in the 1960's, he could be promoted to Cardinal, but I digress...)

Bell actually is the logical conclusion of where Protestantism will lead one. After all, the whole Protestant movement was based on the premise that the Church could, and indeed had, erred on several fundamental points of doctrine for several centuries. If Protestants accept Luther's premise that Catholicism had erred in its teachings on justification, the Eucharist, devotion to the saints, etc., then on why can't Rob Bell make the similar assertion that Protestantism has erred in its teaching on the reality and eternality of hell? Rob Bell is where you wind up once you admit the principle that the universal Church can and has erred in matters of doctrine.

This brings us to the final problem, that of a lack of living authority. Since there is no central authority recognized by all Protestants (and since Bell is a non-denominationalist), nobody within the Protestant world can authoritatively order Bell to be quiet, remove him from his pastoral position or threaten him with canonical penalties. Basically, the whole Protestant union stays together on a fuzzy "consensus" of opinion, which when broken or challenged, as in the case of Bell, provokes a furious outcry.  In fact, the outcry is so furious for the very purpose that Protestants know they have no authority or tradition to appeal to and that sola scriptura does not work. Unity hangs by a thread on a shadowy, undefined consensus of "essentials" that nobody really agrees on anyway. If this consensus is threatened, unity is shattered and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it.

No appeal to Tradition to clarify exegetical problems. No acceptance of Tradition as an intepretive norm. The fallacy of the whole edifice of Protestantism being erected upon the foundation of challenging beliefs that have been handed down. Lack of a living authority to evaluate and censure opinions and persons. These are the fault lines of modern Protestantism which are being ripped open by the heresy of Bell.

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Catholic Historiography

Hey everybody! I'm thoroughly enjoying myself here in Sarasota and am thoroughly impressed with the FSSP priests here at the local chapel. I have been understandably busy doing vacation stuff; I will probably post this weekend after I have time to digest the new Vatican document on the Traditional Latin Mass, which is very exciting. In the meantime, please enjoy this transcript of the talk I gave two weeks ago at the homeschool conference in New Jersey on Catholic historiography. It's a little different style from my usual writing, since it was written as a speech, of course, but hopefully you will find something useful in it:

"I’m here today to talk about history, or more specifically, historiography, or more specifically, Christian historiography. But before we dive in, I’d like to say a few words about my own background with history. I don’t recall ever being particularly turned on to history in the public schools I attended as a boy. As a teacher myself, I would love to vindicate my profession by telling you that it was some dynamic, inspiring teacher who first turned me on to history, but alas, this is not the case. My discovery of history came in a much more subtle, yet powerful way. I was about ten years old and was rummaging around my basement looking for something and I came across this book that caught my eye. It was a very thick, hardcover book with a picture of what I later learned was the city of Constantinople on the cover. It was “Civilization Past and Present”, 5th edition, copyright 1974, a college textbook from when my mom was in college and had been collecting dust in my parent’s basement for about ten years when I found it. Having nothing better to do (my Nintendo must have been broken that day), I opened the book. That was the beginning.

Everything unfolded before me: the glory of ancient Greece, the grandeur of Rome and her fall from a representative Republic into an autocratic empire; the triumph of Christianity and the life of the medieval world; popes, castles, crusades, monks, explorers, the New World, then on to Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the dark days of the religious wars and on into the modern era. Hammurabi. Pericles. Plato. Alexander. Caesar. Constantine, they were all there. Broad vistas swept across my mind and captured my imagination. I became conscious for the first time of the real world beyond my small circle of acquaintances in my small town – aware of empires rising and falling for millennia, millions of people throughout time living, thinking, building and striving, great men and women rising up over the centuries, each making their own contribution to humanity’s effort to understand its own place in the world. An behind all of these great achievements, the power of ideas, ideas that could build up civilization or tear it down in bloodshed; ideas that could elevate and ennoble man to perform acts of heroic charity, or barbarize him into a fiend capable of horrendous acts of inhumanity; ideas that could inspire beautiful art and architecture and turn men’s hearts to the life to come, and ideas that could debase art and architecture and keep men’s minds riveted on this present life. I saw that there is nothing more life-changing, revolutionary or world-altering than an idea.

I was hooked on history from that moment. It was the beginning of one of the greatest journeys of discovery in my life, one that is far from over.

In this talk, I hope to give you some theoretical knowledge and some practical advice. We’ll be looking at the philosophical assumptions that can lay dormant in history books – what we call the historiographical context – and then some advice on how to teach history in a way that upholds and reinforces a Catholic worldview.

The Problem: “I love history, but I hated history class.”

My own love of history would have always remained a private devotion, a personal hobby, had not I started pondering a paradox that I began running into when I shared my love of history with others. This was the phenomenon of people who told me, “I love history, but I hated history class.” How many of you have heard people say this? How many of you fall into this category? It struck me; if you love a subject, how can you not love learning about it? How could you hate a class on a topic you loved? This doesn’t happen with other classes – nobody says, “I love math but I hate math class.” In my case, I hated math and I hated math class. Yet this was not the case with history; what was causing this? We were hearing the same facts, reading about the same wars, same kings, same epic adventures, and yet what was sweet to me was bitter to them. The sheer number of people I ran into over the years convinced me that there was something to this. They were being exposed to all of the same information I was exposed to, and while they loved the content itself, they apparently hated its presentation. What was behind this?

As I came to see later, this was a problem of teaching rooted in historiography. That is, it was not a problem with the content of history, that is, the people, events and stories that make up the historical tapestry; most people really get into history when it is presented the right way to them. It was a problem with the presuppositions and assumptions behind the presentations of these tales and the way that it subsequently effected their presentation. You see, I taught myself history by reading books and fell in love with it; my companions learned history from listening to teachers, and they hated it, because it was presented as a slur of meaningless facts without any historiographical context.

What is Historiography?

What is historiography? There are many ways to describe it. Historiography can be said to be the history of history, the study of how people have viewed history over the course of man’s existence.

History studies people and events; historiography studies historians and their methods. History studies how ideas have influenced culture; historiography studies how ideas have influenced historians. History challenges assumptions and presuppositions we have when looking at historical persons or events; historiography challenges assumptions and presuppositions we have when reflecting upon history itself. The historian studies the content of history; the historiographer looks at the philosophy of history itself.

Just like all politicians have an ideological approach to how they do politics, so all historians have a certain historiographical approach to history; even you do, when you teach history to your kids. For example, ask yourself what do you believe really drives history? In the long drama of the ages, what has been most important? Do you tend to emphasize battles and military campaigns, or perhaps you view history in terms of economics. Some people, especially the moderns, have said that history is moved by the masses of nameless people, whose ideas and aspirations filter upward to their leaders who subsequently effect change; others have insisted that the masses are largely static, and that history is driven by the presence of powerful, charismatic leaders who remake history in their own image (the so-called "strong man" theory of history). Some people like to dwell on the role of ideas and philosophies to history, whilst others will say that factors of land, production and climate are most important. The French writer Montesquieu is famous for this latter approach, saying that the global north was prosperous because it was colder, compelling its inhabitants to work harder and avoid idleness in order to survive, while the warmer climates of the south encouraged people to lie around all day and bred laziness.

Other historiographical questions: Where is history going? Is it going anywhere? Does our history, whether of our country or our world, tend towards some end or goal, or is it drifting aimlessly like a barren rock through empty space? Or perhaps it circles around endlessly, like the pagans asserted, whose symbol for the passing of history was the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail.

And why do we study history at all? Is it for purely academic reasons, or do we derive some tangible benefit today from our knowledge of the past? Is history subject to laws and principles, the same way as math, chemistry and physics, and should we therefore always be searching for the most scientific, mathematical application of history? Or, since history deals with individual human beings and an infinite amount of free choices that make predictions impossible, is there nothing we can say about historical laws?

Perhaps most important from our perspective, do we believe there is a force or intelligence behind history, using the deeds of men and kingdoms to guide history to a certain point, a certain final consummation, in which the ultimate meaning of history itself will become clear, where “the mountains will fall away and the sky wind up like a scroll” before the Master of history; or are the events of history leading us nowhere – is all the striving of men and civilizations for millennia vain, ultimately as meaningless as a fistful of sand thrown into the wind?

I’m convinced that to the degree that our history is dull, uninspiring or downright boring, it is because we have tried just teaching “facts” apart from any larger historiographical context. The historiographical context is what gives the facts cohesion and makes them interesting; it is like the ship upon which all the content of history is contained – it keeps the facts together, gives them organization, and leads them somewhere. Without an historiographical framework, the facts are just out there floating in the sea, and when asked to learn these disjointed facts, the disgruntled student is likely to shrug and ask, “Why?” When presented with the great deeds of the past, he is likely to roll his eyes and say, “So what?”

The Catholic Application

Thus far I have only introduced the concept of historiography; it now falls to us to see how we can make use of this concept as Catholics when teaching history to our youngsters. Not all historiographical systems are good or helpful. There is Catholic historiography, yes, but are also historiographical systems that are atheist, secular, Marxist and hostile to Christian revelation. Our goal is to organize our historical studies along Catholic lines, in a way that will be exciting (so our kids don’t remember that they “hated history class” when they get older) and that is edifying.

A Catholic historiography should present history as linear; that is, history that began somewhere and is going somewhere, tending towards a final end. This ever reminds us that the world itself is in the hands of God, is guided by His providence, and that we ourselves are pilgrims, viators, ourselves moving towards our own final end. The world is not yet what it will be, nor are we ourselves – but we are all moving towards it, and our approach to history ought to reflect this movement. 

Our teaching should also focus on all aspects of history – many people, wanting to teach Catholic history but not knowing where to begin, think that to teach Catholic history simply means to teach the history of Catholics. For example, a lot of books are passed off as U.S. history textbooks which are in reality just books on the history of Catholics in the United States. Now, our kids need to know this as Catholics, but as educators we need to realize that studying the history of Catholics in the United States is not the same as studying the history of the United States in general. Catholic history doesn’t mean just teaching about Catholics. Teaching Catholic history is really about embracing certain principles in how we approach history; once we understand this, we can teach European history, American history, Chinese history, economic history – and we can do it in a way that excites kids, that leaves the, saying, “I love history, and I love history class.” I have done this again and again with U.S. history, medieval history, ancient history, even economic history, and it works every time. 

So what are these principles? What concepts do we need to incorporate into our teaching to achieve this? To bring this over to the practical level, I want to propose for you four concepts that we should incorporate into our history lessons:

1) Teach history as a story: First and foremost, we need to get back to the idea of history as a story. This was the classical method (until the moderns messed it up like they messed up everything else that they touched) –presenting history as a series of stories about the deeds of exceptional men and women and, implicitly, how the deeds of one person can alter the life of nations. This gets kids interested in the narrative aspect of history; they can identify with the challenges faced and overcome by historical characters because they have challenges in their own lives. They learn to cheer for William Wallace, share Napoleon’s loneliness on St. Helena, and mourn with the nation at the death of Lincoln. These are all things they can easily relate to that make the characters from history come alive; it also serves to stir up interest in other historical characters as they realize that everybody from history is a person who actually lived, actually had thoughts, desires, ambitions, triumphs and losses.

To get this through, use examples from their lives. The classic example is Washington and the Cherry Tree, though it’s of questionable historical accuracy. Anything will work if it helps them remember. I was trying to get my class to remember the Roman emperor Valentinian I and succeeded in doing so by talking about his legendary temper and how, when he heard that a peace treaty he had worked for years on was broken by the Germanic barbarians, he blew such a gasket that he had a stroke and died. Now that’s the kind of things kids remember! They will not remember the intricacies of the currency problems of Rome’s economy in the late 4th century; but they will remember a guy who got so mad that he had a stroke and died. That’s the way kids are.

And, by the way, remember that all of history is ultimately the narrative of God’s saving works. All of human history is God’s narrative, Christ is the supreme hero, whose life is the center of all history. Thus, we have a context against which to view larger events, such as the rising and falling of nations – the working out of God’s providence in history.

2) Teach the power of ideas: Now that we have gotten our students interested in the characters of history, we have to get them interested in what drives these characters; that is, we need to introduce them to the world of ideas. Why did the French Revolutionaries do what they did? What ideas were in Jefferson’s head when he wrote the Declaration? Why did thousands of Europeans, nobles and commoners alike, forsake their homelands in the 11th century to go over to the Crusades?

This may be more challenging for younger kids, but even elementary age students can understand how an idea can drive somebody’s actions. My 9 year old daughter does not understand fully the Catholic concept of the evangelical counsels and how those under religious vows anticipate, even on earth, the kingdom to come where we are neither married nor given in marriage, as the Catechism says. But she does understand that St. Francis of Assisi was motivated by a love for God and a desire for poverty. Our kids need to not only know the stories, but know why men and women do what they do, especially when discussing men and women of Faith. This is so important – It shows them the transformative power of our Faith, even if they are too young to experience it themselves. It brings up, in a seed form, the concept of motivation and intention in human morality and assists them in forming judgments about the rightness or wrongness of human actions – a great story exemplifying this from the Scriptures is Jesus’ contrast between the Tax Collector and the Pharisee praying in the Temple (Luke 18). Both pray, but our Lord reveals the motivations behind their prayers and allows us to form a moral judgment based on them – the Tax Collector is justified because of his humility, the Pharisee is not because of His pride.

Finally, teaching the power of ideas lays the groundwork for the later study of philosophy. Philosophical knowledge is so important these days, and ultimately the understanding our kids get of ideas will help them sort out the life-giving ones from the poisonous ones. But it can all start it in history class.

3) Emphasize the rewards of virtue and the punishments of vice: This point logically flows from the first two. Once we have gotten our students interested in the lives of men and women, and once we have helped them understand how ideas motivate them and drive their actions, we can lead them on to reflect the temporal rewards and punishments that are consequent upon following certain ideas to the end. For all Caesar’s ambition, where did it ultimately get him? An excellent opportunity to reflect on the principle of He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. How is this different from the fate of St. Joan of Arc, who also suffered death, but for different reasons and in a different manner? In this case, the lesson is He who confesses me before men I will confess before My Father in heaven, and If the world hates you, know that it hated Me first. What about the peaceful end of George Washington and the honor subsequently heaped upon him by an ever-grateful nation for his sacrifice? He will keep the salvation of the righteous, and protect them that walk in simplicity. How do the various paths chosen by historical characters, for whatever reason, lead us on to contemplate the rewards of virtue and the penalties of vice? These are great discussions to have with kids, and very much in the classical tradition going right back to Cicero and Herodotus, who said that the primary reason for studying history is to be edified by the examples of moral men and to be appalled by the wickedness of the evil. In this manner, our kids not only learn history, but see how different actions lead to different consequences. History becomes an occasion for practical moral instruction.

4) Bring up the coincidences: Finally, history is so full of “coincidences”, freak accidents, dare we say, “Acts of God”, that changed the fate of nations that it is astonishing; these really should really be a distinctargument for God’s existence, in my opinion. I’m talking about the miraculous wind that aided the Christian armies at Lepanto; The bloody-nose that caused King James II to retreat from, and lose, the Battle of Naseby; the accidental and tragic killing of Stonewall Jackson by his own men that did the South irreparable harm; the dream of Constantine that altered the course of world history; the one Carthaginian ship that the Romans happened to find washed up on the shores of Italy, studied, copied, and used as a prototype to build an entire navy that would defeat Carthage and shift the balance of power in the ancient Mediterranean; Pope Innocent’s dream of the falling Church that led him to approve the formation of the Franciscan order; the cannon wound that sent Ignatius Loyola to the sickbed, and to a new life as founder of the Jesuits. These are the astonishing tales from history where we can look at them and truly say, “History would have been entirely different had this one event not happened or happened otherwise.”

We could go on and on. In my own life I have a tale of my grandfather who was shot in World War II in Italy by a German sniper. The sniper was aiming for his head, but as the sniper fired the shot, my grandpa, tired of carrying his weapon on his shoulder, swung his gun around and placed upon his opposing shoulder, thus blocking his head with his forearm. He was thus struck in the arm with the bullet, but had he not been tired and thought to do something as simple as shifting the burden of the gun to the other shoulder, the bullet would have struck his head, and I would not exist.

Even if skeptical adults have trained themselves to write off such occurrences as mere chance, children are not yet so cynical; they love this sort of things because they see God’s hand behind them, and stories like this remind them that there is more at work in the world than what they see; that history is not the product of blind forces of economics, culture, climate or politics. History is made up of the free-will actions of men and women, driven by ideas, and sometimes helped along by providential “Acts of God” that can change the course of whole civilizations. This is a truly Catholic approach to history, one that will not only not be “boring” to your kids, but will enthrall them and draw them in deeper to historical study.


History is the most fascinating of all subjects, and kids should find it so. In history are all the lessons of virtue and vice played out before us in a million examples across thousands of years and a multitude of kingdoms, the most accurate study of human nature one could undertake. In history is the knowledge to understand the problems of the world, both past and present. In history is seen the working out of God’s providence across time, from the gathering of peoples into civilizations in remote antiquity to the classical cultures of Greece and Rome to the coming of Christ at the center of history to call all men unto Himself; history is the canvas of God’s drama, in which everybody has a part. In history is the ultimate inspiration for young boys and girls to look up to their heroes for imitation, especially in the saints. If we keep in mind the bigger picture, and remember that history is not about the movements of blind forces of economics and class warfare (as the moderns would have us believe), but is rather one great story, then kids will be both edified and educated, because after all, who doesn’t like a great story? I’ve found it to be true in my life and my teaching experience, both as a Youth Director and as a tutor for Homeschool Connections, as well as a homeschool parent myself."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

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Program for Parish Renewal (part 3)

Last time I recounted how our pastor had begun reforming our parish by implementing the right staff in some strategic positions and making some other important changes that would give him the leverage he needed to bring our once-liberal parish back in line with orthodoxy and even get the Traditional Latin Mass said there regularly. But before we get to that happy conclusion, we need to go through a few more vital steps the pastor took to bring the parish in this direction.

Some have asked about the bishop and how he reacted to all of this. Well, initially the bishop put our pastor there at this parish for two reasons (1) to get rid of a priest whom he disagreed with on certain things by, as it were, "banishing" him to an obscure rural parish (2) and as the parish was heavily in debt and on the chop block to be closed or clustered, the thinking was that he wouldn't be able to do much "damage" there anyway. Once the pastor started reforming things, complaints did come up to the diocese, but they were largely ignored by the bishop—the only time our pastor was seriously censured by the bishop was when he once preached a homily that condemned the politics of President Obama too strongly. One parishioner, I believe, once complained about him using the Catechism during his preaching, but it went nowhere. None of his liturgical reforms were complained against; or if they were, the bishop did nothing. It was not that this bishop supported our pastor, per se, but that despite the complaints, our pastor was doing one thing that the bishop really appreciated, which was getting the parish out of debt and shoring up the finances. The bishop was apparently willing to overlook a lot in exchange for this. More on this later.

However, more providentially, this bishop retired and was replaced in February, 2008 by His Excellency Earl Boyea, a scholar and historian, who favored liturgical precision and had regularly said Mass in the Extraordinary Form as Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit. While Boyea did not formally endorse what our pastor was doing, as far as I know, his appointment gave the pastor more breathing room, as he knew that the man on the episcopal throne was apt to be more sympathetic to his reforms than the outgoing bishop had been. It was not until the appointment of Boyea in 2008 that the second phase of the reforms really began to take off.


I mentioned the finances several times. When our pastor took over in 2005, the parish finances were in such disarray that the parish would have had to close in January 2008 due to financial insolvency. From day one, my pastor ruthlessly cut wasteful spending by consolidating staff (four positions were consolidated into one—a DRE, his secretary and two youth directors became one DRE/Youth Director, i.e., me). Expensive programs that had little faith-building value were cut, while expenditures on other high-profile events (Labor Day Festival) were scaled back to more modest amounts.

But cuts were only one third of the process, as you can't "cut" your way to financial solvency. The second part was getting the financial books in order. While we had an excellent accountant, each individual committee and staff member who had a budget had been remiss in keeping track of things for years; hence, there was really no clear idea of expenditures vs. income. As the parish changed demographically and the old committee members were replaced with more stewardship-minded persons, the books slowly got into better shape, aided by the urging of our pastor. One of the first things I did when hired in June 2007 was have a meeting with the accountant, learned how the book-keeping system worked, and set a frugal budget ($5000 for a year) that I stuck with and even came in below. Within a year or so, most committees had gotten their budgets in order (with the exception of the cemetery committee, whose records remained in such a state of disarray that the Bishop, on his pastoral visit in 2010, personally ordered them to be organized). The accounts of these committees were further regularized by the abolition of several of them. When the parish council was undermining the pastor's plans, our pastor actually abolished it, reminding them that according to Canon Law, a parish council was not mandatory. From 2007 to 2017, the parish had no parish council.

The third component of restoring our parish to fiscal solvency was the demographic shift. As more faithful individuals began attending, persons who took the faith more seriously and appreciated solid preaching, contributions went up. People care about a good parish and will pay to support it. Thus, while many families were leaving (our "active" families went down from 600 to around 400), contributions either remained stable or actually rose. We regularly met and beat our Diocesan Services Appeal quotas, bills were paid promptly, funds handled responsibly, money set aside for important and neglected parish repairs, with the result that the finances of the parish were sound enough to where Bishop Boyea canceled the previous bishop's tentative clustering of our parish and told our pastor that there were no longer any immediate plans to cluster or close our parish. It was becoming vibrant and self-sustaining—and most importantly, in 2008, our pastor announced that in his three year tenure he had completely paid off the parish debt and put us "in the black." We alone of every parish in our region could boast that we were both debt free and fiscally solvent due to steady and increasing contributions.


Here is where my part in the story begins. I was hired in mid-2007 to take over the DRE job, previously held by John Joy who was at that time heading off to the ITI in Austria to begin his graduate studies. I was to be in charge of supervising CCD and teaching RCIA (see here for my reforms to RCIA). In addition to this, I was to take over the Youth Director position from the two older folks who were leaving the parish in protest against our pastor's actions (the old director had once come in to the office literally trembling in anger at the pastor's suggestion to put the communion rails back up). I could probably make a separate series out of what I did with the Youth Group, but I will try to summarize it here:

(1) I was resolved to give them substantial doctrinal formation coupled with opportunities for spiritual advancement as well as social time. This was the three-fold approach I stuck to throughout my time at the parish.
(2) I was resolved not to let social activities or expensive trips take away from the substance of the Faith, so my program was always very frugal.
(3) Most importantly, I resolved that I would not talk down to the kids—I would not patronize them, treat them like babies and act like they were to ignorant to understand the Faith. I told it to them in basically the same words I would use with adults, though embellished with a few more stories to help explain difficult points. I started with the assumption that the kids wanted to know the truth and were capable of receiving it. I did not try to dress it up by making it "relevant."

You know what? It worked—when I began, my Youth Group was about 8 kids. When I left three and half years later, it had reached a high point of around 55  (see picture at the head of this post) with about five of the boys expressing a desire to go on to seminary and at least three girls discerning a religious vocation. Almost equally as important, I served them food every week; not junk food, but real food (chicken, chili, etc.); stuff I came in an hour or two before and laboriously prepared. Serving real food will do wonders. I do not attribute this success to myself or my own efforts, but to our Lord Jesus Christ; this is simply what happens whenever the Faith is preached and lived. The Faith itself has a power that reforms lives, if we get out of the way and let God work. It has an intrinsic evangelical power.


The changes I have mentioned so far laid the ground work for the changes in the liturgy; and by "changes", I mean restoring the liturgy to the way it was meant to be celebrated. The first change was in replacing the music director with a competent, classically trained and faithful Catholic woman who gave us some solid music, though nothing like chant as of yet.

When Summorum Pontificum was enacted in July 2007, the Traditional Latin Mass suddenly became a possibility. The pastor was eager to say this Mass, but he did not think the congregation was ready for it yet. Nevertheless, a petition circulated within a week of the motu proprio gathered signatures from about 70 families, from our parish and nearby parishes, who expressed their desire for our pastor to say the TLM and promised to attend a monthly TLM Mass. I personally labored to collect signatures to prove we had a "stable group" and had countless meetings with parishioners explaining why we should have the TLM. We eventually got more than enough signatures and I proudly presented them to the pastor. The pastor hung on to this petition, but it would be three years until he felt the congregation was ripe for the TLM. I disagreed with him on this and felt like he was being too cautious, but it was his prerogative. But then again, Summorum Pontificum had just been issued and none of us really knew how it was going to play out across the Church or the diocese, so I think he was just holding his cards close to his chest for the time being.

In the meantime, he introduced two other reforms (1) the altar rails, which had been removed years before but remained on the grounds, were restored. The pastor explained this in terms of Church restoration and did not propose using them for a time. His goal, he told me, was to just get people used to seeing the altar rails up there—and since it was done as part of a historical restoration and not as a liturgical function, nobody really had any grounds to object (which didn't stop some, of course). He also was always ready with Sacrosanctum Concilium on hand to challenge the nay-sayers: "Show me one place in this document where it says we are supposed to get rid of our altar rails." Once he restored them, even those who initially opposed their replacement admitted that the parish was much more beautiful with them.

(2) The introduction of Latin. Our pastor began introducing Latin into the Novus Ordo in late 2007 by teaching the congregation various Mass parts before Mass, using the music director to instruct them (again, citing SC that "the Latin language is to be preserved"). This was done by preaching occasionally about Latin, printing little articles about it now and then in the bulletin (not too frequently) and in general trying to educate people until they were at least open to learning. He didn't overreach—in the beginning, I think it was the "Memorial Acclamation" that was taught. The congregation would say this in Latin for a few months, and then he would go back to English and then teach them another part, the Sanctus, for example. The result was that, while only one particular Mass part at any given time was being said in Latin, by the end of a year or two the congregation had familiarized themselves with all the Mass parts in Latin. The Gloria (Misse de Angelis) came last because it was longest, but by then the congregation was very open and learned it after only a few weeks. They were truly being educated and converted into the Church's traditional language via gradual exposure to its superior beauty. With the timid introduction of Latin, mantillas became much more frequent, and this was followed by the gradual introduction of Latin hymns at communion (Panis Angelicus, Adore te Devote, etc.) Latin was being slowly introduced into the Novus Ordo, which was getting more and more reverent month by month.


The pastor also provided a robust devotional life for the parish. He constantly preached devotion to the Blessed Mother. We had a traveling Fatima statue brought in. Copies of papal encyclicals on Mary and the Rosary were handed out or mailed to parishioners gratis. He later constructed a grotto on the parish grounds. The Knights of Columbus (now under new leadership) began leading family rosaries before Masses in addition to performing their charitable works. May crownings, enrollments in the Brown Scapular, de Montfort consecrations, and all manner of Marian devotions started appearing as time went on.

He also fostered a strong Eucharistic devotion. The value of adoration was preached constantly. First Friday adoration was introduced, as well as regular adoration every Tuesday. It was in the context of adoration that Latin was more liberally employed. Everything to do with the Eucharist was lavish, and the parish's Corpus Christi processions became spectacles of beauty and reverence. The pastor himself prayed constantly before the sacrament and encouraged others to do so. Instructional and devotional materials on the Blessed Sacrament were distributed free of charge. Love of the sacrament was a regular topic of homilies. The result of all this was that a great love of the Blessed Sacrament was fostered among the congregation and holy communion necessarily grew more reverent with each passing month.

This was all coupled by solid, instructional preaching every week, which continued to draw more faithful persons, convert the unconverted, and give even more impetus to the reform that was in full-swing by mid-2008.

That's enough for our final essay we'll see how Ad Orientem was introduced, the replacing of hymns with chant, extra-liturgical devotions and activities at the parish and, finally, the long-awaited introduction of the TLM in Fall of 2010.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Vacation in Sarasota

Tonight I am leaving with my family for along anticipated vacation to Sarasota, Florida to stay with some family. My wife has been begging to go somewhere warm for years; instead, I keep dragging her up to places like Petoskey and Paradise in northern Michigan! We'll be in Sarasota for about two weeks and will be attending Christ the King F.S.S.P. Parish for daily and Sunday Mass. If you attend Christ the King and read this blog, come up and introduce yourself to us - it would be nice to meet some good Catholic folks while we're down there. We will stick out like a sore thumb since our family is 67% red head.

I am taking my laptop and may blog while I'm down there, but don't be surprised if I don't.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Program for Parish Renewal (part 2)

I am beginning to see that this will probably be a four part post, not only because this subject is so interesting and important, but also because the journey from where we were to having the TLM took five years, a lot to sum up in two posts. In this post we will look at the early formative years at my parish—what my pastor did when he first arrived and was faced with a largely hostile congregation. This post will cover the period from 2005 to 2007.

Last time I gave a description of our parish as it had been for several decades until our pastor got hold of it in 2005. This begs the question: in such a liberal, progressive parish, how did a young priest known for his orthodoxy, liturgical precision and fidelity to the Magisterium get assigned there? It seems that this liberal parish would have been slated to get another liberal priest. Why send in a dynamic, young, orthodox priest into this environment?

I would love to say that it was because our bishop wanted to send an orthodox priest in there to reform the parish and bring it up to snuff. Unfortunately, this was not the case; in fact, I believe the opposite was true. Our parish had suffered under financial malfeasance for so many years that many believed it was very likely to be closed or clustered. I believe our bishop threw our pastor in here because the closure of the parish was seen as inevitable, and I think the attitude was "let's throw this guy into this parish that is about to close anyway; what harm can he do there?" I believe this is also how the Canons of St. John Cantius got started in Chicago. I think the assignment was a mixture of apathy and punishment. Anyhow, my pastor was put in there in 2005 when the previous pastor retired.


The very first thing my pastor did to renew the parish was to make alterations to the staff. This was two-fold: first, for fiscal reasons, he eliminated a lot of superfluous staff (such as the DRE's "secretary") and consolidated positions. Second, he hired a few key staff members who shared his vision and would be supportive. This meant letting go some older staff members, but in most cases they were ready to go. The old parish secretary was actively undermining the pastor and speaking ill about him publicly; she was consequently let go and replaced with a devout woman supportive of the pastor and his vision. I'm not sure how the old DRE was let go, but for this key position the pastor sought out a young person (all previous DRE's had been old, people who had made a life out of it) with a background in solid, Thomist theology. This happened to be a young man whom we now know as Dr. John Joy, a friend and alumnus of mine from Ave Maria, who is today a well-known Catholic scholar and the foremost expert on the subject of papal infallibility in the United States. But in those days, fresh out of undergrad, he was working as the DRE.

With some superfluous positions cut and two solid people hired, the pastor was forming a core team. A loyal staff of two in a parish of 600 families might not be a lot, but it was important for him to have somebody to go back to, somebody he could be confidential with and that would support him and back up his actions. This was just as much for emotional support as it was for strategic purposes.

So, the first thing he did was hire some loyal staff. The Youth Group, music and other staff positions were still in the hands of progressives, but this would change. I want to emphasize that my pastor did not care what the parish thought about his changes. To be sure, he tried to explain things to them and make peace where and when he could, but at the end of the day he saw his duty as being to God and he was going to attempt to restore the parish to orthodoxy regardless of what its people thought about it.


As my pastor began making these first changes, he distinguished himself locally by his orthodox, spiritual preaching. There were no sappy jokes here, no banal, empty homilies, no tired sports metaphors—solid, Catholic preaching about God, sin, redemption, morality, liturgy and the whole Gospel message. I would say that in the first few months, this solid preaching was what did the most to change the parish. As he preached on these themes week after week, the most progressive elements got fed up and began to either complain or leave the parish. Mind you, he was not trying to get them to leave, but only speaking the truth—yet, the truth was so offensive and "difficult" that they left. Meanwhile, word started getting around that there was good preaching going on in our parish (something apparently rare in the area), which started to draw a few curious families from neighboring parishes who were of a more orthodox-traditional orientation. Outsiders began to trickle in.


Our pastor fought a constant public relations battle. Even before he got to the parish, as soon as his appointment was announced, some started complaining about him. My pastor dealt with criticism and opposition in a very prudent way, which at times I did not agree with, but which hindsight has proven to be more correct than not. He chose his battles very carefully—on matters that could be compromised on without scandal or sin, he allowed compromise if he could make an incremental gain in some other area. Having obtained his orthodox DRE and secretary over protests of old timers, he was content to allow the progressive music director and youth director to remain in place for the time being. Having got rid of the embarrassing children's liturgy, he was willing to retain the guitars in the Mass—for the time being. He took a very slow approach, making gains and conquests where he was sure of victory, compromising when necessary and when it was not objectively immoral to do so, content if the parish was on the overall right "trajectory." The changes were incremental, and though each change irritated some folks, they never came so heavy handedly or so rapidly so as to isolate everybody at once; this seemed very prudent, as other priests had tried more rapid changes in similar situations and met with much more hostility (here).

Also important is that whenever our pastor was challenged, he always charitably and lovingly pointed out that he was doing so in obedience to the Church. If someone objected to the fact that he refused to have Masses outdoors, he was able to cite canon law to show why he didn't. If he was challenged about why he stopped using leavened bread for the Mass, he was ready with an answer from the Magisterium. In short, he never made it about himself or his own agenda, but about what the Church really teaches and what Catholics were expected to do. While many people choose to fight if they think it is about a private agenda, fewer were willing to do so if the argument was framed in terms of what the Church taught. He regularly used the Catechism during homilies (despite the arguments of some that it was "not proper" to use the CCC during a homily) and made papal encyclicals available for free to encourage literacy of papal teaching—these encyclicals, and documents such as Sacrosanctum Concilium, were also quoted in homilies.

This approach to public relations—incremental changes presented rightfully as simple obedience to the Church rather than a personal preference or agenda—moved the parish slowly but steadily in the right direction.


The turning point, in my opinion, really came when the homeschoolers started showing up. Father attracted homeschoolers in three ways: (1) his orthodox preaching and attempts to have a more reverent liturgy (2) his practice of allowing homeschoolers to receive sacraments at the parish without being part of the CCD program and with very minimal requirements, and most importantly, (3) he opened the parish facilities up to a local homeschooling co-op during the week and offered Masses for them on Wednesday and Friday mornings, encouraged that there were devout homeschool families on the premises for much of the week and attending Mass. A great many of these families would in time end up joining the parish.

This had the effect of altering the demographic of the parish. With each slow, stumbling step that our pastor made towards Tradition, some families quit the parish. For some it was the refusal to have a special Mass outside; for others it was liturgical things or preaching—everybody had their own "breaking point." But while these local families were leaving, newer families, homeschool and orthodox, were joining. Mantillas started popping up in the congregation (and remember we are talking about the Novus Ordo). Devoted families with younger kids were willing to drive farther to get here. The parish started to become a destination rather than a simple territorial unit; many of the local families that had been there for decades started to leave, but many started to join from further away, who drove many miles (in my case 22) to get to a parish where the preaching was good and the aesthetics were pleasant. The presence of the homeschool families—which would only grow in the following years—provided the pastor with the much-needed external support he needed to move the parish further along and at a quicker pace. Before this, it had been the pastor, his staff, and a very small portion of the parishioners against an overwhelmingly large and hostile parish body. As homeschoolers began to drift in from 2005 to 2007, the pastor gained more and more support while the progressive element slowly but surely began to weaken and erode.


One very important thing the new DRE did was revamp the whole religious education program. When he was hired, the religious ed program was in a sorry state. It had a lot of participants, but the quality was horrendous. The prior DRE told me that his first year on the job a Confirmation candidate, when asked what the Holy Trinity was, responded, "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Catechists, by and large, were themselves uncatechized and of a progressive mindset; instruction consisted of coloring pages for the younger kids, skits for the middle schoolers and Lord knows what for the Confirmation class; at no time was there any sort of test or assessment. The DRE attempted to recruit volunteers who were orthodox and well catechized, or who were at least open to learning more about their faith and willing follow the pastor's vision. Once the DRE had his core of volunteers (which took a few years), he tried to retain them.

Besides this, the DRE, with the pastor's approval, got the religious ed program off of the horrid Pflaum weeklies and onto the Ignatius Press Faith and Life curriculum. Some parishioners whined about this, but as the Ignatius curriculum is highly praised by the USCCB, they really didn't have much to go on. Weekly quizzes were introduced and the catechists found creative ways to motivate their children to do them. I don't think the Faith and Life series is the best, but it is worlds above the Pflaum weeklies.

Did this have the effect of boosting religious ed enrollment? Actually, the opposite. People started pulling their kids from the program, and the CCD classes would steadily shrink in size under myself and my predecessor, from about 155 down to 25 by 2010. I don't think this was bad—in general, I have noticed that parishes that are more progressive or where the Faith is not really preached generally have bigger CCD programs. I think this is due in part to the fact that CCD flourishes in environments where the teaching of the Faith is abdicated by parents. The kids who stayed behind got a better religious education, but the program would shrink, as parents and kids didn't really like the real Faith being taught. They were happy to enroll their kids year after year when they were doing coloring pages and skits, but once the Faith actually was being taught, many kids thought it wasn't "fun" anymore and pulled out. My attitude to those folks was good riddance. I disagree with CCD programs the way they are run today anyway and wished I could have just abolished the whole thing.

However, the shrinkage of the CCD program does not mean that religious education was not happening. Quite the contrary. Many more parents were choosing to homeschool for religious education, usually with superior results than what a lay-run parish CCD program would have offered. Plus, the entire character of the parish was becoming more oriented towards religious education. Liturgies and other events were more formative. If anything, the overall level of religious education went up even as CCD enrollment dropped.

But anyhow, the DRE John Joy tackled a much needed reform here. He built a solid core of catechists, led by an exceptionally stellar volunteer who taught First Communion classes, got the classes on a solid, orthodox curriculum with assessments to test progress and in general put the classes in a direction that was much sounder.


Finally, shortly before I arrived, the pastor fired the old music director (a non-Catholic who allowed drums in the choir loft) and hired a classically trained and very orthodox young woman who took liturgy very seriously. The drums and guitars were immediately and perpetually banished and we were treated to a good repertoire of English hymns on the organ—still no Latin, still no chant; remember, the idea was to move the parish incrementally. But now a powerful new member was added to the core staff. She knew chant and was capable of doing it, when the time came. Many protested the firing of the old music director, but by this time the pastor's authority had been more firmly established. For as many people as protested the firing of the old director, just as many praised the hiring of the new one, who was not only orthodox but much more skilled in her art. And even if we were only getting English hymns with organ, they were infinitely better than the trash the prior music director was dishing out.

MID 2007

Let us pause to see where we are—by mid-2007, a year and a half into the pastor's tenure, a core staff was in place that supported the pastor internally, while orthodox preaching and the welcoming of homeschooling families had drawn a considerable amount of devout families to the parish who not only supported the pastor, but wanted him to go further in reforming the parish. The CCD program had been revamped, a new music director hired, and the traditional Faith was being preached. Some people left the parish, others complained, but the pastor was usually able to explain these changes in a way that was charitable and made it clear that this was not his personal crusade but what the Church asked. As of yet there was no Latin, no communion rails, no TLM...but there was a more reverent Novus Ordo, at least traditional English hymns, and a congregation willing for more.

In Part 3 I will go over 2007-2010, how I came aboard, the introduction of Latin, the liturgical changes and the introduction of the TLM.