Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Fourteen Years and an Appeal

Every year on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul it has become custom for me to write an anniversary post commemorating the founding of this blog, which (in its current form) was launched on June 29, 2007. Today I am celebrating fourteen years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam.

But beyond celebrating this enduring blog, I also wanted to give you some news and make an appeal.

First, I want to let you all know I am going to be taking an extended break for awhile. Nothing is wrong in my life or anything, I am just fairly busy and I want to disconnect for a time. I have a lot of books and projects I am involved with, and I also just want to step away from online Traddie-dom for a bit. 

One project I am going to be working on this year is switching over the sister site to a new format. I have been operating www.unamsanctamcatholicam.com since 2012 on a Joomla template that has become woefully clunky and outdated.  I am migrating that site and all its content over to a much sleeker Wordpress-based template that will make it a lot more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate. I don't expect this will be done before the end of 2021, but I am going to be spending a lot of time on it.

As I break and revamp the sister site, I'd like to ask you to consider making a financial donation to support the work of Unam Sanctam Catholicam. 

What is this "work" you ask?

Unam Sanctam Catholicam is consistently one of the top-ranked Catholic blogs in the English speaking world. It has been in the top 100 for the past decade and has occasionally been in the top 10. It's content has been 4.3 million times; an average of 38,500 people read our articles every single month. That's 38,500 readers every month being exposed to our articles about the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Catholic faith—articles devoid of clickbait, not beholden to any organization or authority, written in a spirit of patient reflection without pretension. Granted, that means you sometimes have to deal with my own stupidity, but at least there's no commercial angle or institutional gags on my content. I am a fool, but you get to enjoy my foolery without any hook.

My free RCIA notes and outlines have been downloaded 80,000 times and show up first for the Google search "RCIA notes." That's 80,000 people who chose to go with my outlines—full of quotes from the Catechism, Aquinas, the Councils, and the Fathers—instead of any number of the garbage RCIA resources floating around out there.

Countless people have messaged me over the years saying the Bayside article I did back in 2013 had helped them come out of the Bayside hoax. Ditto for my articles over the years on Medjugorje.

I am not a social media influencer. I have never tried to monetize this site by turning into a subscription service, nor have I ever hocked "premium content." I don't make a living from this blog; if I feel like posting I do, and if I don't I don't. 

That being said, a little bit goes a long way. If you've ever been entertained, edified, or educated by Unam Sanctam Catholicam, please consider helping. There’s many ways your contributions can benefit Unam Sanctam Catholicam: 
  • I would like to get my RCIA notes and outlines translated into Spanish and then Arabic. I'd like to be able to pay people for this translating work.

  • As I mentioned above, I am revamping the USC sister site. I would like funds to help pay for the redevelopment and obtain improved design elements of the new site.

  • While I work as a professional writer, I also self-publish works on matters of interest to traditional Catholics. For example, the USC Ebook, Laudato Si: The 40 Concerns of an Exhausted Layman, The Book of Non-Contradiction on harmonizing apparently divergent biblical accounts, and most recently, Power from On High on the history of theocratic monarchy in the Christian west. Your donations allow me to (a) spend more time working on these passion projects instead of grinding away at the corporate stuff, and  (b) help me pay professional copywriters and artists to improve the quality of these self-published works. 

In the meantime, I have a lot on the docket for the rest of 2021. Here are just a few of the articles I have in the works for the next sixth months (hopefully):

  • The legend of St. Maternus
  • Use of ostrich eggs in the traditional liturgy 
  • Various book reviews
  • The Church and autopsies
  • St. Gregory of Narek
  • Cuss words in the Middle Ages
  • Medieval clerical opinions on beards
  • English bishops and the pallium journey to Rome
  • Gemstones in the writings of St. Hildegard
  • Part 3 in my series on the Nephilim (hopefully)

If there is something else you would like to see me write about, please do not hesitate to shoot me an email at uscatholicam[at]gmail.com. Thank you for your patronage over the years. Please use the Paypal button below to make a donation; if you'd like to send a check in the snail mail, message me at uscatholicam[at]gmail.com and I'll let you know how. And as always, follow us on Facebook. May the Lord richly bless you.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

My Sacrilegious Communion

It was 2001. I was a non-denominational Protestant bouncing around various house churches and charismatic fellowships. Through various pathways I had discovered Catholicism, the faith into which I  had actually been baptized as a child but never received catechesis or sacraments. I was reading some Scott Hahn books and had attended a few daily Masses. And I was starting to read about the Eucharist, beginning to study the Real Presence of Jesus and the graces available through the Blessed Sacrament. Over the months, my heart gradually began to burn with desire for Christ in the Eucharist.

One day for work I was passing through the affluent Michigan suburb of Farmington Hills, Archdiocese of Detroit. The marquis outside said that daily Mass was about to be offered, so I decided to go in. It was what I recognize now as a very generic post-conciliar Novus Ordo parish: Built in the circular like an amphitheater, featuring absurdist nouvueau stained glass images, a table altar centered on a sanctuary that looked like a performing arts stage, and a gargantuan baptismal font with adult-sized immersion pool and running waterfall for ambient noise. Gray carpet. And lots of lush plants, the kind you see in the hallways of big office buildings.

But I was too much of a noob to notice or care about any of those things; in fact, at the time, I remember I liked the d├ęcor and found aesthetic of the water to be soothing and peaceful. But anyhow, the Mass began, offered by the parish priest—a tall, slender man in his late forties. There was little enthusiasm in his homily, which I recall was rather lackluster in performance and milquetoast in content. That didn't seem to matter either though, for when he got to the Eucharistic liturgy I was on the edge of my seat. I wanted Jesus so bad. It did not matter that it was Eucharistic Prayer 2 of the Pauline Mass. My understanding of what was unfolding before cut through all that garbage like a katana and tore the fabric separating me from the divine. My soul was ablaze.

When the priest distributed communion, I made the well-intentioned but poor decision to go up and receive the Eucharist anyways. I was not ignorant of the rules of the Church—I already knew one was supposed to be a Catholic in a state of grace in order to receive. I don't remember how I rationalized it, but I do recall that it was motivated by the sincerest desire to possess what every Catholic had but many seemed to take for granted. 

So I got in line and received Holy Communion sacrilegiously from the priest. I felt deeply touched by the reality of what I had received, but I also immediately knew that what I had done was wrong. I was panged by guilt, and skulked out immediately after the final blessing. 

Some time later, I entered RCIA and was preparing to be brought into full communion with the Church. I had made my first confession, at which I confessed the sacrilegious communion. Because it was a general confession, this sin was buried in about two million other things I was confessing and didn't get any particular attention. I knew it was forgiven, but I felt like that was not enough. I wanted to go back to that parish, meet the priest, explain to him what happened, and then apologize personally. So, one day I drove the hour from my house back out to Farmington Hills to the affluent yuppie parish so I could sit down with the priest and tell him from my heart that I was sorry. I wanted to make some kind of special atonement. I wanted him to see my contrition, accept my apology, and give me some words of consolation. Maybe, in my newly converted pride, I wanted him to see what a spiritually sensitive soul I was and commend me for my actions. 

I walked into the "Administrative Office." It was very much like walking in to the waiting area of a dentist office. A frumpy, middle aged woman sat behind her desk, separated from me by a barrier of plexiglass that was two decades ahead of Covid. I immediately felt awkward and out of place. She saw me approach and slid open the plexiglass window, asked if I needed any assistance—not needed assistance in the sense of "can I help you", but needed assistance in the sense of "Do I need to put you in contact with our local Vincent de Paul chapter?" I guess I gave out that vibe at the time, which I can sorta understand.

I asked if I could speak with the pastor. I had looked up his name on the parish website and knew who I needed to talk to. She asked what it was about. I had not anticipated this question; I didn't know what to say, and I certainly wasn't going to fess up about my sacrilegious communion to this gate-keeper. So I awkwardly said, "I just need to tell him something." She looked at me with extreme skepticism, as if I had come only to steal and kill and destroy. She seemed extremely irritated by my presence. She told me curtly, "Father doesn't see anyone without an appointment. You'll have to make an appointment." Dejected and feeling extremely awkward, I said "Alright" and walked away without making an appointment. 

I was thinking about this episode today because I was reading the life of St. Padre Pio, and I came across the following story about Padre Pio and some young boys he was giving spiritual direction to:

Another time, taking the boys on a walk, he appeared very serious and sorrowful. The boys gathered around him and insisted that he tell them what was the matter. Padre Pio broke into tears as he said, "One of you has stabbed me in the heart." The boys were deeply shaken and ventured to ask for an explanation. Very sorrowfully, Padre Pio said, "Just this morning one of you made a sacrilegious Communion! And to think! I was the very one that gave him Holy Communion during Mass." Immediately one of the boys fell on his knees in tears and said, "I was the one." Padre Pio had him get up on his feet and made the others go some distance away while he heard the boy's confession" (Padre Pio the Wonderworker, Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA., 1999, pg. 24-25).

I wish I wouldn't have made a sacrilegious communion, but I also wish I could have had something like that when confessing it. Something that at least acknowledged the supernatural reality of the matter. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Alcuin to Higbald and the Christian View of Temporal Disasters

To what degree is it appropriate to view temporal calamities as a chastisement from God? A mass shooting, an abuse scandal, a tragic death from disease, a national tragedy. We have all grappled with these sorts of events. We know that all things that happen are permitted by God for some purpose in His grand providence. Saying such seems to be coolly received these days, as people have a difficult time attributing any non-positive act in the world to God's agency—even though we know from revelation that God destroys cities, sends plagues, marks people for destruction, and once flooded the entirety of human civilization. What is an appropriate way to view these sorts of tragedies?

I will begin by going back to a letter from the Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin to the monk Higbald, penned around 793. At the time Alcuin was heading up Charlemagne's educational reforms from Aachen, and his old friend Higbald was abbot of the renowned monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbria. Lindisfarne had just suffered a devastating attack from the Vikings. Many monks had been killed or enslaved, and the monastery church was pillaged and desecrated. News of the raid shocked the Christian world. When Alcuin heard about it, he wrote his old friend a letter to console him in his sorrow. 

The letter is interesting because Alcuin's method of consolation is to remind Higbald that calamities are a reminder of God's love. I will cite the letter at length, because I find it to be a very interesting window into the minds of these 8th century monks and how they processed the reality of evil:

You who survive, stand like men, fight bravely and defend the camp of God. Remember how Judas Maccabaeus cleansed the Temple and freed the people from a foreign yoke. If anything needs correction in your way of gentleness, correct it quickly...Do not glory in the vanity of dress; that is cause for shame, not boasting, in priests and servants of God. Do not blur the words of your prayers by drunkenness. Do not go out after the indulgences of the flesh and the greed of the world, but stand firm in the service of God and the discipline of the monastic life, that the holy fathers whose sons you are may not cease to protect you. May you remain safe through their prayers, as you walk in their footsteps. Do not be degenerate sons, having such fathers. They will not cease protecting you, if they see you following their example.

Do not be dismayed by this disaster. God chastises every son whom he accepts, so perhaps he has chastised you more because he loves you more. Jerusalem, a city loved by God was destroyed, with the Temple of God, in Babylonian flames. Rome, surrounded by its company of holy apostles and countless martyrs, was devastated by the heathen, but quickly recovered through the goodness of God. Almost the whole of Europe had been denuded with fire and sword by Goths and Huns, but now by God's mercy is as bright with churches as the sky with stars and in them the offices of the Christian religion grow and flourish. Encourage each other, saying, "Let us return to the Lord our God, for he is very forgiving and never deserts those who hope in him."

And you, holy father, leader of God's people, shepherd of a holy flock, physician of souls, light set on a candlestick, be a model of all goodness to all who can see you, a herald of salvation to all who hear you. May your community be of exemplary character, to bring others to life, not to damnation. Let your dinners be sober, not drunken. Let your clothes befit your station. Do not copy the men of the world in vanity, for vain dress and useless adornment are a reproach to you before men and a sin before God. It is better to dress your immortal soul in good ways than to deck with fine clothes the body that soon rots in dust. Clothe and feed Christ in the poor, that so doing you may reign with Christ. Redemption is a man's true riches. If we loved gold we should send it to heaven to be kept there for us. We have what we love: let us love the eternal which will not perish. 

When our lord King Charles returns from defeating his enemies, by God's mercy, I plan to go to him, and if I can then do anything for you about the boys who have been carried off by the pagans as prisoners or about any other of your needs, I shall make every effort to see that it is done. Fare well, beloved in Christ, and be ever strengthened in well-doing

I find it fascinating that Alcuin thought the appropriate response to the tragedy was to remind Higbald of things that offend God, as well as point out that the horrific murder of the Lindisfarne monks should be construed as an act of love, as "God chastises every son whom he accepts, so perhaps he has chastised you more because he loves you more."

Alcuin is here offering a classical explanation for evil that comes from St. Augustine: temporal misfortunes fall equally on the good and evil; the difference is not in what befalls, but in how people respond to it. The purposes for suffering amongst persons are distinct, despite the external similarity in the nature of the ills. In City of God, St. Augustine says:

There is, too, a very great difference in the purpose served both by those events which we call adverse and those called prosperous. For the good man is neither uplifted with the good things of time, nor broken by its ills; but the wicked man, because he is corrupted by this world's happiness, feels himself punished by its unhappiness.
Yet often, even in the present distribution of temporal things, does God plainly evince His own interference. For if every sin were now visited with manifest punishment, nothing would seem to be reserved for the final judgment; on the other hand, if no sin received now a plainly divine punishment, it would be concluded that there is no divine providence at all. And so of the good things of this life: if God did not by a very visible liberality confer these on some of those persons who ask for them, we should say that these good things were not at His disposal; and if He gave them to all who sought them, we should suppose that such were the only rewards of His service; and such a service would make us not godly, but greedy rather, and covetous.

Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor (St. Augustine,
City of God, Book I, Chap. 8)

Of course, pointing this out is generally not welcome advice when a friend is suffering. A person who just lost a child to leukemia does not want to be told they should use the occasion as an opportunity to grow in holiness. They want empathy more than anything else. And to be fair, Higbald and Alcuin were monks whose charism is to learn to see God in every aspect of life. But so, too, must we lay people, in our own way. While we must always extend empathy and compassion to those who are suffering ("weep with those who weep", Rom. 12:15), in our own hearts we should bear in mind that God's love for us does not preclude us from suffering terrible calamities, personally or corporately. 

The real take away is this: when something bad happens, the question we should be asking is not "Was this a punishment from God?" The answer to that will differ for every single person. But if we are in Christ, we must affirm that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28). Is that something we really believe? Have we really internalized that maxim? Or is it just something we repeat because we don't know what else to say in the face of calamity? I am by no means where I need to be in my spiritual life, but I do know my peace is much greater to the degree I can really cry Romans 8:28 from the depths of my heart.