Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Guest Post "The Latin Mass Saved My Life"

A friend of mine has written an elegant testimony on how the Traditional Latin Mass brought him to faith, delivered him from sexual sin, and taught him the meaning of manhood. It is a touching story from a man who has pondered these matters deeply. But I will let him speak for himself:

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Current circumstances in the Church have moved me to write something that is deeply personal, having defined the course of my life for the past three years. While I can choose to reel in anguish and despair regarding the restrictions imposed by Pope Francis in Traditionis Custodes, I will instead try to use this time as an opportunity to look back on how far I have gone in my relationship with Christ, the eternal defender of Tradition, and remind me to keep hoping in Him and His promises, however trite that might sound and how hopeless the situation for us traditional Catholics might be both at home and abroad. I won’t dwell on the full details of my conversion story. I will also leave the doctrinal and canonical dissection of the motu proprio to Catholics far more competent than me, although this essay will reflect my views regarding this issue.

I grew up in a single-parent, lapsed Catholic household—a rare combination of circumstances in the Philippines. However, it is hard not to breathe the air of a (still) strong Catholic culture and imbibe its influence in your worldview and personal morality. I went to Catholic school all my life, since my non-practicing Catholic mother made a lot of sacrifices to make this possible. Despite her issues with the Catholic faith, she believed that the Catholic Church did a good job at teaching moral values. In fact, she had me baptized on my grandmother’s birthday, who opposed it. Suffice to say, my grandmother had an even less favorable opinion of the Church than her. The Holy Spirit does work His graces however men might oppose or ignore His gentle inspirations. I credit my mother’s fateful decision to baptize me for being reconciled with the Church much later. More on that story shortly.

Growing up in the Philippines in the 2000s was coming to age in your typical JPII conservative Novus Ordo environment—the liturgy was celebrated poorly (I still cringe at the sight of chasuble-albs), cheesy homilies, wreckovated parishes (granted, this wasn’t as bad in the Philippines), and an insistence on seeing all of Church doctrine and history through the lens of the Second Vatican Council. We were taught, as I suspect like our American Catholic brethren back then, that the versus populum orientation was superior than ad orientem, since it welcomed the community to worship with the priest, and that no one understood the Traditional Latin Mass; hence, the matrons in front had prayed the rosary instead. Of course, we were also taught that ecumenism and religious freedom for all were good for the Church. Yet this being your JPII conservative milieu, we were also taught the Church teaching didn’t really change and that the Catholic Church was still the true Church. This was back before Google, and so I agreed with everything my diligent religion class teachers taught me. But even then, with the little knowledge I had of tradition in books (for one, I only learned about the heresy of modernism in Pope St. Pius X’s biographical entry in a book about the saints), I already saw the ruptures in what the Church has taught and done before, and even more so in how the Philippine hierarchy behaved toward non-Catholic sects. While the Philippines has never had a shortage of lay apologists, the hierarchy seemed to be locked in an overly conciliatory, even obsequious, attitude toward sects like the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and Members Church of God International (MCGI), two homegrown churches, given how they have always viciously attacked Holy Mother Church and poached thousands of souls from her. Somehow, I thought, we were the true Church, yet at the same time we had no official response for the rapacity of these false preachers.

When it came to my life at school beyond religion classes and First Friday Masses, I found it quite difficult to keep up with my peers socially. They talked about their fathers playing basketball with them or otherwise doing something that a father and son should do together. I guess this lack of a father figure made it difficult for me to make friends and open up to people, especially when talking about my unique situation of not having a father in the first place. It didn’t help that my mother told me to tell everyone that my father was dead (I still do not know where he is or if he is even alive). Moreover, my introverted and reserved nature didn’t help. I certainly did not have a healthy model of masculinity, despite being enrolled in an all-boys school.

It would be unfair to say that it was this Catholic environment that led me to losing my faith in my adolescent years, since many classmates didn’t, yet it is safe to say that my lack of exposure to a Catholicism that was consistent in what she said and what she did hardly contributed any defense to my teenage brain’s exposure to anti-Catholic and anti-religious arguments. I uncritically gobbled up the New Atheists’ arguments, even if I had not read any of their books (I still haven’t up to now). This was around 2005 when Filipino households started being hooked up to the internet; Google searches provided all the semi-educated arguments I needed. I have always been well-read, ironically, but this did not lead me to buttress the things I learned from my religion classes with arguments from Catholic sources. I reveled being an atheist in a deeply Catholic society and considered other classmates in the same boat as fellow enlightened souls (or rather, purely material beings). I was so arrogant that when I was 14, I declared to myself that I was officially an atheist on the very day of my Confirmation. I did go through it since it was expected of me and I rationalized that I was curious about ritual. My appreciation with ancient, arcane rituals in general and pre-modern aesthetics kept me appreciative of the Latin Mass and the surface beauty of Traditional Catholicism.

Long story short, I (expectedly) fell into existential despair and sexual sin. I had to follow my mother to the United States in 2014 at age 21 after she married my stepfather some years before that. This led me further into social withdrawal and a rapidly metastasizing anomie. I made few friends and struggled relating to American culture, which surprisingly I found to be very welcoming of outsiders. As I got into my mid-20s, I realized that I could not keep living like this. There must be a reason for living, for striving for something, for working toward some end, even if during that time I did not realize I was made to fulfill that end. I knew it didn’t mean going to graduate school, given that I had wanted to pursue an academic career originally, since I learned early on how adjunct professors were underpaid in this country. So at first I thought that I could find my purpose with being financially independent. Furthermore, I knew I had to move out if I was going to have any chance to start my own life, like Americans of my age. This gave me a direction in life beyond finding a job so I could fund my worldly interests, but that wasn’t enough. At this point I still didn’t know the answer. 

Not that I connected the dots immediately, but I also felt that I could not let my addiction to porn and masturbation to define me for the rest of my life. I hated myself for my inability to wean myself off it. Around this time, I also saw how broken American society was with regards to marriage and family. However, there were two things that kept me intrigued about Catholicism. One was the fact that I was surrounded by (nominal) Protestants, and I was trying to look for Catholics with whom I shared something at least. Another was that I never lost interest in the Latin Mass. I have known about it even before Summorum Pontificum, interestingly also thanks to Google. I still cannot explain in natural terms how this interest grew over time while in the States, but one explanation might be that I was looking for beauty (and good and truth) in all the ugliness I found myself mired in.

The opportunity to attend a Latin Mass finally came to me on a trip to New York City in November 2017, over at the Church of Holy Innocents. I didn’t understand anything, nor did I know that something called a missal existed. I did know it was different from all the other Masses I have attended in the past, both as a believer and a skeptic. It did conform to my aesthetic tastes, of course, but I came home with something more than shallow art appreciation. To be sure, I was already reading about Catholicism again, especially regarding the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia. I can’t remember exactly what came first and how everything came to be, but immediately before this I was already entertaining doubts regarding issues like same-sex marriage, the transgender movement, and no-fault divorce. As an atheist then, I found out at last that the only axiom in secular ideology was change, and this did not satisfy my intellectual convictions; after all, I had stopped believing in God because that was the “truth”. However, I did not navigate my way back to the Tiber right away, partly because of the issues with Amoris Laetitia, seeing that the liberals were winning, and also because the bad spirit was still trying to confirm me in my vices. 

Three months later, in January 2018, I got back to attending Mass willingly after 10 years, forcing myself to wake up on an early Sunday morning with nothing else but the desire to learn more about the Old Rite, and see what followed from there. The rest of it is the Holy Spirit’s story. Slowly, I realized that the TLM was the expression of Catholicism that didn’t present itself to the world with "ifs" and "buts." Rather, it seemed to shout and assert that the Church was the Bride of Christ, that what she was doing was True Sacrifice, and that she opened a portal to something beyond the altar, beyond this world. It was a whole worldview packed in a couple of gestures by the priest, who as alter Christus was the main actor, since he alone had the sweet yoke of re-presenting the Sacrifice of the Bridegroom, ipse Christus, giving back to the Father all the good that He has magnanimously imparted to the universe. Obviously, I did not immediately work out the various arguments from Tradition about the fittingness of all of this, but it was this self-consistent blueprint I saw embedded within the Old Mass that eventually bridged the gap I perceived between what the Church has always taught and what she was currently doing. 

In connection to the brokenness of my family, the ruin of my manhood, and my lack of purpose, the Mass of Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Pius V taught me that the world runs on order and reason. For one, nothing is superfluous in the Mass, as all its parts contribute toward properly disposing its participants into truly participating fruitfully in the Sacrifice at Calvary. Not only is there beauty in the vestments, the chanting, and the sweet whiff of Latin, but also the prayers express a frank admission of man’s frailty and pleads deliverance from his sinfulness through the economy of salvation as revealed by Scripture and Tradition. It is the whole of salvation history summarized in a few sublime gestures and movements. It communicates through its succinct beauty that the only Beauty, the only Good and Truth to pursue for, is what the Mass points to, to where it derives its beauty from in the first place, and to whom the priest offers the perfect worship. For one, I remembered reading the Roman Canon in an older English translation, and I couldn’t help but tear up not only because of how emotionally moving it was or how powerful its poetry, but more importantly on how it systematically elevated the whole liturgical action to the presence of the Divine at the moment of Consecration.

Thus, it is futile to look for worldly honors, riches or other vain pursuits, since they are at best means to that end we were all created for. Moreover, there is no need to wallow in the brokenness of original sin and its consequences, from our immediate parents up to our first parents, since the death of Christ, the Logos, has already freed us from the chains of the Serpent. Before my conversion I had already accepted that all children needed a father and a mother, yet I eventually realized that only Catholicism had yet to cave in (doctrinally at least) on issues regarding marriage and family. More than being moved by a merely anthropological sense of tradition—and in my case the determination of a child to not repeat his parents’ mistakes—I made the connection between tradition and how it was principally handed over from the previous generation to the next through the family. And it is through the basic unit of the family that we are made members of a larger reality—civil society and the Church. The traditional family is not only the poster child of conservative talking points, but it is the smallest organ in a mystical body that extends to Heaven. 

Intimately connected to this, the Latin Mass has also showed me on how to be a man, which is something I never learned from my absentee father. The exclusive presence of men in the altar coupled with the meticulous rubrics in the Mass is enough to dispute the self-defeating claims of gender ideology, if only in deed and not in word. Both the fixed and proper prayers of the Old Mass are suffused with the spirit of virtus understood in the classical Roman sense. It moreover introduced me to saints who were manly, courageous, and resolute, yet at the same time humble enough to model their lives to the image of the archetypal Man. Real men, tempered by Christian moderation and virtue, are neither toxic nor reap destruction upon the weak, but rather use their strength to fight for what is right and just, for what is truly good, even at the expense of suffering for it. And who else would point them to this than Jesus Christ, whom they see suffer, die, and rise in glory through the priest every Sunday? With this the Latin Mass led me to that other great sacrament, Confession. Through the work of patient priests in the confessional I was able to be freed from sexual sin, and confirmed that a man could truly subject his carnal desires with the Spirit’s grace and His gift of reason. 

I can say this with confidence: the Latin Mass saved my life, and hopefully will save my soul. I would not have written this essay or have even known Boniface and other Catholic friends had I not made an effort to go to a Low Mass one Thursday evening in New York. I think it inappropriate to say that the Latin Mass was my “gateway drug” to Catholicism, but it is true that it all started from there. I am not suggesting that the Latin Mass will always inevitably lead to metanoia or even that it is the panacea to the current crisis; certainly, it is but one tool that the Spirit uses to penetrate hearts walled off and imprisoned by sin. Yet I do think that the restoration of the liturgy is the key to unraveling the current crisis. 

Like everyone else, I remain a sinner and still struggle with many faults. But I am thankful for the Lord for delivering me from sexual sin and the social isolation it brings with it. Now, I am making friends with lots of Catholics, more than I ever had, and also enjoyed dating for the first time free from the clutches of pelvic degeneracy. I am still introverted, but I found out it’s not reason enough to build walls around myself especially when others were reaching out to me. I was also able to start a career that enabled me to support myself, and will hopefully allow me to support a future family as well. Through the Latin Mass, I learned how to bear hardships for love of Him who suffered for me, and to embrace the painful process of change to be a better man. 

Yet despite my personal testimony and that of many others, Francis and the rest of the Spirit of Vatican II crowd keeps plotting to suppress it. Beyond possible envy at the sight of the growing number of (especially young) Catholics who take refuge in the Latin Mass to escape the modernist wasteland that has defined the Church today, they know on an intellectual level that the Mass of All Time is the cornerstone of everything Catholicism has stood for before the 1960s. Or rather, what it has always stood for and will stand for beyond their blighted clerical careers. Its enduring, continued presence stings them as a living rebuke of the failure of their project of bonhomie with the world, the saeculum, forgetting as they do their sworn duty to bring the world into the saecula saeculorum instead with the angels and saints—or else vainly thinking that they can achieve both. In a protean world ruled only by Baphomet’s diktat of solve et coagula, the Mass points to its archetype, the unchanging, eternal Word, and confidently proclaims him as its one true King, against the pretensions of the prince of this world garbed in various disguises. 

The illicit suppression of the Latin Mass is proving to be the greatest challenge to my faith as of yet. A part of me wants to scream and express my wrath acerbically in social media; another part of me even tries to whisper that all I did in 2018 with the help of God was all for naught, and I might as well give in to despair by going back to my old vices. Yet wouldn’t this prove Pope Francis right in claiming that the Latin Mass is only a source of discord among the Church Militant, with few good fruits to show of its work? Wouldn’t that be too easy for our critics, who say that our attachment to it is mere nostalgia and vapid aesthetics? I am trying to cling to hope, seeing this as an opportunity to prove to Him that He has truly changed me, and that I will follow wherever He leads. Bad popes come and go, trends die off eventually, and heresies will have their day of reckoning, but Christ’s promise endures. He has shown this through the refusal of the Latin Mass to die in the decades after the Council, when the de-christianization of society was not as apparent, and how it still produces countless gifts for the Church despite every threat of suppression. This might be, after all, a rebuke to us by Christ, for being at times prideful, clannish, and bitter, as our enemies claim us to be—but doesn’t He always subject those whom He loves to suffer? Nothing impure will enter His presence; Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8). 

I can barely muster words of comfort for my fellow Catholics, for I still do not know how we can effectively respond to this latest attack against Tradition. At least for me, I hope that all these trials in the Church (which have advanced in a worrying pace beginning with the Amazon Synod in 2019) means that the Devil is running out of time; hence, he has been hard at work round the clock to destroy the Church. Anyhow, anything I say will be repeated and better expressed by others. Yet we must resolve not to let this latest saga from the Vatican—from this papacy—be a cause of scandal for us. Let us pray more, let us accept suffering more, let us go to the Latin Mass more. The Spirit will lead us to more concrete ways of responding to the modernists, but let us respond to malice with charity, to detraction with humility, and to abuse with patience. And may faith, hope, and love remain in us the selfsame chalice that bears the blood of Christ, which he poured out for the salvation of souls, so that when this dark cloud finally dissipates, we can again say with confidence in our churches: Introibo ad altare Dei, qui laetificat juventutem meam (Ps. 42:4). 

Click here for a Spanish version of this article

1 comment:

M. Prodigal said...

Love the TLM. Am fortunate to have it on Sundays and our good archbishop is not taking it from us. Wish it was our daily Mass and with all the traditional sacraments as well.