Sunday, May 28, 2023

A Pentecost Miscellany

[May 28, 2023] Happy Pentecost brethren! I have had so many things in my mind recently, but as I am sure I will not have time to flesh most of them out, today I am presenting you with a miscellany of my recent ruminations. I may develop these further in future posts, but who knows. Enjoy my brain dump!


Progress in the spiritual life isn't always linear; that is, it's not always a matter of acquiring virtues, obtaining greater knowledge, praying more, or sinning less. Sometimes the progress is rather one of depth: you may not acquire new virtues, but become more deeply rooted in the ones you already possess. You may not learn new things, but grow in certainty about insights you've alread had. You may not pray more, but your prayer may become more directed and fruitful. You may still struggle with the same sins, but you may grow in fortitude against other weaknesses. This is why we should never be despondent. Growth happens in many ways. Obviously we want to grow in the "linear" manner as well, but we should not let this be our sole criteria for measuring spiritual growth. Remember, God says "my ways are not your ways" (Is. 55:8).  The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but know neither whence it comes nor where it goes (cf. John 3:8).


If you hear news about a bishop doing something praiseworthy, and your response is to throw shade on it by kvetching about the shortcomings of the episcopate, what is wrong with you? We must rejoice in what is good, especially when things are bad. "Give honor to whom honor is due" (Rom. 13:7); "Do not withhold good to those whom it is due" (Prov. 3:27). Are you so jaded you can't recognize a good work? Honestly, if you can no longer rejoice in good news, your soul is in peril.


We are all poor travelers seeing through a glass darkly. We are not yet what we will become; everything is in a state of "not yet." God has enlightened some of us about some things, and others of us have not been given the grace to see. All of us are at various stages of spiritual maturation, and none of us can see all ends. We must be gracious with each other. Grant everyone the same consideration and leniency you’d hope to be granted. 


Regarding my recent post on my negative experiences with men's groups, some chap on Facebook said my problem was that I was taking a "Protestant approach" to the matter by "expecting to get something out of it" instead of thinking about what I can contribute. I did not realize there were specific Catholic and Protestant approaches to men's groups! This critique is goofy. We are not talking about something like divine worship or the sacrament of matrimony; we are talking about men's groups—completely manmade social conventions. Of course I expect to get something out of it. I don't go to the dentist out of the goodness of my heart; I expect to receive a cleaning. When I go to the movies, I expect (or at least hope) to see something I am going to enjoy. Similarly, if I am going to give of my time to go sit around with a bunch of guys, then, yeah, I expect to get something out of it, the "something" being an enriching social experience. This isn't a "Protestant approach"; this is just the basic principle of prudent resource allocation.


The older I get, the less I feel like I am competent to talk about anything at all. When I first started this blog (c. 2007), I used to talk about canon law, dogmatic theology, spirituality, history, parish matters, and all sorts of subjects. Over the years, as I have become more educated, I have paradoxically felt less educated—or rather, more aware of what I do not know. Some subjects I acknowledge I am simply too uninformed to speak competently about. It is a very liberating realization that I wished I had learned much earlier in life.


In that same vein, it is also evident that knowledge is extremely specialized and is not always translatable. How often have we seen someone who is a recognized authority in X start talking about Y and completely miss the mark? I think we often assume knowlegde is more transferrable than it really is; Dr. So-and-So is an erudite scholar of Widgets, but he decides to venture outside his area of expertise to voice his opinion on McGuffins. People assume since he is trustworthy about Widgets, he is competent to discuss McGuffins. But it becomes painfully clear he is not; despite his mastery of the former, he is a novice about the latter and falls prey to misunderstanding and misinformation with shocking ease. 


Today I was at a retreat and attended a Novus Ordo. It was one of those rare unicorn Novus Ordos: it was done ad orientem, ordinary parts of the Mass in Latin, Gregorian chant, the Pentecost sequence in Latin, altar boys, Roman Canon, communion kneeling at the rail, and everything one could ask for in a Novus Ordo. This was, of course, still inferior to the Traditional Latin Mass. And even if every Novus Ordo was done this way, there would still be a Traditionalist movement. But, had this been the Mass that we realistically got after the Council; had the Church insisted that this was what the Council intended and saw that this is what was celebrated in Catholic parishes, there would not be the level of mistrust and hostility towards the hierarchy we see today. There would still be desire for the Traditional Latin Mass, but there would be a much greater sense of trust, because we would take the hierarchy seriously when it spoke of reverence. (See also, "How Goodwill Was Squandered", USC, Aug. 2022)


Few things are more pretentious than a person who has never struggled with something trying to lecture a person who has about what they ought to be doing.


The internet is full of advice warning that it is a toxic trait if your partner tells you to "stop overreacting" when you are upset; some even say this is a sign of narcissism, because it invalidates your grievance by shifting attention away from what someone did to you to your reaction to what they did. It is widely considered a jerk move in a relationship to lecture your upset partner about overreacting. And yet this is the message doled out to Trads for decades now—that Traditionalist grievances about the way things are going constitute a gargantuan "overreaction" to Vatican II. The locus of the problem is shifted from the objective state of the Church to my reactions about the state of the Church. Is such an approach any less toxic?


Everybody seems to be in a hyper-critical mentality these days. All I see in the Trad-sphere is relentless back and forth criticism. It is almost as if people believe they have a moral obligation to correct people merely for being wrong. Instructing the ignorant is a work of mercy, and we are obliged to speak if we see our brother committing a sin or endangering his soul. But I have always assumed these commands pertain to grave matters. We have no obligation to correct someone because we think their intepretation of a passage from Suarez is a bit off, or because they spoke about a matter of liturgical history without being aware of some obscure book that makes a counterargument, or because we disagree with their prudential approach to some complicated issue. People act as though they must correct everything. Good heavens, if we spent the time overcoming our faults we spend trying to correct each other, we would all be saints. 


In that same vein, tough love is definitely a thing. But most of us do not possess the kind of relationships with people that enable us to use "tough love" fruitfully. Tough love requires love before it can be tough. Priding yourself on always boorishly "telling it like it is" is nothing to be proud of.  All it says is that you lack discretion and finesse.


I have never in my life been tempted to become Eastern Orthodox. Not even for a second. I know they have an old tradition, rich liturgy and all that, but the appeal for me has always been nil. I would just as soon become Mormon as go Orthodoxnot because I think Mormonism and Orthodoxy are equivalent, but because the affective draw of each is about the same, and one must love what one professes, or at least be interested in it. And it has never drawn my affections nor interested my intellect.


A great strategist is someone who knows how to entrap their opponent from multiple angles simultaneously. Have you ever played chess against someone who is really good? They win by getting you into these positions where no matter what you do, you lose. Often, they set up scenarios where you walk into defeat at the moment you think you are evading it. Great military tacticians do the same—they orchestrate complex movements where the enemy flees into disaster while attempting to avoid it, using ruses, false advances, feigned retreats, hidden reserves, and all manner of subterfuge. The Bible speaks of a "great deception" that will precede the end (cf. Matt. 24:24, 2 Thess. 2:11). The devil is a more masterful strategist than any chess player or general. His delusion won't be easy to spot; if it were, it would not confound so many of the elect, as Christ warned. We do not know what the devil's delusion will be, but if we draw a comparison from human strategems, we may assume that it will be something that our very attempts to evade cause us to plunge headlong into.


Praying for grace is good and praiseworthy. But sometimes this becomes a crutch; we pray for grace but make no concrete resolutions to change our behavior—we take no positive action to overcome our vices. Then we act mystified at our continued failings! What is the purpose of grace? Grace is divine empowerment; it is something that enables us to do specific things, whether that is live in heaven with God or put up with our co-worker's bad taste in music. If you are praying for grace to do the thing, you must make effort to actually do the thing. Otherwise, how will you use the graces you pray for? If we are merely praying for grace without taking concrete steps to actuate that grace, we are like a man laying on the bench inertly staring at the barbell while praying for gains.


It is frustrating to me that traditional religious orders seem to stop accepting novices after age 30. I have no interest in joining an order myself, but I have seen other good men dishertened and disqualified by this rule. I am sure the orders have their reasons, of which I am not privy, but it still saddens me. There is a long tradition of older persons who have had their kids, made their careers, and fought their battles going to the monastery at the twilight of their life to "die in the habit." I would love to see this custom reborn. Maybe we need a religious congregation that only accepts applicants over age 45: those who never found their way, whose life did not turn out as they'd hoped; the divorced, the widowed, those who wanted to marry but could never find a partner; those whose formative years were squandered in various ways but who now seek to make a good end. Anyone who wants merely to land the ship safely after a tumultuous voyage.


The explosion of Catholic educational materials that has emerged since the 1990s is due to the democratization of technology and information, not to the Second Vatican Council. The blogs, organizations, printing presses, websites, publications, podcasts, and the entire Catholic information infrastructure that exists today is not due to Apostolicam Actuositatem or Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium or Inter Mirifica. It is not due to lip service about the laity and the universal call to holiness. It is due to the advance of technology, which grew to the point where humans no longer needed nor tolerated gatekeepers of information. The Catholic information network we have today would have existed with or without Vatcian II. It's emphasis certainly would have looked different, but that it would have existed is unquestionable.


Anonymous said...

Hi Boniface, your so right about the religious orders and late vocations.

Reading about saints of old, so many were married and started their own monastery or convent and then joined at a later date along with sons or daughters- it seemed so much more liberal back then as though only a good intention was required, what happened to those days?

Happy Pentecost Sunday- i was so excited yesterday, it almost felt like Christmas Eve- full of great expectations.


Paul said...

"The older I get, the less I feel like I am competent to talk about anything at all."


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

I went to assist at The Divine Liturgy of Saint James the Less at Mary Mother of the Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, Florida.

There was a substitute Priest who used his sermon to attack The Holy Bible and to otherwise engage in various heresies.

He began by saying that when he was young he saw Holy Cards depicting the Apostles as having the Holy Spirit descend upon them as tongues of fire.

What follows is not a recording of what he said but a accurate paraphrase of his sermon:

Well, I always wondered why their hair didn't catch on fire and then I learned that wasn't real history.

I hope you all understand that only Luke mentioned the Ascension whereas the other writers knew that Jesus ascended into Heaven right after The Resurrection.

We have to understand that every day is Pentecost and that everyone living is united- just as all the listeners heard the Apostles speaking in their own tongues.

That means all of us now are living in unity with everyone else.

Truth is not about right and wrong. The greek word for truth also means remembering.

(I was this close to interrupting Mass and rebuking his heresies)


After I returned home I called my son who goes to a N.O. Parish in Wellington because he has young children and to trip to Tequesta is too long for them.

I told him I had a story about a heretical priest and he said, I doubt you can top what I heard today.

He then told me about Father Marko at St. Rita's Catholic Church who began the Liturgy by asking the congregation to give a round of applause to the Holy Spirit.

In his sermon he said that the Catholic Church was wrong about the Faith until the Second Vatican Council and that anyone who believed what the Church believed before the Second Vatican Council could never had never received the Holy Spirit.

He said that until the Second Vatican Council the liturgy was in Latin so nobody knew what was going on at Mass but now we do know what is going on because the Mass is in the vernacular.

Way to go 1960s Synod...

Boniface said...

Insane that such a man is a priest in good standing

cyrillist said...

"Everybody seems to be in a hyper-critical mentality these days."

Good point. Also quite funny, in a meta sense. ;-)

Boniface said...


Haha how observant! A critique of my critique of critiques :D

Anonymous said...

I avoid reading details of bad spiritual comments- as u said elsewhere Boniface, in so many words- where there is dirt, one is bound to get dirty by meddling in it.

I think the best course is avoid hearing it too distinctly and above all don’t repeat it.