Friday, February 28, 2014

Sex, the Devil and the Second Vatican Council

Sex, the Devil and the Second Vatican Council, Letter to Mary K. Lastima continued:

When last I wrote, Mary Kay, I quoted the Venerable Paul VI’s words: “…from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. There is doubt, incertitude, problematic, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation.” 

The Venerable Paul goes on to say:

“There was the belief that after the Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church.  Instead, it is the arrival of a day of clouds, of tempest, of darkness, of research, of uncertainty. We preach ecumenism but we constantly separate ourselves from others. We seek to dig abysses instead of filling them in. How has this come about? The Pope entrusts one of his thoughts to those who are present: that there has been an intervention of an adverse power. Its name is the devil, this mysterious being that the Letter of St. Peter also alludes to. So many times, furthermore, in the Gospel, on the lips of Christ himself, the mention of this enemy of men returns. ....We believe in something that is preternatural that has come into the world precisely to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council, and to impede the Church from breaking into the hymn of joy at having renewed in fullness its awareness of itself.”
The Vatican Council was most certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit, but at least in the estimation of Pope Paul VI, the so called “Spirit of Vatican II" was more like the ghost of Christmas past, or some other specter that goes bump in the night. I remember the craziness well.

I spent many years in a parish of interesting ethnicity. The liturgical music that flourished after the council in the out of the way country whence came my parishioners was mostly in the form of a tango or military march music. I suspect that if the council fathers had heard the tango at communion, they would have ended the council, packed their backs and gone home quickly and quietly. The same parish also had a large Spanish speaking component. Some liturgical genius adapted a 1971 Budweiser beer commercial for Eucharistic use. It was a very catchy melody, “When you say Bud, you’ve said a lot of things nobody else can say....” The banality that afflicted the liturgy immediately following the council was stupefying. From stupefying it went to horrifying. I cannot count the invalid Masses at which I failed to receive communion in my seminary training. From bagels and Mogen David we move on to matzoh and fortified Port and occasionally Coca-Cola. Non-Masses were offered on coffee tables amidst the detritus of college dorm rooms. The modern liturgy crowd has become more sophisticated but no less banal with giant paper mâché head liturgical dancing and circus style enthronements of the Scriptures. This was not what the council was about, but it is what the council means to most people who have never bothered to read the documents.

Can you say “rubric”? I knew you could!  A rubric is a decorative text or instruction in medieval documents that were written in red ink to distinguish them from the text to be read or spoken. They were like medieval parentheses. In the Roman Missal, or Mass Book, the words to be said are in black and the actions to be done are in red, hence “rubrics” as in “ruby red”. Here is a rubric from the Roman Missal: 127.

The priest, turned toward the people, extending and joining his hands, adds: The peace of the Lord be with you always.

There are seven or eight other rubrics like it. In other words the Roman Missal currently in use assumes that the priest is facing away from the congregation in certain parts of the Mass.

“No, that can’t be! The council directed that the Mass be said facing the people.” 

No, it didn’t. The thespian interests and preferences of people like Rembert Weakland dictated that the Mass be radically different. When people are suddenly and completely yanked away from what they have known for a lifetime, they are much more malleable, much more controllable. To alienate people from the things with which they are comfortable is a kind of “grooming behavior”. If you want to manipulate someone it is helpful to take away their sources of stability. For purposes of their own, Rembert Weakland and a few others alienated as much of the church as they could from the kind of liturgy that had sustained the culture and morality of Catholicism for more than a thousand years.

The Mass of Paul VI is a simple and elegant adaptation of the Catholic liturgy. It was not meant to look that different from the Mass of the 20 preceding centuries. It was meant to be more approachable and more easily understood by the faithful. The aberrant way in which the Mass came to be said by a group of people who seemed to hate their history was taken to be the dictate of the council, and as the Mass changed, so too did the sense of obedience and morality that are the hallmarks of Catholic faith. Just after the Vatican Council, Tom Lehrer, a Harvard math teacher and comedian wrote a song called “Vatican Rag”, using the melody of an old ragtime tune, “Spaghetti Rag”. Here are some of the words of Mr. Lehrer’s song:

First you get down on your knees, 
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
Do whatever steps you want, if
you have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own Kyrie Eleison,
Doin' the Vatican Rag.
“Everybody say his own Kyrie Eleison.” That pretty much summed up the heady days following the Council. If a priest could make up his own Mass, the faithful could certainly make up their own rules, and when in 1968 Paul VI published Humanae Vitae reaffirming Church opposition to artificial birth control, the faithful, led by the clergy just laughed at him. Paul VI warned us of the consequences of widespread artificial birth control:

1.         A general lowering of moral standards throughout society;
2.         A rise in infidelity;
3.         A lessening of respect for women by men; and
4.         Tthe coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

It seems that the Venerable Paul was a prophet. Just ask the Chinese who need government permission to have a child. The European era seems to be drawing to a close. Europeans and their colonial relatives have a reproduction rate of about 1.60 children per woman. The rate needed to insure the existence of a nation or people is 2.1. Catholics in Latin America, Asia and Africa are still having children, and in the words of the historian Will Durant, the fertile will inherit the earth. Europe laughed at Paul VI and now can’t find enough children to sustain its own economy, or even existence for that matter. The misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council has been profoundly demonic in its effects.

Yes, demonic.

Liturgical chaos spawned moral chaos, which in turn spawned abortion, infanticide and abortive artificial birth control, and — you see — the devil hates babies.
Next week: Human sacrifice makes a comeback 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Isn't it great that Pope Francis is letting us vote on truth?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all, 
I think it’s so exciting that Pope Francis has asked us all to vote on what we think of gay marriage and remarriage and artificial birth control and living together before marriage and all that sort of thing. Personally, if you want to know what I think, the Church needs “to wake up and smell the coffee” on cohabitation. It is commonplace and there are some reasons for it which cannot be summarily dismissed, such as economic realities. On the matter of artificial contraception my responses might be characterized by the saying, “that train left the station long ago”. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject. What do you think?
Yours sincerely,
Mary Kay Lastima
Dear Ms. Lastima,
I think you are nuts. First of all, I doubt that the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome has suddenly become a Congregationalist who wants us to vote on the truth. Second of all, you seem to have no understanding, or perhaps a convenient modern American understanding of the “Sensus Fidelium”. 
The Sensus Fidelium (sense of the faithful) is the understanding held by the whole body of the faithful. It is “the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 92) Lumen Gentium, a document of the Second Vatican Council says: “By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority... receives... the faith, once for all delivered to the saints... the People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.”
It is important to note that the Sensus Fidelium is not a vote, not a two thirds majority, and it is led by the teaching authority of the Church. By that it is meant, I assume, the bishops of the Universal Church especially the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ. It is not the faithful leading the bishops. The call of the bishops is to lead the faithful.
The Sensus Fidelium is an expression of the whole Church, spread out through space and time. It does not just belong to the modern American/European Church which is careening toward extinction. It belongs to the whole Church, including Africans, Asian, (especially Vietnamese, Korean, Filipinos), and Mexicans and other Latin’s, these are people who still seem to love their children more than they love their poodles and their large flat screen TVs. The Sensus Fidelium includes the faithful of two thousand years, not just the faithful born since the sixties. The Sensus Fidelium is the authentic sense of what we have held and believed universally and consistently since the beginning. It is not the church catching up with the latest trends or coming to terms with day time talk TV show on which over-the-hill actresses grace us with their personal infallibility and superior acumen.
For instance, we have always believed that abortion is wrong. The Bible doesn't even mention abortion as far as I can tell. I don’t recall any pope having to make infallible pronouncements about abortion, but from the Fathers of the Church until now, we have always known that abortion is just wrong. That is the Sensus Fidelium.
I am a bit bemused by your belief that the Church needs “…to wake up and smell the coffee” regarding cohabitation before marriage for economic reasons. In my limited pastoral experience a lot of couples who are (in the common phrase) “shacking up”, tell themselves and their grandparents that they are going to make it legal — eventually. They usually go through two or three cohabitations before they marry, (and then divorce). Which of the cohabitations are we to condone as a legitimate source of grace? The first, the second or the third?  If by “economic reasons” you mean the expense of the big white wedding at 40,000 smackers, you have as little regard for the permanence and sanctity of marriage as most marriage planners and divorce lawyers. For them multiple marriage is a boon. They get to fleece the same people over and over. I suggest you go to your computer and look up “Cohabitor’s vows” on YouTube. And now the big one: ARTIFICIAL BIRTH CONTROL. In essence you are equating the Sensus Fidelium with the saying, “If everybody is doing it, it must be right.” I can imagine Germans said that to themselves in the stadium at Nuremberg as everyone raised their arms in a salute to Hitler. After all, everybody was doing it.
Traditionalist, restorationist, curmudgeonly, reactionary old uber-Catholic geezers like myself, often disparage Venerable Pope Paul VI. I do not. I think he was among the great hero’s of Christian history. None of us really know what overwhelming pressure he was under to cave in regarding two unchangeable points of Catholic Truth. By these I mean the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the unbreakable bond between the unitive and procreative elements of marriage. In English, these are the truths that the Catholic Mass is a true sacrifice, the re-presentation of Calvary, and that marriage is not just about a relationship, but that it is a relationship between a man and a woman that is open to the creation of new human life. No abortion and no artificial birth control. That poor little scholarly nebbish who occupied the throne of St. Peter from 1963 to 1978, the poor little sad sack who brought the Vatican Council to its close in 1965 is, in my opinion, one of the great popes of history. He was bullied by theologians, politicians, the press and by progressive liturgists and yet that frail, bookish fellow managed to cling to the essentials in the midst of a demonic hurricane. The Venerable Paul once said that “the smoke of Satan has entered the church.” One hears the quote but never the context. Here is a fuller version of his words. 
Referring to the situation of the Church today, the Holy Father (the Venerable Paul speaking of himself in the third person) affirms that he has a sense that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”  There is doubt, incertitude, problematic, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. There is no longer trust of the Church; they trust the first profane prophet who speaks in some journal or some social movement, and they run after him and ask him if he has the formula of true life.  And we are not alert to the fact that we are already the owners and masters of the formula of true life. Doubt has entered our consciences, and it entered by windows that should have been open to the light. Science exists to give us truths that do not separate from God, but make us seek him all the more and celebrate him. But they end up teaching us: “I don’t know, we don’t know, we cannot know.” The school becomes the gymnasium of confusion and sometimes of absurd contradictions. Progress is celebrated, only so that it can then be demolished with revolutions that are more radical and more strange, so as to negate everything that has been achieved, and to come away as primitives after having so exalted the advances of the modern world.
We certainly are seeing some strange things promoted by the prophets of journalism and social; change. It’s okay to kill the child in the womb. It’s okay to live a life that is just about the two of us and denies life and love to others, and we should all be supportive of the distasteful and brutally primitive tastes of certain sexual minorities, which are as good as and as respectable as the natural intimacy between a man and woman that creates that most beautiful of creatures, the human infant. These are strange inversions indeed and certainly seem to fall under the rubric of “revolutions that are more radical and more strange.”

Next Week: Sex, the Devil and the Second Vatican Council 
(I bet you’ll read that one!)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Do I need to confess sins for which I have no remorse?

Dear Reverend Know-It-All,
I was born into the Catholic faith and have faithfully attended Mass and participated in my church choir since I was old enough to do so. However, in the past two years or so, I consciously avoided the sacrament of reconciliation. This is due to sins I have committed which I do not feel sorry for. I realize that this is something I need to work through, but in the meantime, am I allowed to go to confession if I omit the sins I feel no remorse for? If not, does this have any effect on whether or not I am allowed to receive communion?
 N. Repenter

Dear Mr. Repenter,
Your letter makes me very sad. You are clearly troubled by the situation and are obviously sincere. First let me comment on your having been born Catholic. No one is born Catholic. We are baptized Catholic. Baptism is a sacrament, a word which comes to us from the Latin word “oath to the death”. When you receive a sacrament you are swearing the most solemn oath possible to be faithful to someone, in this case to Christ who loves you. Every time we go to Holy Communion we renew our Baptismal vows and give our life to Christ. It seems that there is part of yourself that you are withholding from the Lord.
I am sad also that you are avoiding confession because you don’t feel remorse. Feelings are not always the best indicators of repentance. Are you saying, “God, you are wrong. These things are not sins.”? Or perhaps you are saying, “God doesn’t mind these things. It’s the Church who says this, not God.” I don’t know your particular situation, but let’s go with second or third marriages. What’s wrong with them? They are certainly less desirable than one loving and stable marriage that lasts a lifetime, but these days hardly anybody has that. The Church should catch up with the times. Do the old men in Rome expect me to live alone and bitter like they do?  It’s not the old men in Rome who decide these things. I find that every time I disagree with God, it turns out that God is right and I am wrong. It seems that God has this problem; He thinks He is God, and the better part of my life has been an attempt on His part to convince me that He is God and I am not!
When I disagree with the Church on a moral issue, if I look at it closely, it isn’t the Church saying that something like second/third/forth marriage is wrong, it’s the Holy Spirit speaking in the New Testament. If I believe that the New Testament is the speaking of the Holy Spirit and that it is the story of the New Covenant into which I am baptized, and which I renew in Confession and Holy Communion, I am not just arguing with the Church, but with the Holy Spirit who wrote the book through the weak and sinful hands of people like St. Peter and St. Paul.  
I am saddest of all to read your letter, because it reminds me of something that happened in the life of my dear sister who died when she was still a young woman. Through her suffering I learned what repentance really is. If you don’t regret these things now, someday you will regret them very much. My sister was a wonderful Christian woman and we were very close to each other, though she was a few years older than I. She moved to California and had a family. I would spend my vacations there with her and family. She was very involved in the faith and a great champion of the rights of children in the womb at the very beginning of the pro-life movement. However, she had been the most adventurous of all my siblings, and when she was very young she took up smoking as part of her exciting social life. She became a very heavy smoker and no one could convince her that it was wrong. Of course she developed lung cancer in her mid forties. I went out to visit her on the very day that she got the doctor’s call telling that she had terminal lung cancer. I walked in the door, and as I put down my suitcase, she looked up at me and, cigarette in hand, said “I have killed myself.” Then she looked at the cigarette in her fingers with a look that I will never forget. It was a glance of hatred and disgust, I think for herself as much as for the cigarette. She had learned too late that the advice she had always disregarded  was right. A few months later I returned to offer her funeral Mass.
When I returned home, being a smoker of cigars myself, I sat in my old overstuffed armchair and prepared to light up a cigar. Out of respect for my grieving family I had not smoked while I was in California for the funeral, but now I was looking forward to an enjoyable few moments, lost in curling blue smoke. I picked up the cigar and a match, but then I looked at the cigar with the same revulsion that had darkened my sister’s dying face as she looked at her last cigarette. I thought, “This is the stupidest thing I can possibly do. I am paying some large tobacco corporation for the privilege of a slow, painful death. I put the cigar down, and haven’t picked one up again in almost 40 years. I had repented. I had been given and had accepted the gift of seeing something as God really sees it, not just as I wanted to see it. The New Testament word for repentance is “metanoia”. It doesn’t mean try harder, or change your life. It means change your understanding. Better, it means allow God’s Holy Spirit to change your understanding. 
The Bible says, “Do not be conformed to this present age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2). Understanding precedes and determines action. If I know that the bridge is out, I will take another road, unless of course I am thick headed and say, “I was just here yesterday, the bridge is fine and I am in a hurry.” I will end up in the river with that attitude, because I have refused to accept truth. I can always refuse to believe when I am given good advice, and frankly I usually do refuse good advice because I want what I want. To repent is to accept the advice of someone we love and trust. That someone is Christ. We may not understand it now, but He tells us these things because He loves us, not because He wants to make us unhappy.
It is not possible to break the laws of physics. If I go to a cliff, saying “I will now break the law of gravity,” and I step off the cliff in about 10 seconds I will find out that I could not break the law of gravity. It is just as impossible to break the Law of God. You can’t lie. It’s not possible. If I tell my boss I am sick when I am really going to the beach, there is always the possibility that someone from my job will see me, and even if I get away with the lie, I will have no peace because  I may be found out, what with security cameras, etc. everywhere. I may have been to the beach, but my mind was elsewhere all the time. It is impossible to commit adultery. You will never find the love and security you seek outside a committed, permanent relationship. An affair may be enjoyable, but I have never known one that doesn’t end in disappointment and heartbreak. You can’t steal. I have known a lot of thieves in my life, but I have never known a rich one. Even if they appear to have succeeded, they live in constant fear of detection.
You really can’t break the Law of God. The commandments are not arbitrary rules made by men. They are the inevitable and inflexible laws of the human condition. In His love, the Almighty has revealed them to us. It is like the parent who says to a child, “Be careful, dear, the stove is hot. Don’t touch. The child cannot resist touching the stove, simply because it’s forbidden. The parent didn’t say, “don’t touch,” just to be mean. Perhaps the commandments should be called the Ten Warnings. They are given to us for our welfare by a God who made us and loves us.
I would suggest that you change the way you pray. The prayer of most people is “Lord, give me want I want.” The prayer of the believer is “Lord, teach me your ways”. If this is your sincere prayer, then I would say going to confession and communion will be the blessing they are meant to be.
I hope this helps a little,
The Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, February 7, 2014

Do Catholics worship idols?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I visited a Catholic church for the first time the other day and frankly I was shocked. There were a lot of graven images in the church and there was some procession going on during which one of these graven images was being carried about. Isn’t this sort of thing expressly forbidden in the Bible?
Ida L. Carver
Dear Ida,
At first reading it would seem you are right. Here are two texts from the Scriptures. First Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”
And Isaiah 45:20 “Gather yourselves and come; Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations; they have no knowledge, who carry about their wooden idol And pray to a god who cannot save.”
It would seem that religious imagery is expressly forbidden in the Bible, but think again. The Temple, had images of angels, lions, flowers, fruit and trees as did the Dwelling in the desert (see Exodus 25, 26 and 37, and First Kings 7 and 10). Moses was commanded by God to make an image of a bronze serpent (Numbers 21:4) which was kept in the Temple until people started to worship it. (2Kings18:4)
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture which was written in Egypt around 200 BC. Like all translations, it provides a kind of commentary on the meaning of words. There are two words used in the commandment against idols: “Pesel” and “Tehmunah.” Pesel means a carving and Tehmunah means a likeness. Pesel is the common word for an idol, a “carving”. Tehmunah is a more general word. The next verse in the text forbids the bowing to and the serving of such things.  It would seem that such images and carvings are forbidden as objects of worship.  In the Greek Septuagint “Pesel” is translated “idolon”, or idol. “Tehmunah” is translated “icon” or image. The stricture against idols is absolute. But it seems that the use of icons is allowed in the proper context.
The closest that an iconoclast (anti-image) non-Catholic Christian can have to such things would be figures in a Christmas Crib. Most Christians who forbid images have no problem with Christmas figures and are insulted when some small town dictator forbids setting one up in the public square in our current drive for freedom from religion.  No Protestant I know looks at an image of the Baby Jesus in a Christmas display with anything but tenderness. They don’t worship it. It is merely a help to memory, a representation of something loved and revered. If one interprets the ban on carvings and images with rigorous literacy, even photography is forbidden. The only people I know who go that far are the Amish. In the scripture itself images are clearly allowed if they are not objects of worship. Well isn’t worship what Catholics are doing when they have their processions etc.? Not any Catholics I know.
First of all most of the images are those of saints, especially Mary, the Blessed Mother of Our Lord. Saints are not gods. No Catholic I know regards a bit of plaster or a hunk of wood as in any way divine. They are representational art meant to remind us of the Communion of Saints and the Presence of Heaven in our midst. I have never said to a hunk of plaster, “Deliver me; for you are my god,” (Isaiah 44:17) not even to the plastic Jesus riding on the dash board of my car. Religious images as means of instruction, as a means of lifting the heart and the mind to God in prayer are perfectly acceptable biblically as we see from the decoration of the temple. When the thing becomes the object of prayer, or is thought to have some sort of power in itself, like the Bronze Serpent in the time of Hezekiah, it ceases to be legitimate.
Catholics have a great antidote to idolatry: the Holy Eucharist. If you had a picture of your mother that meant a lot to you, you might gaze at it fondly. If, however your mother came into the room, would you continue to stare at the picture and neglect the real flesh and blood woman? No, you would put the picture away and embrace the actual person.
We Catholics believe that the Holy Eucharist, which for all the world appears to be a piece of bread, is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. We enjoy religious art, but we don’t believe that those images are God. How could we? We have God himself living in the tabernacles of our churches.
I was at that procession you saw. Did anyone drop to their knees when the image of the Holy Child passed by? No, they didn’t because it was only an image. A little later in the Mass a small bell rang and the whole congregation dropped to its knees and I said the words, “This is my Body and this is my Blood,” over a piece of bread and a sip of wine. For this the whole congregation knelt because this was God appearing in visible form on the altar through the words and hands of a sinner like me. It was infinitely more than a colorful bit of plaster.
I imagine you think it even more absurd to worship a piece of bread. Better to worship the bit of plaster! Oh, but you don’t understand that is not simply bread, it is the Bread come down from heaven, it is the Lord Jesus who commanded us to eat His flesh and drink His Blood. I invite you to look up the Eucharistic Miracle of Buenos Aires on YouTube, or to get the book “Unseen” by Ron Tesoriero and Lee Han. We are not idolaters because we bend the knee only to the Lord. You may think that we bend the knee to a statue or even a piece of Bread, but you couldn’t be more wrong.
There is another kind of idolatry much more pernicious than the religious art that you so look down on. It is a particularly modern kind of idolatry. How often have you heard someone say, “I cannot believe in a god who would allow the Holocaust or who would forbid me to marry whomever I will and as often as I will. I cannot believe in a god who will not give what I want or who allows human suffering. I refuse to believe in a god who is father and not mother.” Perhaps most challenging is to believe in the God of the Old Testament who ordered the slaughter of every individual of the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 20:16, 17) “Completely destroy them, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.”
I hear you say, How could God demand this? Such a god would be evil!At the same time I have heard people say that they could not believe in a god who would forgive a Stalin or a Hitler. Have you become the judge of God? Will you forbid God his infinite Justice and Mercy? Will you make a god to your own specification? Will you carve out a god who takes his orders from you? It is an idolatry far worse than a statue or picture. It is a cancer of the heart and mind that deforms the image of God which was forged in the human person at the dawn of time.
Be very careful of accusing others of idolatry when you carry false gods in your heart and mind.  By the way, the abominations that merited the utter destruction of the seven nations, was the ritual sacrifice of children. These are the only nations in history whose extinction God commanded. It seems that the murder of children for economic well being is cause for Heaven’s greatest wrath. As an American, I am just a little afraid that God really does order the destruction of whole nations for certain crimes, especially those against children.
Yours nervously,

Rev. Know-it-all