Sunday, June 26, 2016

When we were too cool to be pious...

So, in the quest to figure out why so few, especially young people believe this stuff we have already seen one major reason: there are not that many young people due to artificial birth control.  Perhaps, the larger reason is we clergy. Again, there are many of the clergy, especially those who remained in the business, who are devout and exemplary. The problem is that we were taught to despise traditional piety. The devotional life of the faithful was made an object of mockery. I never once saw a priest/professor in my seminary days on his knees in chapel, except perhaps old Father George, a sort of old fashioned fossil.  We were not taught to be pious and so we were impious. We laughed at the things of long ago.

I have a wonderful book. It is hilarious. It is blasphemous. I am sure it is no longer in print. It is titled “St. Fidgetta and other Parodies.” It was published by an avant garde Catholic magazine. One part of it is titled, “The Moist Heart, a Compendium of Devotions.” One of the prayers in this mocking parody reads. “O Sweet Fidgetta, smallest candle on the sugar cake of eternity…” And so the piety of the simple was mocked and we the aspiring clergy were taught to laugh at the faithful. To this day, mention, Eucharistic Miracles, Weeping Icons, Healings, many clergy will roll their eyes or move on to another topic pretty quickly.

Fr. Brannigan of St. Armadillo’s once told me that there are only two types of people in the church, not conservative or liberal, but those who believe in supernatural realities and those who don’t.  Some priests go to the altar and claim every day to turn bread and wine into flesh and blood, and then they sneer at reports of visions and miracles. We were taught to believe in Christ as Christ the Reformer, Christ the Social Activist, Christ the Sandal wearing Long Haired Hippie. Never just in Christ.

I remember endless chatter about the Christ Figure in literature. Billy Bud, Cool Hand Luke, the protagonist in Easy Rider, just about anyone in the professor’s favorite movie or novel was a Christ figure. Again, this was perhaps only my experience in the seminary here in Frostbite Falls, but I suspect the same cynicism prevailed in some other places too. We were told that we didn’t really have to believe all this stuff literally, so we told people that they really don’t have to believe it either, and guess what? They stopped believing it.  Why are we surprised?  We, the clergy, or at least me the clergy were told to put more “pizzazz” in our sermons.  One would think that more truth would ultimately be a better thing.  I suppose to be fair, the whole thing was a reaction to the arrogance of the Church of the 50’s, but really, is it a reaction that we want?

I may sound like someone who wants to turn the clock back, but don’t be mistaken. I am going to make a frank admission. Though I taught Latin for 25 years, though I say the Latin Mass once a month, though I think that Mass facing the people is liturgically peculiar, I still like the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary form, the new Mass or whatever we are calling it this week. I like praying in my first language which happens to be English. I just wish that the celebrants would realize that this is the Mass of the Latin Rite pf the Roman Catholic Church and not the Father What’s-His-Name Show.

Do it by the book! Which of course assumes that you are facing the Lord with the people for a large hunk of the Mass. The Mass, Father, is not your vehicle of self-expression. Forget the Pizzazz. Give them the Lord. In my long years of priesthood, I have come to realize that the people are a lot holier than I am. Their devotions are the very essence of the Catholic faith. The candles, the prayer beads, the icons, the bread, the wine, the oil, the incense, the stained glass, these are all things that speak to the human heart and the mind as well.

Art in the twentieth century was meant to shock, to shock people from their bourgeois complacency and we having dumped St. Thomas Aquinas for Sartre and Marx thought that shocking art was true art. Humanity is hungry for beauty, especially poor humanity. The beautiful old gothic or Romanesque church was the palace of the poor.  We gave them spaceships from the planet ugly, because it was good for them, something that would bring them into the modern age. Beauty is quite possibly one proof for the existence of God, we did our level best in our ugly liturgies and ugly churches to prove that God did not exist, and you know what? They believed us. 

I was better than the simple in the land; the truth is that I was simply arrogant. The simplest of the faithful turns out to have been far wiser than the theologian.  They have loved God. We were taught to talk about God, never to Him. As I have already said perhaps my experience was aberrant, but I suspect that it was not.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Seminary days... Oh the memories... Oh the blasphemies...

Maybe you think I am insufferably cynical, or judgmental. I condemn myself. I was part of it all. I was there. I saw it all unfold. Even from my childhood, I remember the heated arguments my older brothers and sisters had with my father at the Sunday dinner table. I remember my sister who was adamantly Catholic refusing to use the pill despite her husband’s adamant disbelief. I think that her marriage survived only because my sister had the good sense to die young after her five children were mostly grown. People are foolish enough to think that domestic servants and children are deaf. They are not. I was not. I watched the faith begin to wither in the materialism of the 1950’s and finally to succumb in the hedonism of the late 1960’s.

I genuinely believe that Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” was the defining watershed of the death of the West and of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. Artificial birth control and the subsequent sexual revolution were the cause célèbre of the seminary in which I was educated. I remember the ranking moral theologian teaching us about “epichaia,” the moral principle by which one could be faithful to the intention of the lawgiver, rather than to the exact wording of the law. You tell a bunch of adolescent boys that if they understood the intention of the lawgiver they needn’t exactly follow the law. Bedlam resulted.

In particular, this great moral light taught us how to help people think their way around the prohibition against artificial birth control. He carefully and regularly explained that full consent of the will and full knowledge are required in the commission of a mortal sin, and who when they have raging hormones, ten children and a pushy spouse can really have freedom of the will? At most it would be only a venial sin. A group of adolescent males recovering from the scrupulous era of the 1950’s heard “good sins and bad sins” instead of “venial sins and mortal sins.”

So it was that we were released slowly but surely from the idea that we were bound to obey any moral authority other than our own adolescent brilliance. Humanae Vitae, liturgical law, moral law, the truth of Sacred Scriptures, good sense, were all second to the freedom of personal conscience, and of course a bunch of twenty-year-olds were all moral and philosophical geniuses. What adolescent doesn’t know infinitely more than his parents and teachers? Then they set us loose on the world.

It was an age of impiety. Perhaps mine was the only seminary in which this was true, but morality and piety were simply signs of immaturity. After 1969, there were no rules. We didn’t have to get out of bed in the morning or go to bed at night. There were drugs everywhere. It was the sixties.  Of the priests who prepared me for the priesthood about twenty left the priesthood. One would come back to school after vacation wondering who had left the priesthood over the summer. Those who remain were and are good and holy men. I am not sure if it was funny or sad or both, but I remember a Scripture teacher, a priest who never wore clerical clothing, who thought it was all just poetic nonsense. He ended the school years with a dramatic reading of the Song of Songs, as interpreted by him and a certain nun. The professor was a little bald fellow with a comical mustache and a thick south side (of Frostbite Falls) accent. 

“Duh flowers appear on duh eart’.  Duh season of singing has come, the cooing of duh dove is hoid in duh land.”  

He ran off with the nun about two weeks after the dramatic reading. 

I remember one priest professor who organized an annual obscenely named party mocking the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in which we apparently no longer believed.  We were encouraged to be creative about morning and evening prayer, and not to be shackled by the regular Breviary that priests were expected to use for prayer. I remember one evening prayer service in chapel which consisted of the playing of the entire sound track of the Wizard of OZ. Morning and evening prayer ended when a young man as part of an “Easy Rider” themed morning prayer, did a motorcycle “wheelie” on his Harley Hog up the main aisle of the chapel. It certainly woke us all up. I cannot remember morning prayer or evening prayer being held again after that.

At one point the more progressive wing of the student body decided that traditional music would no longer be sung at Mass, that is when we were still going to Mass. They came into the chapel armed with kazoos. Hearing “Tantum Ergo” played on a kazoo is definitely an interesting experience. The faculty acquiesced and we started singing non-religious songs at Mass, such songs as Today while the Blossoms Still Cling to the Vine” (It was religious. It mentioned “wine.”) By that time, the inmates were clearly running the asylum. Another chapel incident sticks out in my mind. We all regularly received Holy Communion in the hand, though at the time it was forbidden, and usually the paten and the cup were passed around. Everyone took Communion instead of receiving it. This had the desired effect of ending the notion of the consecrated hands of the priest.

Cardinal Cody was coming for a visit and the great moral lights of the seminary faculty reminded us that were not to receive Communion in the hand when his eminence was there, but in the prescribed manner, on the tongue. You may ask “What’s wrong with that? Everyone receives in the hand now.” You are missing my point. We were actively being encouraged to rebel unless it might cause trouble for our teachers. In that case, the moral thing was to lie to authority. Piety was actively discouraged. Only a few die-hards attended daily Mass, which was a “dialogue homily, stand around the altar with ‘interesting’ bread and port wine” sort of thing.  I suspect that weeks went by without a valid Mass being said in the seminary.

As things progressed, to be curious about how to say the Breviary (the traditional daily prayers of the clergy and religious orders) was a good way to get into trouble. Excessive attendance at Mass or the public and regular recitation of the Rosary were reason for dismissal from the seminary. Excessive piety was a danger sign of an unstable and reactionary mind.

In all honesty, things are immeasurably better now. Seminarians are once again encouraged to pray, but the damage had been done. Almost two generations of priests were taught that traditional piety was immature and even wrong. We were made to sneer at the simple faith and devotion that had for centuries sustained the culture and the Church. We were taught that the moral thing was to destroy the values and customs of the past. And we were remarkably successful. The Church in Europe and the Americas is a shadow of itself. The real horror was that we were taught to think our way around sin. If I can think my way around one sin I can think my way around any sin. And believe me, we, the clergy, have thought our way around a lot of sins.

How many have rejected Christ and the Church because I and some of my fellows, Christ’s ambassadors in the world, have failed to be holy or even to risk appearing excessively pious?

Next week: more to come

Sunday, June 12, 2016

RKIA on materialsim and the decline in religious observance

I had the privilege of teaching dead languages to comatose seminarians for many years at the seminary of Bathsheba Bible College. There I had the even greater privilege of working with Fr. Stanley, a renowned old professor. Once at lunch in the faculty dining room he sighed and said, “The collapse of western civilization is going to be very inconvenient.”  
He sure had that right. Anyone who is paying attention has a feeling of imminent collapse all around us. The Diocese of Frostbite Falls sure seems to be on a toboggan slide to insignificance. So how did it all happen?  (Keep in mind that I am an inveterate curmudgeon descended from a long line of pessimists, and am quite possibly absolutely wrong or at least over simplifying things.) I suppose things have been unravelling since the Thirty-Years War, the French Revolution and the invention of processed cheese spread, but I want to talk about the part of the Great Unravelling that I remember. I noticed it with the coming of artificial birth control. I grew up in a small town of big houses where the Catholics came to breed. A family of seven kids was pretty standard back then. Then, in July of 1961, in the heart of beautiful downtown Skokie, Illinois, the Searle Company began the manufacture and sale of the oral contraceptive, or as the Singing Nun called it in her ballad, “…the little golden pill.”  
I was born just four short years after the end of the Second World War. The 1950’s were all about consumerism. Like Scarlet O’Hara in the movie, “Gone with the Wind” the entire country shook its fist at heaven and said with one voice, “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!!”  1929 to 1949 were pretty hungry years in the USA and the world in general, first the Great Depression then the World War (Part 2) with its rationing of food and luxury goods. This was followed by the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. At the same time, we had the post-war housing shortage and the BABY BOOM. There were a lot of soldiers who had spent years overseas thinking about the girls they’d left back home. When the soldiers were repatriated they could do a lot more than dream. The post-war baby boom peaked around 1948 and stayed pretty high for around the next 10 years and then the birth rate in America started to plummet and continued to plummet until recently when it seems to have levelled off, well at least to be dropping more slowly, if not quite a plummet. All those new houses in the suburbs, all those babies, all those returning soldiers who wanted to give their families the luxuries they swore they would never do without if they could just get back home. 

The 1950’s and sixties were a glorious era of consumerism. I believe the Age of Materialism started in the Wars; First, Second, Korean, Cold, and Vietnam. The Cold War with its McCarthy Era Anti-Communist witch hunts and the Vietnam War with its hippie backlash created a kind of fashionable Marxism which Hollywood is still infected, along with most institutions of higher learning. (And you’re hearing this from and old hippie who actually studied the Communist Manifesto and carried around the little book of the “Sayings of Chairman Mao”. I would actually get a bit weepy when watching documentaries about union organizing.) 

Don’t forget that Marxism is a materialist religion. It denies the existence of supernatural reality. Reality is what you can get your hands on. Forget “pie in the sky when you die,” as warns an anthem of the Industrial Workers of the World written by Joe Hill, an early union organizer.

Long-haired preachers come out every night, tell you what's wrong and what's right.  But when asked how 'bout something to eat, They will answer in voices so sweet,

You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky
Work and pray, live on hay You'll get pie in the sky when you die

And the Starvation Army, they play And they sing and they clap and they pray
Till they get all your coin on the drum Then they tell you when you're on the bum

Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out And they holler, they jump and they shout
Give your money to Jesus, they say He will cure all diseases today
Pope Leo XIII had a vision in which the Lord told him that the 20th century would be the Devil’s own century. It most certainly was, not just for its carnage and war. Worse than war was the murder of the human soul by the worship of pleasure and possessions that became the hallmark of the century. Left, Right and everything in the middle has come to believe in “Reality” so-called. The supernatural is just a myth. The Marxist materialist is not much different than the prosperity gospel Christian. If I don’t have it NOW, what good is it?

The highest goods are pleasure and possessions, power and position. The monasteries, convents and seminaries that created western civilization are empty because what good is self-denial?  Why deny yourself pleasure and property in this world? “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die!” (c.f.1Cor 15:32) Or as the mega church Protestants would have it, “Eat drink and be merry, because you were saved at a revival and don’t have to worry about your eternal salvation,” or as the progressive Catholic would have it, “Eat drink and be merry, and go to a lot of meetings because if there’s life after death and God and all that stuff, God would be just too nice to ever send anyone to hell.” If it ain’t here it ain’t real. Didn’t the Bible say, “Grab for all the gusto you can get!”

Now enter the little golden pill. If the greatest good one can confer on oneself and on one’s loved one is stuff, it is unwise to have too many children because who can afford all that stuff for 10 children. We now have the pill so we only need to love 1.5 children per family by giving them stuff.  Of course we want them to have the Sacraments and a little bit of religion in case there really is a God and heaven and hell, and besides, sacraments like Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion and Marriage, are wonderful rites of passage and you have a swell party and get lots of stuff.

A little religion and a lot of stuff. Heckuvadeal, no? We really like stuff and the pill made it possible to have more stuff and thus every marriage bed has become an altar for the worship of the god of stuff. What altar is complete without sacrifice? What sacrifice is offered on our beds, the altars of the god of matter, that god who confers so much wonderful stuff?  The sacrifice is children just like in the days of the god Moloch. The purpose of the pill is to prevent ovulation and thus to prevent pregnancy. It also has a secondary effect. If one of those sneaky ova get fertilized and becomes a human being despite the pill, that little, new human being will not be able to latch onto the womb of its mother and then must die, sacrificed to the god of matter just surely as a baby thrown onto the fires that burned in the belly of the Canaanite god Moloch.

The carnage wrought in the post-pill, post-abortion holocaust far exceeds the butcher’s bill of the 20th century. Just since 1980, there have been about ONE BILLION 500 MILLION abortions, far more than the entire death toll of all the wars of human history. Add to this the number of unknown abortions caused by the pill, and the god of matter must be pleased indeed. I just don’t have time or energy to talk about the objectification of women and the disrepute into which both motherhood and fatherhood have fallen because of the recreational sexuality made possible by the pill and abortion.

It is interesting to think that all this sexual chaos that is drowning us in the 21st century is, at least in part, Searle’s gift to the world.  Remember that the little golden pill was first manufactured and distributed right here in Skokie at 4901 Searle Parkway.

“History. Read it and weep.”  From the books of the Prophet Bokonon

Next week: the tirade isn’t over.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

And another thing... Thoughts on declining attendance and Religious Education

Continued from last week...

The Diocese of Frostbite Falls is actually quite large. In the greater Frostbite Falls area dwell about six million people. About 2,200,000 call themselves Catholic when asked. Of these about 400,000 are in church on a Sunday. I cannot say how many go every Sunday but 400,000 is a useful number. In 1950 more than 50 percent of Catholics went to church every Sunday. Now less than 20 percent warm the hard wooden pews. In just the past 20 years the number of those attending Sunday Mass in the diocese has fallen by about 150,000.

In the past 40 years the number of parish churches has fallen from about 450 to 350, the number of priests in parish ministry has fallen from about 1,250 to 750. There are fewer than 500 priests working in parishes currently. However the number of Masses every weekend has stayed about the same, about 1,800 to 1,600. In other words, half the priests, twice the work. We are doing a lot of strategizing on how to deal with the priest shortage and the unending financial crisis, but I really don’t ever hear anyone asking about why the Catholic faith is evaporating before our very eyes in this country when it is exploding in places like Africa, the Philippines and China. 

According to Rome Reports,

Between 2005 and 2014, Africa was the continent with the most baptisms, which created a 41 percent increase of Catholics. The number of priests has also increased by 9,000, creating a worldwide total of 416,000. In addition, the number of seminarians has increased by 2,500, creating a total of 117,000. The generational shift for priests continues to be a problem in Europe, where there are only 10 candidates per 100 priests. Meanwhile, Africa and Asia have 66 and 54 candidates for every 100.”

Why is it that Catholicism is growing everywhere but among us in Europe and her daughter countries like the USA?  All the mind-numbing statistics I have just quoted can really be reduced to just a few. For instance, in our diocese weddings have dropped from sixteen-thousand a year in 1975 to just six-thousand. Baptisms have dropped also, but not by nearly so large a percent. People are having babies and many are having them baptized. They are not, however, getting married.

Another set of numbers really stands out. Perhaps I am mistaken in my interpretation of the numbers, but it strikes me as phenomenal. There are about 89,000 children enrolled in religious education programs in Frostbite Falls from grades one to eight. After eighth grade, the number who continue in any religious education drops to around 4,300. What happens in eighth grade? Simple: Confirmation. Eighty-nine thousand kids in religious education wow!! That’s a lot of kids. That means about one in four people in church on Sunday is younger than 18!!  Wait a minute; I don’t see them in church. Do you? Maybe they are wearing disguises, or going to an earlier Mass than you do. 

That, of course, is nonsense. They are not coming to church. They stop learning about the faith and participating in the faith after they are about 13-years old. Then the number of young people drops by 85,000 to just around 4,300. They are lost to the Church and the probably to the Gospel unless they wander into a Charismatic or Baptist mega-church out in the ‘burbs. Of those 4,300, the majority are probably late confirmations. They will skedaddle as soon as the oil of confirmation can be washed from their empty heads.

I have always thought that the evidence of a successful religious education program can be determined by the number of adolescent males that come to church in July when their parents are out of town. Call that the “Reverend Know-it-all’s Religious Education Litmus Test.” If I am correct, religious education over the past 40 years has been a roaring, colossal, over-the-top failure.

All the hootenanny Masses, all the attempts to make it all relevant and exciting, all of the strategies to keep the customers back in the pews with clever gimmicks and swell choirs has been a stupefying failure. We do an October count every year during which we tally up the diminishing number of participants at Sunday Mass. Forget the October count. It is irrelevant. A more useful number would be the mean age of the active Catholics in the Diocese, and a breakdown of the congregation by age.

We will invariably initiate more programs and hire more people to deal with the problem. I have been in this line of work for 42 years. It seems that there is a new program about every three years. “Always do what you’ve always done and you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten;” or “repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results is a sure sign of insanity.”  It is insane to plunge ahead with intricate answers without ever really knowing the question.

The question is really quite simple. “Why don’t people go to the Catholic Church anymore?” 

The answer is simple. They don’t really believe any of this stuff anymore. This leads to a second question that is a bit more complex. Why don’t they believe this stuff anymore?

Next week: Take everything I say with a grain of salt.