Epistles to the "Enemy": I
Mike Hardy of Enemy of the Church?
is curious as to my motives for participation in the message board of the self-proclaimed reform group Voice of the Faithful
. He shall have his answer in two parts, the first of which is today.
What follows is the first of two essays that were posted on that board, with copies sent to the officers and media contacts of the VOTF. Keep in mind that this was written two and a half months ago:
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WHOSE VOICE? WHICH FAITHFUL?? WHAT VISION???
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Though all the winds of doctrine
were let loose to play upon the earth,
so Truth be in the field,
we do ingloriously, by licensing and prohibiting,
to misdoubt her strength.
Let her and Falsehood grapple;
who ever knew Truth put to the worse,
in a free and open encounter?
(from Milton's Areopagitica
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May 23 2002 (Whit Thursday)
Greetings in Christ!
I wish to extend my gratitude to the leadership of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF)
, for the willingness to resurrect this bulletin board. It is not necessary to allow one person to ruin this experience for others. To that end, I am pleased that measures are put into place to permit this vehicle of discourse to continue.
My thanks to Terry McKiernan of the VOTF Steering Committee, for his kind words in response to my post to him, which forms the basis for what appears below. The demands on his time (which I understand include leading a related effort called "Parish Voice") are such that he is apparently unable to respond to my concerns at any length. I trust he will forgive me if I avail myself of this medium, and bring those concerns to the larger body. Copies of this post are being sent to him, and to each of the officers of VOTF.
I pledge to engage the matter at hand, within the limits of prudence and charity -- Deo volente
-- following the example of the Saints. I will take on all who challenge me in this forum, as time allows, and in the manner in which I see fit. (When replying to me, please do not feel obliged to include the entire text of my post. Simply delete the non-relevant portions, and comment on what remains. The habits of a few of us are already making for very tedious reading.)
Most important, in presenting my case here, nothing that I say can possibly be construed, as making light of the tragedy that has befallen the victims of such heinous and sinful acts.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for me....
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I have been reading with much interest the news of the scandals in Boston, and the response by members of the local faithful to establish VOTF. I have reviewed the working paper entitled "The Problem and Our Vision." Of particular interest is their call to represent those views of both the so-called "left" and the so-called "right." Further, and if I understand correctly, they have also called for a more "democratic" form of church governance.
The first thing that concerns me, is their comparison of the Church to a political entity, both by the above, and by such terminology as "left," right," "liberal," "moderate," "conservative," and "democratic." The Church is not some political or ideological institution. When the Scriptures refer to Her as "the Body of Christ," that is not some quaint metaphor, but a reference to Her essential nature as an organic reality. The Church is a Bride being prepared for Her Bridegroom, manifesting Herself as a communion of souls on pilgrimage to Heaven. The Church is a Body -- with Christ, not a committee, as the Head.
I submit that the leadership of VOTF must understand the above, and render such understanding in their proposals, if they are to effect any change. The evidence for my claim can be found in the pages of the Scriptures themselves, and in two millennia of the history of the Church.
Compare this to their curious model of choice -- a mere two centuries of secular government.
Have any of the VOTF leadership taken the time to review an honest presentation of Church history? To do so is to discover that every reform of the Church not only involved the laity, but demanded personal reform -- that is, repentance of one's sins, recourse to the Mass and the Sacraments, and through their graces, amending one's life. (Some of you will please forgive me if that sounds too quaint.) It required faithfulness to the teachings of the Church, and to that teaching authority found in the Magisterium. It required reverence toward the priestly office, even when those who bore it lost respect for it themselves. It required loyalty to the Chair of Peter, irrespective of the strength or weakness of the man sitting in that Chair at the time.
This point has not been lost, even within the ranks of the secular press:
"In studying the long history of Catholicism, one realizes that as bad as things are, they have been worse before. And yet the Church survives because the life of faith, in a man or in a people, is an unpredictable thing. As Monsignor Albacete recently told me, 'If, in addition to all the terrible things we have learned, if tomorrow it was revealed that the pope had a harem, that all the cardinals had made money on Enron stock and were involved in Internet porno, then the situation of the Church today would be similar to the situation of the Church in the late twelfth century ... when Francis of Assisi first kissed a leper.' Saints, not bishops, will remake the face of the Church, and the making of saints is God's work. It would be wonderful indeed if every bishop were a saint. But the current crisis could have been avoided if the bishops had merely remembered they were human beings." (Michael Sean Winters, The New Republic
, May 6 2002, URL:
I find any attempt to understand what I have presented above, to be conspicuously lacking, in the "vision" of an organization that presumes to appeal to those to whom it refers as "conservatives." What is it they intend to "conserve"?
The VOTF would dare call upon us to "keep the faith, change the church." What is their basis for that demand? The Second Vatican Council was first and foremost a call to holiness, a call to conversion, but we have already seen a great deal of change. How well have we handled that change? Do the recent scandals provide us with an answer? Is it the Church that needs changing, or is it us? And, finally, the bottom line: Is there a problem with too little change, or not enough saints?
Do we examine ourselves, as much as we examine others? If we did, would we be surprised at what we might find?
I will give you an example. There was a recent "Mass for healing" in Wellesley, Massachusetts, that was reported in the Catholic press, which included laypeople bestowing ashes on the foreheads of congregants at the beginning of the Mass. This occured at a time other than on Ash Wednesday. I would suggest that this was a confusing misappropriation of symbols, and sets a bad precedent, both inside and outside the sanctuary.
Why is this of any significance? Consider the centrality of the liturgy in Catholic life. Consider also, that by such misappropriation, we become accustomed to making things mean what we want them to mean. Now, extend such an attitude in other areas of the life of the Church -- like telling parents of a victim of sexual abuse to accept a monetary settlement for "the good of the Church." Such things have happened.
And now, a little reality check...
"Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.... Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority."
(Vatican II, Sanctosacrum Concilium
That's right, everybody. Vatican II said it, and you read it here -- perhaps for the first time!!!
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (yes, we are still allowed to call it that), as handed down and regulated by the Church, has a power of its own, beyond a particular time, place, or private group setting. When we celebrate Mass, we do so, in the words of the Roman Canon, "in union with the whole Church" -- not just with our personal faith community, and not just for our particular cause or ideology. For we are not only composed of those here on Earth (the Church Militant), but those who came before us -- be they in Purgatory (the Church Suffering), or among the Saints in Heaven (the Church Triumphant).
The attitude that concerns me can be found in other areas as well. Many of us have very little trouble voting for persons in public office, who are committed to "a woman's right to choose" the killing of an unborn child. If such public figures are Catholic, it does not affect us adversely to see them appearing with the local bishop at fundraisers, gladhanding in front of the camera. We can rationalize their public stance as "just a personal opinion," or "separation of church and state" (a term mentioned nowhere in the Bill of Rights). Yet we are shocked when the same bishop does not behave in a manner consistent with what he proclaims from the pulpit. Why?
Father Joseph Wilson, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, has put the need to emphasize the big picture very bluntly: "As the Bishops of our country make their way to Dallas for their June meeting, the eyes of the country will be on them because of the sexual abuse scandal. How selective we are in our scandals. As horrific as the abuse situation is, it is but one of several areas of crisis, and those who are expressing astonishment at the response of the bishops to the abuse scandal should stop and think carefully about their response to the rest of the crises. It will become quickly clear that the sterling virtue of the bishops is their consistency."
They are not alone. And the good Father does not stop there: http://www.cruxnews.com/wilson/052102.html
To those who would take exception to such mobilization as that which oversees this forum, I would remind them that the Church recognizes that the faithful have a right -- indeed, the duty -- to voice their concerns to the sacred pastors of the Church. (http://www.voiceofthefaithful.org/canonlaw&laity.html
) This is not some hare-brained post-conciliar concept: "There being an imminent danger for the faith, prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects. Thus, Saint Paul, who was a subject of Saint Peter, questioned him publicly on account of an imminent danger of scandal in a matter of Faith. And, as the Glosa of Saint Augustine puts it (Ad Galatas 2,14), 'Saint Peter himself gave the example to those who govern so that if sometime they stray from the right way, they will not reject a correction as unworthy even if it comes from their subjects'." (Saint Thomas Aquinas, from the Summa Theologica
) Indeed, no less a figure than John Henry Cardinal Newman said of the laity: "The Church would look foolish without them."
That having been said, there is a right way to go about this, and the leadership of VOTF, for reasons already stated above, leave more questions than answers in their "working paper." Saint Catherine of Siena, in her stern letters to the Pope exiled in Avignon, was not above referring to the clerics around him as "wolves and sellers of the divine grace." But those same letters make no mistake as to where her devotion and loyalty rests. The leaders of VOTF do not appear to advocate wholesale abandonment of Church teaching outright. On the other hand, their apparent naivete concerning the nature of the Church make them easy prey for those who do. Thus would be the cause of their downfall.
There is a solution, and it begins from within. I submit to all present that the leadership of VOTF must recognize this in time for their national meeting this July, if that meeting is to accomplish anthing. Those who read this who wish to start now, may wish to avail themselves of a handy guide published on the Internet, entitled "How Not to Lose Your Faith During the Present Crisis." It is put together by an Indiana writer named Michael Dubruiel. It can be found here:
If the title does not appear upon opening, kindly scroll down the weblog until you reach the entry for Monday, May 06, 2002. On the way down the page, you will discover that Dubruiel has co-authored a well-timed book entitled From Scandal to Hope
with Father Benedict Groeschel. It will be published by Our Sunday Visitor in June 2002. Father Groeschel is familiar to viewers of EWTN. The order he founded, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, dedicate their lives to work among the urban poor, and the call to personal reform. A licensed clinical psychologist, Groeschel has had this to say concerning the current crisis:
"Does this shake your faith in the Church? I hope so, because ultimately your faith should not be in the Church, ultimately. Ultimately our faith is in Jesus Christ, and we accept the Church. We support the Church. We belong to the Church because Christ established the Church.
"Somebody who belongs to the Church as a big organization, as a great philanthropic thing or the great social catalyst or whatever else you want to think, they're going to be badly shaken. They may get out.
"But we belong to the Church as the crucified body of Jesus Christ. If the Church is the body of Christ, don't be surprised that it's crucified. Don't be surprised that it's dragged through the streets and spat upon and wounded and crowned with thorns. That's what’s going on right now.
"The Church is the body of Christ, and when you love the Church, you should love it as the body of Christ.
"Our dear Holy Father on Good Friday wrote this: 'In the acute pain of the suffering servant, we hear already the triumphant cry of the risen Lord.' Christ on the cross is the King of the new people, ransom from the burden of sin and death, however twisted and confused the course of history may appear. We know that by walking in the footsteps of the crucified we shall attain to that goal. Amid the conflicts of a world dominated by selfishness and hatred, we as believers are called to proclaim the victory of love. Today, Good Friday, we testify to the victory of Christ crucified.
"Not so long ago, the Catholic Church seemed to be very triumphant. I lived through those days at the end of the council. The Church seemed to be very powerful, and I’ve lived to see the mystical body of Christ crucified, betrayed, attacked, abandoned by the frightened apostles. And we’re all part of it. We're all part of it. Don't ever exempt yourself. I reproach myself every day that unwittingly I went along and stupidly I got involved in things that ultimately did not serve the Church or Christ so well.
"Turn to Christ."
(from the weblog of Michael Dubruiel at http://michaeldubruiel.blogspot.com/
Read the book. He gets better.
To those who would use the recent troubles to dissent from or attack Church teaching and practice, I dare you to come down from the safety of your ivory towers, where you flourish unchallenged, and present your views here, in a setting which (we can only hope) is a level playing field. But be advised of what I mean by a LEVEL playing field.
If you come across a building or a fence that you wish to tear down, it is only reasonable to first determine why it is there to begin with. Gilbert K Chesterton, the English Catholic writer of the early 20th century, used examples such as this to refer to tradition as "the democracy of the dead." In the standard criterion of a debate, the onus is not upon the status quo, but upon the challenger. To operate otherwise, is an injustice to those who would be fully informed for their journey of faith. Whether they realize it or not, people have a right to know what it is to which they are objecting.
Our Lord lost most of his followers when he told them what they didn't want to hear (John 6:35-69). The problem, then, is less the existence of debate in the Church, than that it is not an honest one. What kind of debate will we contend with here?
You may ask at this point, who am I?
I am nobody important, nor do I intend to be. The easiest thing in the world is to dismiss the likes of me, in favor of the agenda fostered by the outspoken among so-called "reform" groups, seeking what they imagine to be "power." Nor will my life be less complete without a spread in a major newsmagazine.
You may also ask, am I a victim of clerical sexual abuse?
No, nor do I have to be. I was once, as a young man, placed in danger of such a tragedy occuring. But that is a story for another time.
I can assure you that, should I be dismissed, my life will go on as it has, and do very well without ever attending a VOTF event. For that life does not revolve around the ideological harangues which seem to preoccupy certain incumbents of parish church committees. Amidst the excitement and the hum-drum, the joys and the sorrows, I am a sinner. I remain within the Church for one reason and one only -- because, if I have any hopes of spending eternity in heaven after this short time on earth, I have nowhere else to go. She is my Mother, my Teacher, my Guide. If She is sick, and fallen into ruin, I will tend to Her. I will assist in binding Her wounds, polishing the jewels in Her crown, and preparing Her once again for the Bridegroom.
This I will do, in the comings and goings of my daily life. This I will do, with or without the affiliation of those who aspire to be the "voice of the faithful."
I look forward to hearing from all of you. Oremus pro invicem.
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Why Do I Remain In The Church?
Because it is the only chance to escape from oneself, from this curse of one's importance, of one's own gravity, from the role which is identified with my own person, so that if I lost my role I would end up falling in love with my person: to escape from all this without becoming estranged from man, because God has become man, not in a vacuum but in the community of the Church. I do not doubt for a moment that God's incarnation is intended for all men and that he is sufficiently God in order to reach all whom he will. But he has set up, in the middle of the history of humanity with all its terrors and hells, a marriage bed, splendid and untouchable -- it is portrayed in the Song of Songs -- and even the endless problems of the Church cannot create a fog so thick that it cannot from time to time be penetrated by the light of love which shines from the saints: a love which is naive, which cannot be taken over and built into any program.
There are vocations in which men are called into the sphere of the fire. They always demand the whole person. Those who have said "no" remain marked. They burn, but they become cynical and destructive, they smell each other out and hold together. It makes no matter whether they officially leave the Church or remain within her. Anyone with some facility for discerning spirits can recognize them.
It is up to me, up to us, to see that the Church comes closer to that which in reality she is.
(Hans Urs von Balthasar, from Elucidations
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