I was reading Father Z’s blog today when I was ensnared by the plight of one of his somewhat regular commenters. This is the post. Reading the original question, I assumed the asker was an older reader who is a bit overenthusiastic about one of the most tempting ways to solve the problem of a priest who simply won’t say Mass properly: drop books on his head until it’s the right way again. In this case, it was Redemptionis Sacramentum, which was a wonderfully promising Church document which essentially said, “No, really, you can’t do this. And this. And this other thing too; that’s really messed up.” It really is a tempting solution, because of course a priest will instantly change his ways once he realizes that he’s making baby Jesus cry. Wouldn’t anybody? Nope, because priests who don’t care about the rules in the first place won’t care when the rules are placed in front of them again. Why should they? For decades, the only people who got punished were traditionalists who flouted Rome. The progressives who flouted Rome got promotions, tenure, and lucrative dioceses. Oh yeah, they got “letters,” too. More words to ignore. Who cares? They knew the Vatican might bark at the moon, but would never, never bite them.
Then I read the comments.
“The sad thing is, I (the reader concerned) am considering leaving my parish. There are a few priests. It’s like a lottery. One priest is OK-ish but I usually never ‘get him’. The others are not. I leave Mass angry and upset. Why’s it so hard to just say the black and do the red? How about giving such a priest one of Fr. Z’s mugs?
The really upsetting thing is that this is affecting my progress in holiness. I’m not making any. The abuses are so widespread and intolerable, it is just such a joke. And this is Ireland I’m talking about, btw.
What gets me Father Z is this: we can read your blog, we all know what’s wrong and what needs to be done, but on the ground, outside the blogosphere, it’s like we all just have to pretend it’s still 1970. So much of what you’ve posted on your blog applies to my parish. Well, we don’t have puppets.”
He is just a kid from Ireland. Just a kid, a teenager, wanting to do something to know that he isn’t helpless in the face of abuse. You know how the world, and the Church, is obsessed with youth, their vitality, their energy, their creativity, their ability to effect change, move mountains, alter the course of civilization? This kid wants to do that. He wants to start with his own parish, his own priest, to help change the Masses at which he assists so that they may be worship suitable and pleasing to God, according to the laws of His Church. AND HE FEELS LIKE HE CAN’T DO THAT. All that power and vitality and energy of youth is being squashed, squandered, and might even result in it being snuffed. Kids stuck in parishes where he is, and where I used to be, are being spiritually stunted, and when they try to do something about it, they are faced with the harsh reality that there’s nothing they can do. Well, there are things they can do – write to the pastor, write to the bishops, write to Rome – but if that all comes to naught, then the frustration is unrelieved.
G.K. Chesterton wrote that children love moralizing. It’s true. There is something infinitely comforting about knowing what is right and what is wrong, and knowing that bad actions will be punished, and good actions will be rewarded. It lets people breathe easier, behave better, and generally keep their heads up, preserve hope in their hearts, and believe that much more firmly in the unseen system of justice and mercy which is meted out by God. I don’t mean when kids whine about how something isn’t fair, or tattle each other. I’m not exactly sure why parents squash those actions out of their children with the vehemence it is sometimes done – other than that whining is despicable in anyone and it’s annoying to be called out on inconsistency by a little slip of a child. It’s a question I’ve had for a very long time. When I was a child, I was desperate to know that there was rhyme and reason in life. What I knew was chaos, because I didn’t understand, because I was rarely given a chance to understand. Granted, there’s probably a lot that would have been way over my head – very serious reasons why some siblings got special treatment, for example. However, the basic, howling question was “WHY aren’t other people punished for doing bad things?” This question haunted me at home when I was very young, at school very deeply for many years, and has reached new tornadoes of emotion ever since I applied it to the realm of Catholic life. I know for me at least I got my just desserts whenever I was naughty (and sometimes even when I wasn’t, in the case of the traumatic frosting incident). I needed to know that there were rules, and that once the rules are in place, no one is above the rules. There can be rule changes and different rules for different people/situations as needed, but CONSISTENCY and ACCOUNTABILITY were what I sought most fervently.
The world has gone insane because the basic system of justice and mercy is completely broken on every level. I’m not talking about behavior that will get its final judgment after we’re all dead. That’s for God to sort out, and thank goodness that it is. I suppose I ought to bring this back down to the heart of my point. Catholicism. Young people need structure. In many homes and lives these days, it is completely distorted. Too much structure, and you create many people unable to think for themselves, who can do little more than follow instructions, slaves to the schedule and pattern, who may not truly love what they do because, since they know no other way, they have not been able to judge it precious. In essence, you incubate the diseases prevalent in Catholics in the decades before Vatican II. Too little structure… I think we all can see the destructive results of that.
Now more people every day are becoming aware of Church teachings, falling ever more in love with the regulations God has set forth like bed railings so we don’t all fall out and become prey to the Lava Monster in the carpet, seeing and understanding the beauty and freedom inherent in the laws of the Church, not just for liturgy but for life itself and all aspects of it, from canon law to the Theology of the Body to the Precepts of the Church all the way back to the Ten Commandments and then soaring ahead to the Greatest Commandment. We recognize these rules as good. We strive to live by them. We hold ourselves accountable, as much as we can. But also, we are our brother’s keeper. We must teach the ignorant, and if that doesn’t solve the problem, we must admonish the sinner – or, at least, the person with the proper jurisdiction according to the Church’s principles of subsidiary must admonish the sinner. And if admonishing does not solve the problem, we must – as merciful, just Christians – prevent that sinner from harming others.
But the prevailing trend is to be demoralized at every turn. Too often it seems as though everything evil has free rein to prance around in victory while all that is good is bound and gagged in a locked closet. Just look at the difference between Father Hans Kung and Father Robert Altier. Fr. Kung is a heretic. Technically, he is silenced – however, he continues to be published, continues to teach ecumenical theology, and continues to go around the country on lecturing tours. Fr. Altier, on the other hand, is unwaveringly orthodox, and has produced perhaps the finest set of adult catechesis videos on the market. Technically, there are no sanctions against him, nothing as formal as silencing anyway – however, he was stripped of his position, exiled to ministering to a nursing home*, banned from the radio, instructed to stop publishing his homilies online, and forbidden to give lectures anywhere. It’s easy to say, “Well, it’ll all get sorted out in the next life.” That’s true. It will all get sorted out then. But that’s not an excuse for anyone to be derelict in their duty to uphold the truth and prevent innocent souls from being caught in the spray of bullets.
Young people are no longer leaving the Church to become Protestant or Buddhist and such anymore; they leave to become nothing. If no one is enforcing the rules, then they must not be important, conclude the lazy thinkers – so they go somewhere that doesn’t have those rules, so they won’t feel guilty not following them. The strong thinkers are convinced that the rules ARE important – and then cannot for the LIFE of them figure out why the people who should know the rules the best, love the rules the best, and thus be most willing to defend and enforce those rules, do not do so! It is a horrible thing which produces massive amounts of painful, rage-inducing, frustrating cognitive dissonance. The zeal of youth burns hot and bright, and if it is not given something constructive to do, it will burn up youth itself.
The situation presents itself as one of hopelessness – if the men who devote their whole lives to doing God’s work, who take on the role of our spiritual fathers, do not set an example of structure and discipline for us their children, then we have nothing to hope for on earth. This is not limited to the hierarchy lest anyone think I may be picking on them too much. Where was Catholic truth when I was being taught the sacraments and “Christian Justice” (it was not for nothing that our teacher never called it by its official title, preferring instead “Social Justice,” which I more accurately rendered as “Social[ist] [In]justice”) by a flaming heretic, who, by the way, had a Master’s Degree in Divinity from an Ivy League school? Where was Catholic truth when I was being taught physics and “feminism” by a heretic nun? Where was Catholic truth when hundreds of kids and I were brought up in all sorts of hideous liturgical abuses and aberrations in our grade schools, our high schools, and our parishes? It’s still in the world, of course, still there in the fact that Jesus is truly present in the validly confected Blessed Sacrament. But we didn’t know it. We weren’t taught it. We couldn’t tell it was there. Fortunately there has been, at least at my two former schools, a lot of cleanup, and the work continues. But still the drumbeat of Kumbayah thuds on, and it seems as though nothing is being done.
Obviously there are things going on. Tiny threads of hope, borne from validation and reinforcement that someone, somewhere, cares enough to be effective, hold our poor, battered, bleeding spirits above the surface of the black waves of utter despair. Sometimes new threads are tied, and we are better secured. Other times threads snap, and we lurch downwards sickeningly.
The Church is desperate to hold on to the young people. It is the consistency, accountability, and the properly-administered mixture of justice and mercy that are the hallmarks of a deep, burning love for God, and more specifically in this case for Christ and His Church, that will show to the world and especially the young people that Catholics are serious about this, that Catholicism holds treasures so valuable that we will die for them, and we will stop others from defiling them. It is the sense that no wrongdoing is destructive enough to be stopped that leaves people with the impression that nothing can be that precious, and it is that example which makes people leave, because there’s nothing worth while to keep hold of anyway.
*Yes, I understand that nursing homes need good and holy priests there too, but let’s not kid ourselves – priests are often sent to the boonies in an effort to make them disappear.