An Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley in regards to the Seminary Investigation

 

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On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


 

Your Eminence, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley,

 

It is with a spirit of faith, hope, and love that I write this letter to you, the shepherd of all Roman Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston. During his apostolic journey to the United States, our Holy Father Pope Francis exhorted you and all of the US bishops in attendance to be “close to people”, becoming “pastors who are neighbors and servants.” Citing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Holy Father asked that you and your brother bishops be men of pastoral sensitivity, examples to the priests under your care, so that they too may “…be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, ‘by chance’ find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).

As a victim of sexual abuse and misconduct, I, like the man in the parable who was attacked by robbers, found myself stripped of all I thought they had. I thought I had security and safety within the walls of an institution dedicated to forming men after the Heart of Jesus. I thought I had trust in those in power to promptly address issues of misconduct, especially seeing how past failures in this area damaged Catholics worldwide. And lastly, I thought I had a priestly vocation—something which I have now given up in exchange for a prophetic one.

As you know, news of the abusive “Uncle Ted” McCarrick caused a firestorm among the Catholic faithful here in this country. Many of us faithful Catholics find ourselves baffled how public face of the Catholic Church in America could have gone on to enjoy a very successful episcopal career despite common knowledge among the Church and media that he was a predator. Reflecting upon the way McCarrick and other clerics with power were allowed to commit abuses and cover them up, I realized that silence was what allowed additional violence to be committed against more and more victims. And so, I decided to write about my experiences of wrongdoing, first published here by One Peter Five.

Out of courtesy, I declined to disclose the names of these seminaries I attended and faculty members guilty of misconduct, preferring to focus on the troubling issues themselves. However, as my story spread across social media, former seminarians spoke out publicly and confirmed that I was telling the truth—and went so far as to give the name of the seminary itself. It is now public knowledge that my tragic experiences took place at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary from 2010-2011, and Saint John’s Seminary from 2014-2016, the latter of which is directly under your care.

Please allow me make a few important distinctions which can hopefully help the investigation. First, my complaints regarding Saint John’s Seminary were not specifically about sexual abuse; they were about general misconduct, scandalous behavior by faculty and students, and an overall unhealthy seminary culture. Of course, such misconduct includes former seminarians engaging in sodomy and a “sexting” scandal which disturbed many of us in the house. However, should the investigation focus exclusively on the issue of sex and sex abuse, it will be a relatively easy case to dismiss. On one hand, the two seminarians were rightly expelled—but on the other hand, the sexting scandal was improperly addressed by priests on the faculty and outside the faculty alike. These two instances are not enough to address the many issues plaguing Saint John’s. Sexual misconduct is not the main problem—it is symptomatic of larger issues regarding boundary violations, immorality, and accountability.

Secondly, as I have consistently stated, my motivation for speaking out was out of a sincere love for the Catholic Church. I am not a “disgruntled seminarian”, nor am I someone who is a seminary “failure”. I received a positive vote to advance in major seminary both years; it was my free and honest decision to leave the toxic environment. I, along with others, have seen the way silence in the face of sin has allowed it to spread more pervasively. I have heard whispers that my story was “slanderous” and “dishonest”. Let it be known that I have corrected multiple news outlets in their erroneous reporting of important details to this investigation, which should testify to my claim that I care only about truth and justice—not sensationalism and embellishment. Should anyone doubt my honesty, I urge you to note how part of my testimony has already been confirmed through Pennsylvania’s recent grand jury report. Moreover, I have proof and witnesses of the misconduct at Saint John’s. In speaking the truth, I sacrificed everything– my name, my reputation, my family, my friends, potential future jobs, connections, and more. I now understand what Our Lord meant when He said “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Mt 16:25)

Thirdly, this investigation must address the disturbing reality that these allegations were only brought to the public eye precisely because they were previously ignored. As I mentioned in my story, I went through the proper channels in my attempt to address the misconduct. I brought my concerns to both my formation advisor and vocation director multiple times. There are only two options in regards to my allegations about the culture at Saint John’s Seminary —either the seminary faculty were so obtuse that these complaints went unnoticed, or worse, those in power are lying about their ignorance of my allegations. Either of these options are damning; in either scenario, those entrusted with proper leadership failed in their duty to uphold (in your words) the “moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood”, whether by sins of commission of omission.

I hereby request that the investigation focuses on three major areas:

  1.  Immoral and unprofessional misconduct by faculty and students alike, including, but not limited to:
    • “Private parties” where certain faculty members would invite an exclusive clique of seminarians into their room late at night
    • Widespread alcohol abuse, including a bachelor party hosted at the seminary in which a faculty member, drinking with seminarians until 2 a.m., fell out of his chair.
    • Allegations of grooming and its subsequent cover-up
    • A mismanagement of seminary finances
  2.  A toxic culture of fear, intimidation, and discrimination at Saint John’s Seminary
    • Bullying by certain faculty members
    • Threats of a lawsuit against those exposing the misconduct
    • Certain faculty members seen as “untouchable” and who survived over a decade of credible allegations
    • Fear from seminarians, priests, and laity of speaking out
  3.  Subsequent cover-up of such misconduct and unhealthy culture by leadership
    • The fact that my complaints—and others’—went ignored and mishandled
    • The insistent denial by leadership regarding the basis of these allegations

Since this is an open letter, I sincerely hope that anyone who is reading this who has experienced, witnessed, or heard of misconduct in regards to Saint John’s Seminary come forward—publicly or anonymously—so that additional light may shine on the darkness that has been hidden. Since coming forward, I have received dozens of messages from seminarians, former seminarians, and Catholic laity across the country. Some of these messages include their own experiences of abuse and misconduct at the hands of the Catholic Church; others include their own suspicions about Saint John’s Seminary which my testimony confirmed. Many, including priests, are afraid to speak publicly because they are afraid of the possible repercussions. Such is the culture of our Church today—those who speak truth to ecclesial power find themselves ostracized and hated.

Your Eminence, it is my sincere hope that you continue to take seriously these allegations and guide the investigation accordingly. Admittedly, I am a bit perturbed that you appointed a former member of the seminary faculty (who was on the faculty during my time at SJS) to lead this investigation. The Catholic faithful has seen how bishops policing themselves and conducting internal investigations can jeopardize the objectivity so desperately needed for the pursuit of justice. That stated, I trust in your judgment, as I know that Bishop Mark O’Connell is a true shepherd, and a man of integrity.

Although I witnessed and experienced improper behavior by those entrusted with forming men to the Catholic priesthood, I pray that others may not have a similar experience. You have my utmost support and prayers during the days ahead. May this investigation result in the light of truth and the freedom that only Truth Himself can give.

In the Sacred Heart,

John A. Monaco

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred– and not “Most Anxious”– Heart of Jesus

“O Heart of Love, I place all of my trust in You. Although I fear all things from my weakness, I hope all things in Thy goodness.”

— St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690)

 

 

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Tonight begins the novena (9-day prayer) to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Usually, I would write a whole long post on the importance of this devotion & its significance for me, but for the first time in 7 years, my energy is sapped. As I gradually get back on medication, resume therapy, & return to spiritual direction, I am honestly so exhausted. I am tired. I am broken. – Every night, before I go to sleep, I go to this little side 'altar' to the Sacred Heart. I pray. I ask for God's mercy, for His love, and lately, for His presence. I am completely numb, empty, depleted. I wish I had "words of wisdom". I wish I could piously say "I'm offering it up!" But honestly, this sucks. Mental depression, spiritual desolation, anxious obsessions– all of it sucks. But faith isn't contingent upon feelings. Faith is a trust in God even when God feels so far absent. Faith is an intellectual assent to Divine Revelation, a "Yes, Lord, I believe", even when I do not understand. There are no easy answers to suffering. There are no magic solutions to getting out of a psychological & spiritual darkness. _ All I have is His promise: "I will be with you always, even until the end of the age." (Mt 28:20) And right now, that's enough. You're all free to join me in praying a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in preparation for the Solemnity on June 8th. Pray as you are able. If you want to use the novena I'm praying, shoot me a message. _ Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all of my trust in You.

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I am convinced that one of the greatest evils in the world is the misrepresentation–the painting of a false image– of God.

If a man breaks his arm, he will surely be in pain. The pain may be quite severe, but hopefully, given the advances in medicine and technology, he will be on the path to recovery. During this time, this man can pray to God and ask for healing.

If a woman loses her father following his fight with a long illness, she will certainly be in sorrow. The pain and emotional grief may be quite serious, but hopefully, given a supportive community and counseling, she will eventually experience joy and happiness again, even if there is still a wound in her heart for her father. During this time, the woman can pray to God,  ask for His presence and for Him to mend her broken heart.

Tragedy enters. Someone commits evil. Natural disasters strike. In all of these, we turn to prayer, sometimes weakly, sometimes fervently. But what happens when the very essence of our fears is… God? How does someone pray to God when he or she is completely frightened by Him? Who does a person turn to when their image of God is so distorted, so grossly-misshapen, so twisted?

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From the very beginning of human history, attempts were made to separate God and His children by way of fear. Our first parents, Adam and Eve,  were deceived by the serpent, who tricked them into thinking that God was selfish, jealous God who didn’t want Adam and Eve to become like Him (Gen 3:4-5). In the Book of Job, Job’s friends wrongly tell Job that his suffering is due to his sinfulness, and that God is waiting for Job to repent before He offers relief. Perhaps no attempt to distort people’s perception of God was more ambitious than that of the Jansenist heresy from the 17th-19th centuries in Europe, particularly in France, Italy, and the Low Countries. Among the numerous heresies of the Jansenists, one of their chief beliefs was that Christ did not die for all, but only for an elect few. This false belief was symbolized in the crucifixes found within Jansenist churches, that of Christ on the cross with His arms stretched only narrowly. The Jansenist heresy spread like wildfire across Western Europe, distorting the faithful’s image of God as loving, gracious, patient, and kind. The Jansenist rigor also resulted in people abstaining from receiving Holy Communion– even when they were in a state of grace!

jansenist

 

It was during this terrible time that the Lord revealed Himself to a Visitation nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In contrast to the cold and distant image of the Jansenist “god”, Our Lord revealed Himself to St. Margaret Mary in a tender, loving, and merciful manner– by pointing to His Sacred Heart. He emphasized the importance of frequent reception of Holy Communion, especially on the first Friday of the month. He lamented the fact that so many reject His love and mercy, and stated His desire that Christians make acts of reparation for the ingratitude shown to the gift of the Eucharist. He offered twelve promises to those who hold a devotion to His Sacred Heart:

 

The Promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
  2. I will establish peace in their homes.
  3. I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
  4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
  5. I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners will find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
  9. I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
  10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart.
  12. I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

 

 

 

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There are some people in the world who are simply scared of God. Whether it was because of family upbringing, a poor Christian education, or simply because of mental and emotional conditions, the fact remains that a number of people have a distorted and unhealthy fear of God. Nowhere is this more painful and burdensome than in the hearts of those who suffer from scrupulosity and obsessive-compulsive disorder. For them, their “image” of God in their mind has been tainted by obsessive thoughts, fears, and darkness. God is seen as a ruthless overlord, casting down hyper-specific blueprints for this person to follow, and if they do not follow it, their soul is doomed to eternal damnation. Phrases like “God’s will” carry within it crippling anxiety, as if God’s will is the exact opposite of their deepest, holiest desires. The very act of prayer is in itself an act of faith– an assent to divine truth that, even though they do not feel Him, they believe that God is listening to them. For the scrupulous, the sacraments only brings some relief. For example, some scrupulous persons will go to Confession, and then ask themselves, “How do I know that my sins are truly forgiven?” “What if I forgot some sin?” “What if I wasn’t truly contrite?” They are in a state of grace, yet they fear that their reception of Eucharist is a sacrilege. Healthy, awe-like fear of the Lord is replaced with a nervousness the Lord would never, ever demand from them. For those who suffer from OCD, it is not enough to simply reassure them, “No, God is a God of love!” While that is true and may bring momentarily relief, the “thoughts” return with a vengeance. And so, for scrupulous and for all of those who suffer from emotional crosses, it cannot be emphasized enough that they should seek the help of medical professionals, including psychiatrists, therapists, and even medicine. As the Catholic bishops in California wrote in their recent letter, Hope and Healing: “Mental illness is neither a moral failure nor a character defect.  To suffer from a psychiatric disorder is not a sign of insufficient faith or weakness of will.  Christian faith and religious practice do not immunize a person against mental illness.”

The image of a God who is constantly anxious, writhing his hands, screaming internally at every move we humans make is simply a false image of God. And yet, this idea remains locked in the brains of many innocent faithful. This is one of the reasons why today’s Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is so important. The idea that “God will love me when…” is erroneous in and of itself. God already loves us. Think of the greatest love a person here on earth has shown to you. God’s love for you is infinitely greater. The same God who created you, redeemed you, and sanctifies you, cares deeply for you. This is not mere sentimentalism– this is the Catholic faith. We believe that Christ loves us, despite our weaknesses and sinfulness. He offers Himself to us at every Mass, offering His very life to our body and soul as nourishment on this life journey. In the many images of the Sacred Heart, Our Lord points to His Most Sacred Heart, as if to draw our attention to the fact that, yes, He truly loves us with a human and divine love united in His divine person. His love for us precedes, and leads us to, our love for Him. As Pope Pius XII states so eloquently in his encyclical, Haurietis Aquas:

And so we can easily understand that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of its very nature, is a worship of the love with which God, through Jesus, loved us, and at the same time, an exercise of our own love by which we are related to God and to other men. Or to express it in another way, devotion of this kind is directed towards the love of God for us in order to adore it, give thanks for it, and live so as to imitate it; it has this in view, as the end to be attained, that we bring that love by which we are bound to God to the rest of men to perfect fulfillment by carrying out daily more eagerly the new commandment which the divine Master gave to His Apostles as a sacred legacy when He said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you… This is My commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Pius XII, Haurietis aquas, 107.


 

Today, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, I want to express my thanks to you all, many of whom have graciously prayed for me over the past few weeks since my return to Boston. I am happy to tell you all that I am doing a bit better, and it appears as if the worst has passed. All I can say is this– if a priest or any religious authority tells you to get off your medication (medication approved by multiple medical professionals and your spiritual director), do not listen. The Church does not reject the good that comes from medicine and technology. Again, as the California bishops write“Clergy and health care professionals, families and mental health advocates should work together to encourage a “both-and,” rather than “either-or” approach to psychological and spiritual healing.”

In many ways, I still feel weak and tired. But that’s okay. Because even in our weakness, Our Lord loves us. In many ways, our weakness becomes strength, because it is when we are weak that we rely more and more on God. The majority of my prayer the past 9 days has been in front of an image of the Sacred Heart. I prayed the novena, softly and slowly. Every night, upon finishing the last of the prayers, I would just sit with Jesus. I didn’t feel the need to say anything, and in many ways, I was afraid to. I just rested upon His breast, trusting that He knew what I needed. Anytime my mind wandered or anxiety spiked a negative image, I would just stare at the Sacred Heart, breathe deeply, and let it go. The Sacred Heart has, quite literally, saved my life. When all else fails, when my worries consume me, when I feel like a failure, and yes, when the very idea of “God” triggers a spike of anxiety in my mind, I turn to the Sacred Heart, and take refuge in Him.

God is good. God is loving. God is faithful. God’s love for us is unconditional, and essentially unfathomable. The Sacred Heart is both the symbol and the channel of God’s abundant desire to be one with us, as we, moved by grace, strive to be one with Him. For those who suffer from scrupulosity or any other mental illness, perhaps the image of the Sacred Heart will help.

It certainly has helped me.

A Cradle’s Conversion: My Return to Tradition

Late have I loved you,
Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong,
I, misshapen.
You were with me but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being
were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance,
I gasped, and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (X.27)


 

Introduction:

This blog post has been “in the works” for a while now. In fact, I have wanted to write something on this topic for a few years now… but haven’t for various reasons– I have procrastinated, felt that writing it would be a bit too ‘much’ (whatever that means), and because of other excuses I made. And then, I reflected upon my resistance– what am I afraid of, and why? Why am I avoiding this post & posts to come? Interestingly enough, this period of self-examination coincided with the release of several new books:

  1. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise“; by Cardinal Robert Sarah, a Guinean Cardinal prelate of the Catholic Church & prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
  2. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation“; by the former Catholic (now Eastern Orthodox) author, Rod Dreher, an American writer who is the senior editor & blogger at The American Conservative.
  3. Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages“; by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, a founding faculty member at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming & Roman Catholic theologian.
  4. Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” by Fr. James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit priest and New York Times bestselling author.

While this post is neither a book review nor an analysis of any/all of these books, I still mention them because all of the above books, as well as their authors, have certainly shaped recent Catholic discourse in the United States. These books have their fans & their critics, but regardless of one’s strong opinions, it is important to note that all of the authors are all writing about what they believe is an important topic in the Church today.

And that is why I am writing– because I believe that I need to give voice to a few aspects on Catholicism, especially in light of the various Catholic subcultures one finds online, which I have identified here: But enough of that. This is my post for the one-year anniversary of this blog, Inflammate Omnia. In the past year, I have connected with many new people who have told me about their faith journey, and the way Catholicism has taken form in their lives. One of the goals of this blog is to create an environment where petty Church politics can be put aside and we can discuss Catholicism freely, openly, and faithfully. And so, in this spirit, I give my testimony on my experience of Catholicism through these past 25 years of life– especially in my own reversion.


 

Smells, Bells, and Graced Car-Rides

When I tell people that I grew up with the Latin Mass, I often get puzzled looks. “You couldn’t have grown up with the Latin Mass… you were born in 1992.” “Was your family involved in SSPX?” These questions are often coming from a honest place; after all, even now, 10 years after Summorum Pontificum, Latin Mass-goers remain a minority in the Church. And so, I was explain to them that in the church where I was baptized, the priests offered the Tridentine Mass every Sunday to a group of faithful Catholics, fully in communion with Rome, and I had the utmost blessing to have been introduced to it from a young age. Some of my earliest memories are of incense, votive candles, statues, and Gregorian chant. I recall going up to the communion rail with my mother, and watching how she reverently received the Holy Eucharist on the tongue. My mother brought my sister & I to Eucharistic adoration and daily mass. It was (and is) who we are- Roman Catholics. We also attended mass in the Ordinary Form, as it were, at our home parish. I grew up in a Catholic church that has been considered by some to be one of the most beautiful in all of New England. Thankfully, our liturgies lived up to that superlative, as well. Whether the choir sung Remondi’s O Sacrum Convivium or Bob Dufford, SJ’s Be Not Afraid, our liturgical music program featured highly-trained singers who offered their voices in praise to God and for His glory alone. Whether Haugen or Hadyn, Schubert or Schutte, our musicians carefully chose hymns which reflected the readings/season of the given liturgy for the day. Even some of the most gaudy hymns were done artfully and tastefully. And so, my experience with the Ordinary Form complemented my experience with the Latin Mass. As a singer, I faithfully attended both… and saw no major rupture between the two. We didn’t have awkward “mini-homilies” at the beginning of mass, which commented on the weather & let the priest riff like Jay Leno. We didn’t have cantors standing in the sanctuary awkwardly waving their hands to “get people to sing”. Our parish, in all of its beauty, never had a sense of the banal, the vulgar, or the tacky. Mass at these churches were about the action of God on behalf of humankind, and so we celebrated God’s work– not ours.

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It's always good to go back to your roots. _ Since May, my life has essentially been one big transition. Major decisions have been made, new practices begun, new friendships sprouting. I got my first job not involving a church. For the first time, I am living somewhere that isn't a school dormitory, home, or parish rectory. I am learning more about who I am by first learning who I am not. I am on a path that is admittedly unfamiliar, yet one which I wouldn't be on without my past experiences. – Today, on Gaudete Sunday, I was able to go back to the parish which hosted me back when I was a seminarian. I sang with the choir in a wonderful Lessons and Carols service. I saw a lot of familiar faces, people who were crucial to my personal and spiritual development during those important college years. Many smiles and hugs abounded. – Tonight, I also was able to go to Mass back at the church where my spiritual life began- the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception- the church where I was baptized. My memory was flooded with images- seeing my mother receiving Holy Communion while kneeling upon an altar rail, endless hours with her in quiet, Eucharistic Adoration, the sweet smell of incense and the harmonious voices singing Renaissance polyphony. _ Amidst major changes in life, it's always important to remember your roots. It's important to remember that wherever you end up blooming in life, it is because you were planted somewhere first. On this #GaudeteSunday, I rejoice because of the many blessings I received in the past. I rejoice because those same blessings formed me to be who I am today. And I rejoice for the roads I have yet to trod, and those bridges I will one day need to cross. I rejoice because the same God who created me is also the same God present to my current needs, who happens also to be the God of time that has yet to pass. _ I rejoice in whatever the future may hold, not because I know what it holds, but rather because I know the One who holds it.

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Thankfully, my experience of “Church” as such never remained solely in, well… the physical church itself. From a young age, my mother taught me about the Holy Trinity, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles and martyrs, the Church and Her saints, the sacraments, sacramentals, devotions, prayers, liturgy, Catholic social teaching, and more. My mom was my first catechist (and dare I say, the best one I ever had). Before school, she and I would pray for the intercession of my favorite saints, whether it be St. Thomas Aquinas for academics, St. Cecilia for music, or even St. Maria Goretti for purity. It was understood that prayer was vital to the life of a Christian, and that the saints were my friends in heaven who I could call on for assistance. “Church” was not some extra-curricular activity… it was the wellspring from where I discover the meaning of life.

If it wasn’t made explicit before, music was (and still is!) a vital part of my life, especially in the way it provided glimpse into objective beauty. As a child, I never listened to secular music. My sister wasn’t even allowed to watch MTV! Instead, my mother would play what the majority of people call “classical music” in the car… regardless of the day, the season, or the destination. Going to Wal-Mart? Listening to Celtic Woman. Heading home after Little League practice? Vivaldi’s Gloria was waiting for me in that Ford Focus. I looked forward to ‘car time’ with my mother, precisely because it was peaceful, and I listened to sublime sounds of the Western civilization’s finest– from 8th century Gregorian chant, to 17th century oratorios, to even contemporary classical violinists. The car and car rides were a place of musical excitement. It was exactly this “Catholic imagination”, as the late Fr. Andrew Greeley called it, which nourished and formed my sacramental view of the world. Every moment, including seemingly mundane ones, were an opportunity to pause, reflect, and offer myself to God in gratitude.

And so, my earliest memories include a whole lot of church, a whole lot of prayer, and a whole lot of (good) music. I understood how Sunday was the most important day of the week: it was the Lord’ day, a day for rest, leisure, and most importantly- the Mass. My experience of Catholicism was largely shaped by my experience of the Mass– whether in the hushed silence and grandeur of Tridentine worship, or whether it was in the Novus Ordo, where I listened to solid, orthodox preaching & adaptions of modern hymns into beautiful pieces of music fitting for Catholic worship. The graces from the altar poured into the hearts of my family, which sought to nourish our faith in a peaceful, traditional, and spiritual home life, a place where the faith was lived even in the car. Traditional Catholicism? Check!

 

Luke 2:52

If my idyllic childhood was the best part of these 25 years of life, then my early-to-mid adolescence holds second place. Put simply, I freaking loved being a kid. As I began public school, where I would spend the next 12 years of my life, I developed a love for learning… a love which is still strong as ever today. I will forever be indebted to my hometown’s public school system for encouraging a love of learning. I was blessed with so many wonderful teachers who never made me feel burdensome when I had difficulty with a particular assignment. I honestly rate my experience with school, from K-12, a 10/10- highly recommend. It was also in this public school system where I encountered diversity– non-Catholic Christians, non-Christians, and kids who only knew the word “God” from the phrase that begins with “Oh my-“.

As I got older, my mom didn’t need to walk me to the bus stop, but we still prayed together in the kitchen like we did when I was in kindergarten. While daily mass was no longer an option due to my school schedule, I still attended mass every Sunday. In fact, Sundays held its high place in my life for a different reason, now, for Sundays were when I could bring what I learned the previous week in the classroom to the church pews. As we learned about history, I learned that Jesus lived many, many years before George Washington. As we learned about science, I marveled at how the Red Sea could be parted– something that simply doesn’t happen naturally! As we learned music, I began to learn how to read church hymns and follow different melodies on the scale.

From about 4th grade- my senior year of high school, my life consisted of the following: school (always came first in our house, as far as temporal affairs go), music (private lessons, band/choir practice), sports (baseball, basketball, football), and the Catholic faith. Friday evenings were “chill-out” evenings where I could play video games, Saturdays were when I could hang out with friends (but eventually that turned into marching band practice & music competitions), and Sundays were dedicated to our attendance and worship of God at mass.

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Do you know what depression is? The feeling of hopelessness, anxiety and sadness that is often associated with it seems unbearable. It causes the once-happy to scream internally. It plunges the peaceful person into horror and nausea, leaving you feel like a trapped animal. Minutes feel like days. Constant sleepless nights. Distracted days. Whether it is clinical, somewhat often or even just a rare occurrence, when anxiety engulfs you, you freeze and become numb to any feeling of joy, hope or freedom. Telling someone who suffers in depression or anxiety to "feel better" is like encouraging a rock to be a tree. It doesn't help, whatsoever- and it can also be extremely hurtful. Instead of saying "feel better", why not acknowledge their suffering and say this: "I am with you, in your time of joy and in your time of need. Call upon me, and I will help you bear this, because I love you, just the way you are. No strings attached." Tonight, my prayer goes to all those who have suffered under suffocating anxiety and maybe even hopelessness. Instead of telling you to "feel better", I am telling you that in your darkest hour, call upon God. Even call upon me, a friend. There is not a single person in existence that I would push off as "too needy" or "too emotional". The presence of a loving friend can make the unbearable seem as a light burden. For anyone out there who has experienced this, you know the people in your life, in any, that you just want to collapse in their arms. Think of that person, and how their love of you makes you feel. Then think of the One who created, protects and watches over you- think of His love for such a beautiful creation. Spend a few moments just thinking of God, the true God- the God of love, the God of peace, and the gentle whisper He gives you in your time of need: "You're free. You're free. Be kind, and love others, just as I have loved you. Trust that I come to bring you peace, and not anxiety. Just hold my hand. All shall be well."

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My adolescence was busy, but joy-filled. I made many friends. Sure, I wasn’t the most popular kid in the school, but I was able to be myself. I had great teachers, kind friends, and many activities, sports, and interests to keep myself going. If my early childhood was almost monastic, this period of my late childhood/early adolescence could be seen as a sort of “contemplative-in-action” lifestyle; I had a job (aka school), I had interests (aka sports, music, friends), I was in the world, but not of it, and yet, the most important day/moment of the week was when I was kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament, offering my week to the Lord. Hence, it made sense to me why Holy Communion was named as such– I was able to communicate with the Holy One. Traditional Catholicism? Check!

For better or for worse, the Internet gradually became an important facet in my personal development (or destruction, depends how one looks at it). When I was a junior in high school, I received my first laptop as a gift. My love for learning & inquisitive nature naturally led me to discover the grand world of Google, Wikipedia, and Internet message boards. It was like an entire new universe was opened before my eyes. I eventually stumbled upon Catholic Answers, a website dedicated to the promotion, defense, and explanation of the Catholic faith. Here, I encountered many people who were as passionate about Catholicism as I was, if not more. But something was just a bit… off.

Matthew 15:8 and Internet Apologetics

Some of my peers probably had wild teenage experiences… but I could probably classify my wildest experience as arguing with atheists on GameFAQs’ message boards. With the Internet, I received a vehicle to transport me wherever the interwebz trail went. Catholic Answers, YouTube, GameFAQs, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter– you name it, I was on it. My teenage years could best be described as my “apologetics phase”, a term I use to describe my newfound obsession with defending the Catholic faith against all of her enemies. Although I was in public school, I never really experienced anti-Catholicism; I mean yeah, we weren’t going to pray before class, but then again, I was in a public school after all. I said “Merry Christmas” & “Happy Easter” without the politically-correct, secular police coming after me. In a sense, my Catholicism was never really challenged by what I saw, heard, or experienced in my school and local community, but on the Internet? A totally different story. And so, my move towards apologetics was largely one that took place in the virtual sphere.

People often ask me “how do you know all of this stuff?” in regards to Catholic theology, and to be honest, I have no idea. As a child, I read incessantly. As a teenager, the Internet provided me with Wikipedia articles and book suggestions on Amazon. However, one of the main reasons I “know” a lot of Catholic theology is because of this apologetics phase; I spent a lot of time on Catholic Answers, New Advent, and Catholic online journals. The results? I was well-equipped to provide a reason for the hope in my heart (1 Peter 3:15). I read books by Scott Hahn, Cardinal Avery Dulles, John Henry Newman, Peter Kreeft, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, James Martin, and other popular writers. I learned about common objections to the Catholic faith, whether it was from atheists who saw the existence of God to be irrational, non-Catholic Christians who questioned why we should submit to the Catholic Church on matters of faith and morals, attacks on Sacred Scripture from both fundamentalists and rationalists, and more.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to share the Good News! That said, it was still a bit frustrating to have a zeal for evangelization and yet see my fellow Catholics on the message boards squabbling about whether one should receive Holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue, whether nuns should wear a religious habit or not, and more ridiculous debates which would never be solved through a forum post. Seeing these, I shook my head and went back to my actual theology texts. That is where I found the answers to my deepest questions of the faith.

 

The Four Pillars

I entered seminary right after my senior year of public high school. While that in and of itself was an experience, one thing which I did not expect was the “culture war”, well… culture. Indeed, my entrance into college seminary marked my first experience with reactionaries, politicized Catholicism, and these “culture wars”. Beforehand, I was concerned with questions of truth; here, it seemed as if the Truth was possessed only by those of a conservative bend. My fellow classmates, some of them from rural parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and even Nebraska simply held different views on society, life, and culture.

While I will write another time about my experience in diocesan seminary, one point of note is that it taught me that conservatism does not own doctrinal orthodoxy, and in fact, a certain kind of conservatism is at odds with elements of unchanging– yet living– Catholic truth. Many of my classmates opposed things like ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, increasing leadership roles for women in the Church, optional celibacy, and even matters pertaining to ecological conservation. Jesuits were said to be deviant, misleading, and liberal enemies of Holy Mother Church. According to their thought, our current culture was a battleground between conservatives who love God, guns, and babies, whereas liberals want to turn our country into a Communist state. Of course, these are the thoughts of 18-21 year old college kids on the track to priesthood, and many of them were simply regurgitating the political views of their parents and holding it as dogma.

It was at this college seminary where I heard of this website called “New Liturgical Movement”, dedicated to a restoration and promotion of traditional, authentic, Catholic liturgical practices. Despite being ostracized from my fellow classmates on several political issues, I did find a sweet spot of agreement on all things liturgical. The student prefect on my floor, a senior, was from the South and his gentleman-like demeanor and quiet conservatism showed it. While he and I disagreed on the morality of voting for a pro-choice candidate, he and I would talk about the sacred liturgy. He told me about how, the previous summer, the pastor he was assigned to told him that it was time for women’s ordination, and as a result, allowed several lay women to “preach” after the Gospel on consecutive Sunday masses. I was conflicted; here, I disagreed with this conservative Southerner on most things, but here, we both agreed that liturgical abuse is, well… wrong. Full stop.

Negative experiences began to pile on as my first year in seminary continued. Seminary was a house filled with hot air; we were together for most hours of the day, whether by praying, eating, studying, learning, or recreating. Table conversations were a penance. “Can you believe what that libtard Obama did?” “You should watch this video on Church Militant; Michael Voris speaks the TRUTH!” And so on.  It became obvious that I was in a conservative seminary, and many of my classmates were concerned more with being in the right Church/political party than in defending orthodoxy wherever it maybe found.

After one year in college seminary, I transferred to Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn– a private, liberal arts, Roman Catholic school steeped in the Dominican intellectual tradition. It was there where I studied philosophy and discovered all sorts of interesting philosophers– from the Greeks , to the Romans of Antiquity, the medievals, the moderns, and even the postmoderns. I was free to ask questions. I was told by several professors that I needed to think with a particular philosopher– whether it be Plato, Locke, Marx, or Lyotard– before I could begin to think against them. This point was crucial, especially for someone like me who sought academic integrity. Looking back, I am grateful that I had the privilege to study philosophy for the love of wisdom itself, and not as a sort of “training manual” to help me avoid errors in theology. With the exception of one sole class (Sexual Ethics, taught by a female Presbyterian minister who saw Catholic teaching on contraception/abortion as misogynistic), my experience at Albertus Magnus was liberating, especially after a nasty year in the college seminary, and I saw myself growing in a desire to love, know, and serve Truth Himself- Jesus Christ.

During these college years, I was also privileged to work under pastoral parish priests who offered their lives to help others grow closer to God. Some of these priests were victims of the “Spirit of Vatican II” reforms, ones which divorced authentic reform within Tradition to a revolutionary, anti-clerical, and anti-liturgical mindset. I say “victims”, and not “products”, because each priest I was assigned to, while celebrating mass exclusively in the Novus Ordo, did so very reverently, and did not reduce the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to mere “table fellowship” or casual dining. I heard them preach, I assisted them as they celebrated mass– they were some of the kindest, holiest, and most compassionate priests. And thankfully, Catholicism wasn’t some political statement to them. Each priest I was assigned to, though they took different approaches, saw that at the center of Catholicism is an encounter with the Word Himself. And yet, they were “victims” insofar as they did not see Pope Benedict XVI’s writings on the liturgy, culminating in “Summorum Pontificum”, as an urgent plea to reexamine how we Catholics see our liturgy. Many of these priests had at least 6-7 masses to celebrate a weekend– without any help. I saw their tiredness and burnout, and even in that, I saw even more their desire to grow close to Jesus was a flame which never extinguished. To this day, whenever I think I myself as burdened and weary with the affairs of the moment, I remember the example of these holy priests and their perseverance.

Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, offers four ‘pillars’ which should guide the formation of future clergy: intellectual, pastoral, spiritual, and human. Though I am no longer intending on pursuing priestly ordination, these four pillars are simply a nugget of wisdom for all Christians in our personal growth. While I wrote about the intellectual and pastoral above, I left out the latter two. Why? Because while growth in the intellectual & pastoral pillars was relatively easy, the spiritual and human were more challenging.

Spiritually, I was doing everything I needed to do– daily mass, frequent Confession, Eucharistic adoration, devotionals, etc. But there was a sense of unease that came with the spiritual life. It is not like I wasn’t praying… my issue was that I was worrying about prayer too much. Instead of just kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament and telling God how I truly felt (something I only did when situations/life became unbearable), I would constantly check myself, seeing if I was “doing it right” or if I was being selfish. I liken it to being outside a room, pacing around, wondering if the person inside the room is nice, instead of, you know, actually entering the room and finding out for myself. It didn’t help that my experience at the liturgy was less than ideal– at the best, most parishes I attended during my college years were largely filled with the ‘4 hymn sandwich’, and at the worst, the guitars were front and center. I used spiritual direction as a sort of litmus test, bringing to my spiritual director different feelings/thoughts that came to mind during my Holy Hour of Eucharistic adoration. Instead of trying to grow deeper into friendship with Christ, I instead treated prayer & spiritual direction like a mission– “Just tell me what you want me to do, Lord, and I’ll do it.” This, of course, is not the core of what it means to truly pray.

Human formation is concerned with things like emotional maturity and healthy psycho-sexual development. According to Pope John Paul II, the goal of human formation is to form “…balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. They need to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, to be balanced in judgment and behavior” (PDV, 43). When I look back at my high school/early college years, what do I see? I see someone who was excited to serve God through love of Him and neighbor. I see someone who was naturally compassionate, could relate well with others, had respect for everyone he met.

The Fall to Fishwrap

However, a storm within my soul was brewing. Put simply, my experience in seminary put a bad taste in my mouth. Given this new, academic freedom, I was eager to squash the nonsense I  endured my freshman year. I conflated doctrinal orthodoxy with Republican Party-Catholicism, as if they were synonymous. Liberated from the walls of the seminary, I embraced my newfound freedom, and was filled with reactionary energy. I wanted to combat the stuffiness of Catholic conservatism. And, just as I had done years before in high school with Catholic Answers-apologetics, I found an online community which took my concerns seriously. And thus, my path to heterodoxy began.

It began with little things– agreeing with secular folk that the “institutional Church” needed to “get with the times”, as if there existed a parallel “institutional Church” which was somehow different than the Mystical Body of Christ (hint: there isn’t). The concept that history is the story of inevitable progress was a myth that I foolishly bought into. Thus, as 21st-century Catholics, we had the right to change anything that existed prior, simply because “it’s the year 2014 and we know better now”. Other ways the path to heterodoxy began was in rejecting the Church Fathers as “old and irrelevant”, the canonization of “the new theologians” such as Karl Rahner & Yves Congar, and the constant arm-crossing and shouting when the Church proclaimed something that rubbed my progressive values the wrong way.

Examples? The issue of contraception. Growing up, I was taught that artificial contraception was an intrinsic moral evil because it divorced the sexual act from its proper end– that is, procreation & self-giving love. However, as I began to read more, I discovered that in 1968, Pope Paul VI famously rejected the majority opinion of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, who argued that artificial contraception was not intrinsically evil and could even be responsible in certain cases. Immediately, my progressive Democratic spirit raged, “How DARE the pope reject the majority opinion!?” I read journal articles and books by moral theologians who argued that, since 98% of Catholic women report using birth control, the Paul VI’s teaching was not “received”, and therefore isn’t binding. Another example includes the topic of gay marriage. I saw conservative opposition to gay marriage as a given result of those who subscribed to the foolish “natural law” theory, which I found unconvincing, hetero-normative, and more philosophical than theological. So what if two gay people want to get married? Didn’t Jesus say not to judge others? How is it an assault on marriage? I read theologians who saw gay marriage as a good thing for marriage, and a right to which the Church needed to yield. I ate all of this up, as if I was a Gnostic who attained the secret wisdom of “true” theology.

Speaking of “true” theology, I began to equate dissent with “academic” theology. In other words, I saw those who defended Church teaching (especially on controversial topics like marriage, sex, euthanasia, etc.) as ‘company men’ who were afraid to ask questions and think on their own. The “real” theology, I reasoned, was the revolutionary theology written by those theologians whom the Church persecuted, precisely because the Church was a mean organization with a lust for power and control. Thus, theologians who justified things like gay marriage, Marxism, and women’s ordination were the “real” theologians, while those conservative theologians holding the Church teaching were backwards-thinking conservatives who only knew apologetics.

I began to visit the websites of National Catholic Reporter (known as “National Catholic Fishwrap” by the infamous Father Z), Commonweal, America Magazine, and US Catholic exclusively. They were the ones who held onto the liberal vision of the Church, and although many of their writers & readership were of the Baby Boomer generation, I saw myself as the messiah who would save the liberal wing of the Church from old age and death. My thought was largely influenced by the liberal presuppositions I held, and was fueled by my anger towards my conservative classmates (who actually disagreed with actual Church teaching regarding topics offensive to their GOP elephant ears). I could go on and on, but you get the point. Looking back, I see myself as someone who wanted to love *his* own truth. I saw someone who oftentimes put his own agenda before loyalty to the Church, or even loyalty to God. I saw someone whose “judgment and behavior” was often impulsive, reactionary, and contrary to the fullness of Christian life. And yet, my stubbornness remained, though my reversion began with a slight detour– that of the Christian East.

 

A Light from the East

Among the many things I hated in minor seminary, there was one thing I actually liked. In February, we had this thing called “Multicultural Sunday”, where on that given Sunday, we were sent to an Eastern Catholic parish to experience their liturgy. The concept was that the Catholic Church is more than just Roman Catholics, and thus it would be important for us to see how the liturgy and traditions were celebrated in the East. We went to an Armenian Catholic liturgy (the Badarak), and to summarize, it was nothing short of beautiful!

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If you know me, you know how in love I am with the Armenian Catholic liturgy, the "Badarak". It contains such incredible music, symbolism & prayers. I have been to mass at St. Mark's Armenian Catholic Church in Wynnewood, PA, as well as at Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church in Belmont, MA. Today, I was able to go to mass at Saint Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Catholic Church in Glendale, CA. The church was standing room only, the choir sang in full, and there was an atmosphere of prayerful worship. – 2015 marks the 100th year anniversary of the Armenian genocide, where over 1.5 million Armenians were murdered under Turkish rule. As the famous Armenian-American author, William Saroyan, once said: – "Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia." _ God bless the Armenian people.

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At the minor seminary, I malnourished liturgically. While it is true that Novus Ordo masses I attended were certainly valid (the ‘requirements’ for a valid consecration were met), I felt robbed. Even more so, though, I felt malnourished theologically. Feeling suffocated from seemingly overconfident and arrogant Neo-Thomism, I secretly began to read the Greek Fathers, including St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, etc. Then, in college, my interest in the East grew exponentially. I was introduced to Dionysius the Areopagite through one of my philosophy professors in undergrad, who saw my desire to learn about the Church’s mystical, apophatic theological tradition. Under this professor, I read Jean-Luc Marion, Edith Stein, Thomas Aquinas, Michael Henry, and other philosopher-theologians. The connection between the mystical and the doctrinal seemed so important to the Eastern Orthodox, and I found their theological method much more liberating than that of an overly-rationalized, Thomistic formula.

Between not being able to shake the haunting memory of the beautiful, Armenian liturgy and finding the Eastern theologians to be so doxological, I found myself investigating more and more about Eastern Christianity. I started reading contemporary Orthodox blogs, and found myself nodding my head while reading about their critiques of Catholicism. Paired with my liberal dissatisfaction with the authority of the papacy, the whole question of the pope (and the limits of his authority) began to bubble. Accusations of Catholics as separating from the Orthodox (and not vice-versa) abounded. Most of all, the liturgy just seemed more authentic. What do I mean by that?

Growing up, the liturgy– whether Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form– was always a prayerful experience. As I left my home for new ones, I struggled to find a spiritual home and a liturgical refuge, especially during my time in seminary. Growing up with a very reverent Novus Ordo mass, I never had to worry about “happy clappy” music, priests barking the Eucharistic Prayer, or lectors blowing through the readings, ending it always with “TheWURDOFDALORD” and a quick, half-assed “Thanks be to God”. However, as I moved beyond my little parish enclave, I was exposed to the craziness of some post-conciliar parishes. Priests making up their own words to the Institution Narrative. People doing “liturgical dance”. Liturgies that were rushed, choppy, and awkward. Very word-heavy, yet it seemed to lack substance. The Eastern Divine Liturgy on the other hand, just screamed “THIS IS TRUE WORSHIP OF GOD”. They didn’t seem to care whether or not they were ‘hip’ or “with the times of modern man”; they simply worshiped God as their ancestors did. I began to attend Orthodox liturgies (including Vespers) more frequently. I even began meeting with an Orthodox priest, asking him all of my questions, and even asking how to convert! Even though I did not end up converting, my time exploring the Eastern Orthodox began a process, unbeknownst to me, of a reversion to the Tradition I seemed to have abandoned.

I Fought the Law (of Prayer), and the Law (of Belief) Won

While I greatly subscribed to the liberal Catholic lemonade, there was one thing I simply could not give up– beautiful, reverent, and traditional liturgy. After graduating college, my liberal self decided to return to seminary formation. It was in major seminary where I began to once again butt heads with some of my more conservative classmates. However, something began to change. On move-in day for major seminary, my mother and I toured the building, looking at the classrooms, the refectory, the rooms, and the oratory chapel. On our way out of the chapel, my mother stopped, and gasped. She discovered a side chapel with a beautiful image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I noticed her reaction. We then parted ways (moms don’t live in seminary with you), and later that evening, I began to feel homesick. I went back to that chapel, and just looked at the statue of the Sacred Heart. It was an image I saw often as a child, and it was my favorite image of Jesus. I decided that I would make that chapel my personal prayer location, and I would visit it in the morning, afternoon, and night.

 

 

In the beginning, I would just go there, sit, and talk to Jesus. I would tell him how I felt, how much I disliked my conservative classmates, etc. Eventually, I decided to read more about the Sacred Heart devotion. And that’s when everything changed. I found an “Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart”, and began to read it. For your convenience, I will post it here:

 

MOST sweet Jesus, whose overflowing charity for men is requited by so much forgetfulness, negligence and contempt, behold us prostrate before Thee, eager to repair by a special act of homage the cruel indifference and injuries to which Thy loving Heart is everywhere subject.

Mindful, alas! that we ourselves have had a share in such great indignities, which we now deplore from the depths of our hearts, we humbly ask Thy pardon and declare our readiness to atone by voluntary expiation, not only for our own personal offenses, but also for the sins of those, who, straying far from the path of salvation, refuse in their obstinate infidelity to follow Thee, their Shepherd and Leader, or, renouncing the promises of their baptism, have cast off the sweet yoke of Thy law.

We are now resolved to expiate each and every deplorable outrage committed against Thee; we are now determined to make amends for the manifold offenses against Christian modesty in unbecoming dress and behavior, for all the foul seductions laid to ensnare the feet of the innocent, for the frequent violations of Sundays and holydays, and the shocking blasphemies uttered against Thee and Thy Saints.

We wish also to make amends for the insults to which Thy Vicar on earth and Thy priests are subjected, for the profanation, by conscious neglect or terrible acts of sacrilege, of the very crimes of nations who resist the rights and teaching authority of the Church which Thou hast founded.

Would that we were able to wash away such abominations with our blood. We now offer, in reparation for these violations of Thy divine honor, the satisfaction Thou once made to Thy Eternal Father on the cross and which Thou continuest to renew daily on our altars; we offer it in union with the acts of atonement of Thy Virgin Mother and all the Saints and of the pious faithful on earth; and we sincerely promise to make recompense, as far as we can with the help of Thy grace, for all neglect of Thy great love and for the sins we and others have committed in the past.

Henceforth, we will live a life of unswerving faith, of purity of conduct, of perfect observance of the precepts of the Gospel and especially that of charity. We promise to the best of our power to prevent others from offending Thee and to bring as many as possible to follow Thee.

O loving Jesus, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother, our model in reparation, deign to receive the voluntary offering we make of this act of expiation; and by the crowning gift of perseverance keep us faithful unto death in our duty and the allegiance we owe to Thee, so that we may all one day come to that happy home, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit Thou livest and reignest, God, forever and ever. Amen.

I winced while reading it. “What kind of grave, arch-conservative nonsense is this?” I asked myself. So much talk about “sin”. So much talk about “offending” God. So much subservience to a supposed God of “love” and “mercy”. And so, I decided to bring this prayer and my feelings towards it to my Jesuit spiritual director. Obviously, he too would agree that such a prayer is so antiquated, rigid, and unfitting for a modern Catholic to pray.

“Doesn’t this remind you of Jansenism?” I asked. His eyebrows furrowed, he squinted, and said, “Uh… no. Do you know anything about St. Margaret Mary Alacoque?”

“My sister is named after her, I think,” I responded.

He then proceeded to tell me what Jansenism truly is, and how Our Lord’s revelation of His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary was something the Jansenists hated. The tangibility, tenderness, and love of God in the Sacred Heart had no place in the cold, selective, and distant God of the Jansenists. Admittedly, I felt like a fool. I obviously did not know as much about Church history and devotional practice as I previously thought!

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Today is the day. My top 3 favorite days of the year are Easter, my birthday (lol), and today- the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Observed 19 days after Pentecost, this feast celebrates the love of God manifested in the Heart of Jesus. – While Jesus' heart obviously served a physiological function, spiritually-speaking, His Sacred Heart represents eternal LOVE: the divine love our Lord shares with the Father and Holy Spirit in the Trinity; the perfect, divine love which God has for us; and the genuine human love Christ felt in His human nature. – Growing up in a very Irish Catholic household, images of the Sacred Heart abounded. Perhaps I never grew up with scruples or a negative, cold image of God because everywhere I turned, I found an image of Jesus- staring at me while pointing to His Heart. – A few years ago, I was in a parish helping out with a group of visiting families with their children. As we were walking through a church, we stopped in front of a statue of the Sacred Heart. A young boy raised his hand & asked, "Why is Jesus' heart outside of His body?" As I went to answer, I was cut off- a girl, no older than 8, replied: "Because Jesus loves us so much, He can't keep it in!" _ It's amazing how sometimes children just 'get it'. Yes, yes, YES- Jesus loves us SO much, He cannot keep it to Himself. We would do well to focus on the tender love & mercy of Christ- for us Christians, our redemption & salvation, peace & security, and even our dignity & worth, come- NOT from any of our own merits- but rather from the eternal love God has for us, His children- manifested most clearly, perfectly, and fully, in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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In the following weeks, I went from wincing at the prayer, to actually praying it. Of course, it still seemed foreign to me. All of the talk about offending God by our sins and “making reparation” seemed like a lot of arch-conservative nonsense. But I prayed it, nonetheless. Day after day, I visited the Sacred Heart chapel, and day after day, I prayed a selection of prayers to the Sacred Heart.

From ancient times, the Church has maintained the motto, “Lex orandi, lex credendi“: “the law of prayer is the law of belief”. In other words, what we believe is largely informed by what we pray. We Christians do not simply draft a list of theological principles and then create a liturgy out of them, but instead draft our theological principles by the experience of prayer and worship from the time of the earliest Christians. It is this “lex orandi, lex credendi” motto which, I believe, led me back to Tradition.

You see, the more I prayed to the Sacred Heart, the more I began to really think about what I was actually praying. Prayer of Reparation? “For what?” I asked. My sins. What does it mean to “resist the rights and teaching authority of the Church which Thou hast founded?” That must obviously mean that the Church has authority, and that Christ founded the Church. The more and more I prayed these prayers, the more I began to question its essence. And even more so, I began to question my own conduct and dispositions.

You see, none of this “mercy” stuff makes sense if we don’t believe that sin actually harms. If all sin is simply personal weaknesses that do not affect our relationship with God and each other, then why do we need forgiveness? Or, in response to some moral theologians, if it is impossible to sin, then what is the purpose of grace? If the Church doesn’t have authority, then why do we consider the command to preach the Gospel? If Christ didn’t found the Church, then why should we bother following it? I also wondered why I was skipping all of the “hard-sayings” of Jesus, such as His words on divorce and remarriage, purity, suffering, obedience, and the promise that the “world” would hate me for preaching the truth. I started examining the fact that people would tell me, “I like you because you’re not talking about Hell and all of that sin stuff all the time”, and that had less to do with me balancing the Christian message than it did with me picking & choosing which parts to speak about.

The “lex orandi” principle extended not only to my personal prayer, but my communal, as well. Major seminary was weird, insofar as I was holding onto more “liberal” ideas in a conservative, yet oddly not “traditional”, environment. Doctrinally, I was “liberal”. Liturgically, I was “traditional”. And my thirst for traditional liturgy resulted in me escaping the seminary walls to attend the Latin Mass when I could. It was at the Latin Mass where I felt like I was truly worshiping God. The focus on sober and intentional gestures, such as kneeling, observing silence, etc. eventually disciplined my mind to meditate upon the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. I resisted the urge to feel “entertained”. I resisted the idea that I needed to somehow cognitively understand every single Latin word. I stopped thinking that “active participation” was about me doing something, like proclaiming the readings, clapping, or having a liturgical function. Attending the TLM required discipline and personal sacrifice, two things essential to the Christian life.

It was at this time too that I discovered the works of Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, whose writing I found to be academic, faithful, and simply convincing. Dr. Kwasniewski’s work showed me that, if I had a desire for traditional liturgy AND a love for the Church’s social teaching, I was not some ecclesial misfit; rather, I was of the same mind of many a saint and Church magisterial teaching. In other words, the binary of “conservative” and “liberal” didn’t apply to St. Francis of Assisi, who saw taking care of the poor and creation as crucial, and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament as paramount. Thus, I began to reconcile my love for beauty with a commitment to the good, and a desire to know the true. Dr. Kwasniewski wrote in such a way which forced me to realize that man should accommodate to Catholicism, and not Catholicism to man. And so, thanks to the devotion to the Sacred Heart and my exodus from the liberal/conservative binary, I was able to allow the liturgy and prayer of the Church to form me into a more authentic and faithful Catholic. My personal project of ‘creating my own Catholicism’ began to collapse once I started to understand that God—and not I—was God.

I saw where my heterodoxy led me– to a path of self-aggrandizement, dissent, and pride. You see, for so-called “progressive” Catholics, the idea that history is a story of inevitable progress leads to a distrust of the way the Church Fathers, medieval saints, and Baroque spiritual writers lived. In an attempt to accommodate the Faith to the mythical ‘modern man’, progressives end up distorting the perennial truths of the Gospel to fit modern fashions and sensibilities. But most (and probably the worst) of all, the heterodox Catholic wants mercy without justice, charity without truth, and Christ without the Cross. The starting point for their theology is not an actual belief in Divine Revelation, but instead, what they want God to be. And this was my error, as well.

The Return

The story of my reversion has many other details, twists, and turns, but I have written enough, for now. In the end, the nitty-gritty details are to serve the larger narrative, namely, that my reversion to Tradition was something “ever ancient” and “ever new”. Just a few last points:

When I say that I “fell away” from Tradition, I am not saying that I somehow left the Church, stopped receiving the sacraments, or no longer identified myself as Catholic. During my time in heterodox-land, I continued to attend Mass, pray the Divine Office, engage in works of charity, etc. Externally, I was doing all of the ‘right’ things. However, internally, I was rebelling against the Church. I took every opportunity to rail against the “institutional Church” and to try and frame Paul VI, JP2, and Benedict XVI as “conservative” men who were out of touch with the “lived experience” of the faithful, as if that was an actual source of Divine Revelation. During my heterodoxy, I simply just resisted the Church’s teachings, viewed them with an arrogant suspicion masqueraded as “critical-thinking”, and wanted the Church to bend to my wisdom– not vice-versa. This “fall”, so to speak, was due to my hubris of thinking that I was the source of all knowledge and wisdom, and that by arguing/dissenting with the Church, I was somehow achieving gnosis.

Now that I am in graduate school, I am exposed to a wide range of opinions, yet united under an open atmosphere for conversation, dialogue, prayer, and intense study. My return to Tradition would not have been possible if I was not in a place where I could be a Catholic both committed to traditional liturgy, as well as committed to issues of social justice. It was in the Sacred Liturgy and devotion to the Sacred Heart where I realized that my liberal “Catholicism” was a farce which would be unrecognizable to the many saints, mystics, and Doctors of the Church who have gone before us. My time in heterodox-land was a time where I could use many trendy buzz-words, such as “pastoral”, “accompaniment”, and “discernment” to achieve my own selfish ends and not to convert myself back to the Lord.

In fact, much of what “traditional Catholicism” calls for is a return to the submission to God. This, in turn, elevates all of our actions to being directed towards God’s designs. None of my pastoral work means anything if it is not rooted in obedience to the Good Shepherd himself. While important, personal prayer can never replace or change the significance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the spiritual lives of the faithful. In my intellectual pursuit for truth and wisdom, I must be anchored to Truth Himself. Delving beyond the contemporary face of Catholicism, I was able to re-discover Tradition- not through EWTN or Rorate Caeli, nor through PrayTell or Crux, but rather through a true experience of the sacred liturgy, prayer, and study. Personally, I often think that Catholics news websites can be sources of great scandal, misinformation, and polarization. Given the choice between reading the Catechism or the latest Vatican gossip, you should read the thing which will help lead you to heaven (hint: it’s not the Whispers in the Outhouse website).

Many people have laughed & claimed that it’s nearly impossible to label me. I believe that environmental issues are issues to which the Christian has a duty to respond. I am fiercely anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, and hold fast to the Church teaching regarding the preferential option for the poor, capital punishment, and the dignity of the family. In case you haven’t realized, my return to Tradition was fueled by my dissatisfaction with the way Catholicism was twisted to support political agendas on every side. I think the fact that I am not easily labeled is a testament to the fact that Catholicism, when properly lived, evades the political binary of liberalism. The conflict of today is not about “liberal” versus”conservative”, but rather “truth” versus “error”, orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy.

My return to “traditional Catholicism” was simply a return to my childhood experience of God– a God whose presence filled & shaped my interests, my desires, and my response to His grace. As I wrote, when I was a child, God was so “near” to me. God was the ground of my being, the oxygen to my lungs. My return to “traditional Catholicism” is a return to the beauty, truth, and goodness of the Catholic faith as it has been experienced, handed down, and faithfully entrusted to Holy Mother Church. Traditional Catholicism is not its own genre, nor a subgroup, all of which seeks to divide. Traditional Catholicism is the only Catholicism there is. Catholicism divorced from tradition ceases to be Catholicism at all– it instead becomes a self-enclosed circle, an idol of our own making, a modernist invention, a self-praising tool using philosophical/theological thought of past thinkers who wrote stuff we like.

While one can say that my return to “traditional Catholicism” is a rejection of the modernist tendencies of the liberals as well as a rebuff against neo-conservative, snarky polemics, I would rather explain it in a more positive light. My return is characterized by a turn to the Source of all life, a turn away from the entrapping tendency to worship creation instead of the Creator, and a serious attitude towards the summit of the Christian life, the Eucharist. It’s common for Catholic bloggers to put forth claims such as “the Church is in a crisis!!!”, as if their interpretation of events is an infallible perception. I cannot claim that the Church is in a crisis, but what I can claim is that I myself was in a crisis. I was allowing, for the longest time, Internet-Catholicism and polemics to dictate my view of the Church and the world, instead of actually submitting to the former for the sanctification of the latter.

It is the goal of this blog to provide an oasis for my fellow pilgrims on the journey. Realistically-speaking, the Internet is a necessity for us living in the world, here and now in 2018. However, the Internet can be used to twist, distort, and cause rifts within the Church, conflicts which can bleed from the digital into the spiritual. My return to “Tradition” was none other than a return to an intentional relationship with God. And for that, I am beyond thankful.

Thanks for reading,

J

About Those Young, “Rigid”, Traditional Catholics

More and more, Millennial Catholics are flocking en massé to traditional practices and devotions, to the horror of many. But is such fear necessary?

awake to the sound of church bells, ringing. It is Sunday morning. Though I worked late the night before, I quickly brush my teeth, shower, and get dressed for the day. After putting on a navy blue blazer and adjusting my tie, I hurriedly dash down the stairs, and head to my car. As I turn my car on, the radio blares. I turn it off, and prepare myself for what is to come. After about 20 minutes of driving in silence, I finally reach my destination: a massive Gothic-revival church, built over 150 years ago, yet still standing tall. As I exit my car and dart up the marble church steps, I open the heavy, church door, and am greeted by the smell of sweet incense and the sound of utter silence — save a baby cooing . An usher hands me a program, and I look around the church, desperately trying to find an empty seat. It is filled to near-capacity. Providentially, a woman wearing a veil, smiling, gestures to me — there is room to sit next to her. As I enter the church pew, I genuflect, and upon entering, pull down the pew kneeler to pray a bit. My personal prayer is interrupted with the single clang of a bell — the Church’s greatest prayer has begun. Everyone who is able rises to their feet, as the pipe organ suddenly begins playing an ornate introduction to our processional hymn. This is the highlight of my week, the source and summit of my existence as a Christian: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 

 

 


Sing a “New” Church

The Second Vatican Council, 1962–1965

When you think of “Catholicism”, what do you think of? Many movies which depict ‘old’ Catholicism, such as The Bells of St. Mary’s , offer an image of Catholicism probably not found in local parish: the Mass chanted in Latin, smoky incense rising to the ceiling, women dressed in veils, beautiful churches with vibrantly colorful stained glass, altar rails, and other external aesthetics of the Catholic imagination. But if you enter the nearby Catholic church, you probably won’t find much of this remaining. During the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the Catholic Church realized it needed a renewal, a way of engaging — and not fleeing — the rapidly changing, modern world. Five months after shocking the world with the announcement that he was calling for an ecumenical council, Pope (now saint) John XXIII outlined his vision for this council in his first encyclical, Ad Petri Cathedram. According to John XXIII, the purpose of the Second Vatican Council was to promote a renewal of Christian life, a defense of Truth, and an “appropriate adaption” to ecclesiastical disciplines. Contrary to popular belief in the Church today, the purpose of Vatican II was not to ‘change’ Church teaching or ‘modernize’ itself to appeal to the secular world. In fact, according to John XXIII, the only thing that can unite humanity is truth. As he wrote,

“Once we have attained the truth in its fullness, integrity, and purity, unity should pervade our minds, hearts, and actions. For there is only one cause of discord, disagreement, and dissension: ignorance of the truth, or what is worse, rejection of the truth once it has been sought and found. It may be that the truth is rejected because of the practical advantages which are expected to result from false views; it may be that it is rejected as a result of that perverted blindness which seeks easy and indulgent excuses for vice and immoral behavior.”

Ad Petri Cathedram, #61 (emphasis mine)

Tragically, John XXIII’s vision for the Second Vatican Council never actualized into reality. While this is not an essay on Vatican II’s implementation and reception, I’ll just say this: if you actually read the documents of Vatican II (especially Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document on the sacred liturgy, the subject of this piece) and look at what happened in the Church during the decades following, you will see a tragic disconnect. Emboldened by Church reforms, certain theologians criticized the Church’s stance on artificial contraception, birth control, gay marriage, euthanasia, and women’s ordination. Theology, far from being “faith seeking understanding”, became an exercise in sleuthy sophistry, a forum which tolerated all sorts of “strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9). Altar rails were ripped out, sacred art replaced by odd, modern conventions. Gorgeous cathedrals ripped down the high altars, and put a simple table in the front. Guitars, and not organs, took over the music. Chants sung at Mass for over a millennium were replaced by sing-songy tunes more appropriate for a night on Broadway than at the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. All of this (and more, trust me) was supposedly done to promote a more “modern” Catholicism, and nowhere was this modernization more painful and blatant than in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The proceedings of the Second Vatican Council have been a subject of hotly-contested debate. What was the purpose of the Council? How has the Council been implemented? Did certain members of the Council push for inauthentic reforms, or even succumb to the Modernist heresy? I will save that loaded topic for another time, but it would be helpful to read Dom Alcuin ReidMatthew Levering, and John O’Malley’s writings on Vatican II, its reception, and contemporary challenges to its interpretation.

Regardless of one’s views on Vatican II, the average layperson in the pews faithfully attending mass from 1959 to 1969 was able to realize that something… changed. After all, nowhere has the rupture between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church been evident as in the Sacred Liturgy. The priest, now facing the people, often fumbles with the microphone. Sometimes, before mass begins (or God forbid, during it), the priest or lay ministers will make announcements. The priest, thinking that he needs to “make people laugh”, will open the Mass with a joke or two, or begin to riff like Jay Leno on various topics of secular interest. Following Communion, after the sacred vessels are being purified, the priest will make an announcement about the youth group’s upcoming bake sale. Some deacons use the homily as a time to make “dad jokes”. Lay ministers walk by the tabernacle, where the Blessed Sacrament is reposed, as if they are in their living room, sometimes not even genuflecting or showing a sign of reverence. While some may claim that we have come a long way since the apocryphal “clown mass” & “puppet mass” (warning: watch those videos at your own peril), have we? Recently, a priest in Brazil decided it was a good idea to incorporate Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s summer hit, Despacitointo the mass. Have we truly rediscovered what it means to be a Roman Catholic, worshiping in the Roman Rite?


Certainly, it’s not like the 1940s were a liturgical paradise — oftentimes, ‘Low Mass’ (that is, mass with little to no chant/music) was the norm on Sundays. Priests would come out of the sacristy while mass was being celebrated, giving Holy Communion to parishioners before their own priest was even done with the Eucharistic Prayer. From the late 19th century in Italy, it became commonplace for the mass to feature opera music instead of Gregorian chant. Liturgical reform was indeed necessary. And yet, if we are honest, that liturgical reform still has not been fully realized. Many scholars have pointed out time and time again that how the average Catholic parish in America celebrates the sacred liturgy is not the way Vatican II envisioned it to be celebrated.

What has been the result? You tell me. I warn you, though; the statistics aren’t pretty. According to the Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), only 22% of baptized Catholics attended mass weekly in 2016, compared to 55% in 1965. Traditionally “Catholic” areas, such as New England, report historic drops in mass attendance and reception of the sacraments. In Boston (where I live), only 12% of Catholics attended mass weekly in 2016. To put this in perspective, that number is down from 70% in 1970. Parishes across New England are merging, if not closing. In Connecticut, the Archdiocese of Hartford announced that 26 of its 212 churches were closing, with 144 merging with others. Statistics point to the sad reality: fewer and fewer people are attending mass, participating in their local parishes, or even see the Catholic faith as an important part of their life.

Blame the culture, blame the Church’s stance on contraception , blame the priest dancing to “Despacito”— whatever you blame it on, the fact is that the Catholic Church in the United States has declined drastically since the 1960s. As mass attendance dropped following the Second Vatican Council, so too did the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). Traditional devotions and prayers, such as the Rosary and novenas, fell out of common practice. Even seminaries were places of confusion, with seminarians engaging in homosexual actions, disrespect to the Blessed Mother was tolerated, and mentally-unbalanced, predatory men were admitted to Holy Orders. The 1960’s — 1970’s, ripe with the spirit of “revolution”, surely had its effect on religious vocations. From 1966 to 1999 the number of seminarians dropped from 39,638 to 4,826. In 1965, there were 180,000 religious sisters/nuns in the United States. As of 2014, there were only 50,000 — a 72% drop in merely 50 years. As of 2012, the average age of a Roman Catholic nun was 74.

And yet, death does not have the final word. Many Millennials, including myself, entered a Church which was still trying to make sense of its mission and focus in the modern world, while remaining true to Sacred Scripture and Tradition. And it is we, the Millennials, the same Millennials who allegedly “kill” everything from Applebee’s to department stores, who are “at the vanguard of Catholic renewal” (as one author notes). Indeed, hope has dawned. True, Millennials are the least “religious” generation thus far. But while these aforementioned statistics look grave, they simply do not tell the whole story. An extraordinary (no pun intended) phenomenon is happening now, right before the eyes of Church leaders and ministers — the rise of the “traditionalists”. As Matthew Schmitz, senior editor of the journal, First Things, writes:

Who are these terrifying young traditionalists? Step into a quiet chapel in New York and you will find an answer. There, early each Saturday morning, young worshippers gather in secret. They are divided by sex: women on the left, men on the right. Dressed in denim and Birkenstocks, with the occasional nose piercing, they could be a group of loiterers on any downtown sidewalk. But they have come here with a purpose. As a bell rings, they rise in unison. A hooded priest approaches the altar and begins to say Mass in Latin. During Communion, they kneel on the bare floor where an altar rail should be.


Rise of the “Trads”

The Church of the Holy Innocents (NYC), where the Latin Mass is offered daily.

Yes, it’s actually true. More and more, Millennial Catholics are flocking en masse to more ‘traditional’ practices and devotions. Churches which offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form are being filled by young 20-somethings and 30-somethings. Chapel veils, once considered a sign of women’s oppression, are finding more and more support among the young. Religious orders and communities which use the Latin Mass are bursting at the seams with vocations. Most recently, groups like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King had to turn away applicants, because they could not fit any more men into their seminaries. Traditional religious orders for consecrated women religious have seen a surge in growth, as well. For the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, who rocked the Catholic music world with their album of Gregorian chant, the average age of a member is 26! What gives? Is this a sign of retrograde Catholicism?

Some think so. Pope Francis has expressed his confusion at this recent trend of young people seeking out traditional liturgy and devotions. Speaking in an interview this past November 2016, Francis lamented this growth:

“I ask myself about this. For example, I always try to understand what’s behind the people who are too young to have lived the pre-conciliar liturgy but who want it. Sometimes I’ve found myself in front of people who are too strict, who have a rigid attitude. And I wonder: How come such a rigidity? Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something: insecurity, sometimes even more … Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.”

The claim that Latin Mass attendees are “rigid” is not a new one, by any means. Often, the charges are as such: those who attend the Latin Mass are ultraconservative in their theology, especially on things like sexual morality and Church doctrine. In other words, those who attend the Latin Mass, labeled “rigids”, happen to support Church teaching on matters of faith and morals. And, because these young trads actually agree with Church teaching, they are “rigid”, because they are trying to put God in a box (or something like that). Sometimes, the “rigid” label is applied with political connotation: Those who attend the Latin Mass probably voted for Trump and hate the poor. Many times, the claim is that, by focusing on the Sacred Liturgy, we are somehow neglecting important Christian teachings, like care for the poor and outreach to the marginalized. However, such a claim is made in pure ignorance. This is to say that every saint since the 16th century, including St. Vincent de Paul, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Jean Vianney, St. Peter Claver, among others worshiped in the Tridentine Latin form of the Mass, somehow discouraged social justice. It would take some serious mental gymnastics to ever defend this. If anything, one could argue that the Latin Mass fosters a more wholesome and excellent effort at living out Catholic social teaching.

We who attend the Extraordinary Form are used to such pejorative claims. We get it — we are “rigid”, “ultra-conservative”, and “backwards”. But here’s the thing — we’re not. If the fear is that we hate Vatican II, rest-assured, we don’t. If anything, we are the ones desperately trying to do justice to what the documents actually said. And when it comes to the Sacred Liturgy, the “source and summit of the Christian life” according to a document from the Second Vatican Council (LG #11), we are trying our best to preserve a sense of continuity between pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. We’re often portrayed as snarky, close-minded, and excluding, but cannot the same be said about “liberal” Catholics ? Interestingly enough, many of us who prefer the Extraordinary Form actually attend the Ordinary Form often and faithfully. In other words, “traditional” Catholics attend mass in both forms… can the same be said in reverse? Is there any effort from opponents of the Latin Mass to actually attend it, without resorting to flippant claims against it?

Another claim made by some is that the Latin Mass promotes clericalism, that is, the belief that the priest is somehow better, holier, or more important than the people assembled. Their basis for this is in the priest’s facing ad orientem, towards the east, as pictured here:

An example of “ad orientem” worship

“His back is facing us”. Such claims of clericalism assume a few erroneous things — first, that the Mass is somehow about the people. Hint: it’s not. The Sacred Liturgy is about God’s gift to humanity, which humanity (in the person of Christ, the High Priest) returns back to God. Thus, it is God — not us — who should be the center of all worship. Are Orthodox priests “clericalist” because they face ad orientem? What about Jewish people in their synagogues, or Muslims at the mosque — both religions which stress the importance of bodily, liturgical orientation? Facing a common direction was historically a sign of unity of mind and purpose — not a sign that the principal celebrant was rude or selfish.

If anything, those who consider the Latin Mass to be “clericalist” would do well to spend their energy fighting what I call “reverse clericalism”, such as when the priest decides to ad-lib the liturgy, making up his own words, paraphrasing the words the universal Church prays to God. For example, during the Agnus Dei, what you’re supposed to hear is: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” How many times, however, have we heard something different than the text as written? A few Sundays ago, I attended Mass, and I heard the following: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Jesus, the Gentle Shepherd, Prince of Peace, the One who takes away all of our sins, all of our failings, all of our weaknesses. Happy, how truly happy are we, who are called to partake in His Eucharist.” Priests who treat the Mass like a game of mad-libs are, ironically enough, clericalist in their own right, because they assume that the congregation is too dumb to understand the language of the Mass as it is already written. They take the Mass and make it about them, their personality, their tastes. Such actions are foreign to the nature of true, solemn, Catholic worship.


These are but a few, yet commonly-held objections by those who see the rise of the Trads as a dangerous thing for the Church. Personally, I don’t want to call myself a “traditionalist”, but I can see why some people do. There wouldn’t be a need to call oneself a “traditionalist” if many in the Church were not split on matters of faith and morals, if we didn’t have priests and even bishops acting in a way which scandalizes the faithful, and if there wasn’t a decently (yet aging) contingent within the Church who sees things like Gregorian chant and beautiful churches as a threat. Opponents of Tradition call us “nostalgic”, but if anything, it is they — and not us — who are nostalgic. They are the ones nostalgic for a time when the Mass was seen as an experimental play-thing for our pleasure. They are the ones who continuously try to make the Holy Mass “hip”, “relatable”, and “accessible” to modern man. However, they need to realize that we, the youth, do not want a religion which accommodates the latest fashion and novelties. Generations of younger Catholics feel like they were robbed of their rightful patrimony and heritage. On numerous occasions, I have received messages from people who, after I suggested they attend the Latin Mass, ask me: “Why did they get rid of this?” “Why doesn’t every parish offer it?” “Where has this been all of my life?”Our grandparents and great-grandparents built some of the most beautiful churches in the United States, yet they are closing at a rapid rate, leaving us with churches which look more like a spaceship than a proper temple for God. Many of us are scratching our heads, wondering how someone could ever think that, by ripping down beautiful churches, removing sublime chant, and simplifying the Sacred Liturgy to look like a gentleman’s handshake with a “nice” God, we would somehow be closer to God than the saints of numerous centuries who were nourished by liturgical beauty. However, change is on the way, and more and more people are rediscovering the beautiful traditions of our Church. The Trads are here to stay. And no,that shouldn’t be a cause for fear.

With the exception of a handful of wackos on the Internet, most of us who attend the Latin Mass are actually pretty decent people, if only by God’s grace. We are not liturgical idolaters, nor are we blind to the needs of our marginalized brothers and sisters. We do not hate community — we actually embrace it. After every Latin Mass I have been to in the past 6 months, there has been a coffee hour & social following. One parish I know of cooks meals every week for the homeless and economically disadvantaged. Another parish has mission trips to Appalachia, one of the poorest areas in the United States. Is this the work of individualistic, narcissistic haters of the marginalized? I don’t think so.

Still, that doesn’t mean we do not have work to do. All too often, we “trads” can huddle up in our own self-referential circle. We make the Latin Mass look like a prize for the perfect, a trophy for the “frozen chosen”. We have much room to grow, especially in the area of evangelization. The “Tridentine Option”, that is, the idolization of everything pre-Vatican II, the pejorative calling of our Holy Father Pope Francis “Bergoglio”, the refusal to listen to those who think differently than us — all of these and more contribute to our own self-fulfilling prophecy of being known as the weirdos who fetishize the ‘old’ just because it’s, well… old. All of these things are hindrances to authentic evangelization. This is an area where growth is needed, but such failings should not characterize every young person who veils.

Still, there are those in the Catholic Church, such as Pope Francis, who fear and worry when they see young people flocking to more “traditional orders”. Such fear is unwarranted and simply unnecessary. Young people desire truth, goodness, and beauty. If Instagram tells us anything about the minds of the youth, it shows us that they do not want these things for themselves, but rather have a desire to share these things with others. By defending Church teaching, the youth are saying, “Yes, I believe that this is the Truth worth living — and even dying — for.” By seeking traditional liturgy and devotions, they are manifesting such allegiance to Christ and Christ’s Church by seeking to remain faithful and true to the way Roman Catholics have worshiped for centuries. As Sacred Scripture tells us, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:8), and “perfect love” is found nowhere else than at the Sacrament of the Altar — the Holy Eucharist, which by sacred silence and altar rails is seen as the sublime, precious gift from God that it is. Still, for whatever reason, irrational fear regarding the rise of traditional practices remains.

Most recently, Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, expressed disbelief at the genuineness of this trend. Fr. Ruff, a renowned liturgical scholar and administrator of the left-leaning Catholic liturgy blog, Pray Tell, expressed the following:

The Catholic Church will have to live with the incongruity of a small but fervent minority at odds with its own liturgical vision, probably for decades. But long term, it can’t last. The arguments don’t hold up. The principles of the Second Vatican Council will not go away and will ultimately prevail.

You mean that the principles of the Second Vatican Council, which stated that:

  1. Gregorian chant has “pride of place” (SC #116)
  2. It is forbidden for a “priest [to] add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (SC #22.3)
  3. “There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC #23)

…will prevail?

Oh, I sincerely hope so.

https://medium.com/@johnmonaco/about-those-young-rigid-traditional-catholics-14a755092ae0

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

What two saints and a pope named Francis can teach us about living the Gospel online– an America Magazine exclusive

I am happy to share with you a piece I wrote for America Magazine. Happy feast of St. Francis of Assisi!

 

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/10/03/what-two-saints-and-pope-named-francis-can-teach-us-about-living-gospel-online#

 

 

8 a.m. Amtrak Thoughts

As I depart Philadelphia for Boston (actually made my train, this time), I am reflecting upon the great experience I had at the Society for Catholic Liturgy’s annual conference. Presenting a paper and discussing theology with numerous scholars is always fun and exciting, but this conference went a bit deeper.
I am not a stranger to Philadelphia; as many of you know, I began my undergraduate experience at a college seminary down there. After leaving seminary formation in 2016, I have been wrestling with the question: “How am I now to serve God, the Church, and the world?” This conference helped confirm a lot of what I have learned since leaving the seminary.
Between my time at Boston College and living with the Assumptionist community in Brighton, I have come to realize that the future of the Church is largely dependent on a collaborative effort between ordained/consecrated religious and the laity. Yes, we need good & holy priests and consecrated religious… but we also need holy laymen and laywomen. But here’s the thing– they already exist.
At BC, I have met a ton of folk who are far more spiritually advanced, mature, and self-sacrificing than I am… and most do not wear a priestly collar. That’s not to discredit the many holy priests and bishops I know of, but in my experience, I always viewed “holiness” as something belonging to the clerical/religious state. Yet, since I have been at BCSTM and even by attending the conference, I am blown away at the many devout Catholic men and women who serve the Church in numerous ways. At the conference, I met Catholic theologians both on academic/pastoral tracks, musicians, architects, artists, and parish employees/volunteers, all who are striving for holiness, living out lives of love of God and neighbor in the various roles they have. Some were mothers/fathers of 5 children, others were single lay parish volunteers, but all were on fire with the Holy Spirit and were single-minded in their mission to make Christ known and loved, especially through the Sacred Liturgy.
The most impressive example of this, however, is in the hospitality and kindness shown to me by a former seminarian brother of mine, Brian. Brian and his roommates throughout the years have not only provided me shelter when I have been in Philly over the years, but they have put forth an amazing example of what it means to ‘be’ Church in 2017. Brian, especially, has proven to be a good example of how to live the Gospel. Whether it’s in his work with the underprivileged and needy, his efforts on the streets to help those most in need, or even just living a life of faith, hope, and charity, Brian and countless others have demonstrated that following Christ takes on many forms.
I am still unsure of the future (who isn’t?) and what I am meant to do in life, but I feel rejuvenated and inspired by the numerous folks I met these past 2 years, including this past weekend. I am thankful that this conference provided me not only with an opportunity to present a paper in an academic forum, but also to show how the Christian life takes many shapes and forms, and one needs not to be in the clerical state to make a difference in the Church.
Anyhow, I am thankful for all of your prayers and support over these years, especially to those who have been very patient with me even when I have been a jackass! I’ll close by sharing this poignant passage from Lumen Gentium.
“The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished.
Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal”. (LG, #33).

Summorum Pontificum: 10 Years Later

10 years ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued his Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum: On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970. In it, he not only specified the permissions of Catholic priests to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal (aka “Latin mass”), but he also broadened its reach, asserting that the 1962 Roman Missal was  “never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy.” (Art. 1)

As Crux’s Elise Harris reports:

The document established that the post-Vatican II Roman Missal, first issued by Blessed Paul VI, is the ordinary form of the Roman rite, and that the prior version, last issued by St. John XXIII in 1962 and known as the Traditional Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass, is the Roman rite’s extraordinary form.

In the motu proprio, Benedict noted that the Traditional Latin Mass was never abrogated. He awknowledged clearly the right of all priests of the Roman rite to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962, and established that parish priests should be willing to say the extraordinary form for groups of the faithful who request it.

Benedict also established that the faithful could have recourse to their bishop or even the Vatican if their requests for celebration of the extraordinary form were not satisfied.

One need not look far to see how, in merely 10 years, the desire for the Latin Mass has increased astronomically, and newly ordained priests are far more likely to be open to learning/celebrating than those of the Baby Boomer generation. That stated, it is important to remember that the Ordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the form common to most Roman Catholics since the 1960s, is by no means invalid… Pope Benedict himself even stated that “these two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi (law of prayer) will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.”

Today, we give thanks to the Holy Spirit for the gift of both Pope Benedict XVI & Pope Francis, and in a special way (and this is my personal opinion), for the way the former focused on honoring the Church’s liturgy, and the way that the latter teaches us to live out the liturgy’s fruits.