FB: Hey Fr. Chris! Are you busy?
FC: No Fr. Brook, what’s up?
FB: I wanted to pick your brain about a conversation I just had with one of my parishioners. Do you know Sara Smith?
FC: Sure, I was recently talking to her.
FB: She mentioned that. She came up to me and withdrew from the RCIA team and said that you had encouraged her to do so.
FC: *sigh* I didn’t exactly say that.
FB: What happened? She basically told me that after talking to you she felt unqualified to teach at RCIA. It should be noted that she gave me permission to talk to you about this.
FC: Yeah, she called me and mentioned you’d be stopping by – I wasn’t sure about what though… She was planning on teaching that hell does not exist or that one day nobody will be in it to the RCIA candidates. I explained to her the teaching with regard to hell being inescapable, loosely connecting it to the parable of Lazarus and the Richman. She agreed with it as a conclusion. But I added that it was important to not teach arm-chair theology and that people who are teaching the faith should be educated on these matters.
FB: Please be careful to avoid administrating another parish that you are not in charge of. Sara is a valuable volunteer who has much to offer the candidates in the RCIA program.
FC: It was never my intention to provide dual-formation or to in anyway usurp your own leadership in the parish.
FB: Thanks for saying that Father. Would you mind convincing her to return to the RCIA process to be one of the catechists?
FC: I’d be uncomfortable with that Fr. Brook.
FC: Well, I do take an issue with her teaching the class. For one, she herself no longer wants to, not because of what I said, but because what I said resonated with her. Second of all, for the reason I mentioned to her, which is that only experts on the faith ought to be teaching it: those who have a formal education in these matters.
FB: You young priests.
FC: What do you mean?
FB: You are all so obsessed with orthodoxy that you lose the real-focus of the faith: the heart.
FB: Look, Fr. Chris, the damage you are doing to your parish and now my parish is discouraging the people from evangelizing others, and that has been the task given to us by your beloved Popes in the recent past.
FC: Fr. Brook, I feel some level of hostility. I understand that the paradigm I am operating from is different than yours. Would you mind giving me the chance to explain it?
FB: Fine. But all I see in it is the undermining of what a lot of good priests have spent a great amount of time building up as our culture in this diocese and throughout the rest of the western world.
FC: I think your desire and appreciation for the new evangelization is a wonderful thing, and I think it is something we are both passionate about. That is something to celebrate. However, I suppose what we are lacking is a fraternity of mind, rather than a fraternity of heart?
FB: I’m not sure. You younger priests seem to be so legalistic and obsessed with externals.
FC: I’m sure it might appear that way. But if I’m given the chance to explain the “why” behind what we are doing, perhaps we can develop some mutual understanding. Is that fair?
FB: Fine: why do you want to wear your cassocks, and black or purple vestments at funerals? You want to alienate everyone from the good news of the Resurrection?
FC: I hope that you don’t think that I consider the Resurrection bad news?
FB: Whether or not you do, that is what you communicate. You cling to all these traditions out of sentimentality, not deep faith.
FC: As I said, Fr. Brook, if you would give me the chance to explain my motives, I would appreciate that.
FB: You are locked up in an outdated Church. It is time to get with the times and unite yourselves to Vatican II and all its good changes.
FC: Fr. Brook, I think the conversation we are having right now will have to continue later.
FB: I thought you said you weren’t busy.
FC: I’m not. But right now, it seems that I’m only here to have my motives imputed by you. I’m not sure what good that will do both of us?
FB: I’m sorry Fr. Chris. I’m just frustrated.
FC: Me too.
FB: With what?
FC: I find that my generation and yours are always in a state of conflict. I don’t think that is an absolute statement about each priest in the two generations. But it is an over-all feeling. I wish we could be of one heart and one mind. When we are not, I feel as if we are divided against ourselves, and working against each other.
FB: That is exactly how I feel too.
FC: That is good to hear.
FB: Good to hear? You like me being frustrated?
FC: Not at all. Rather, I like knowing that I’m not in this struggle alone. Furthermore, the fact that you are frustrated tells me you actually care about me, the priesthood and the people we are to serve. If we were apathetic to our differences, you’d be a lone-ranger, neglecting your mission, as would I.
FB: Of course I care. What also frustrates me, Fr. Chris is it seems as if you young priests think you can’t learn from our own experience. I feel as if you are simply trying to wait until we all die so that you can take over.
FC: The thing I worry about is when you are gone, and we are left in the wreck of a vocation crisis. We need help Fr. Brook. I’m also worried about regaining people’s trust from the sexual-abuse Crisis that has been going on for generations prior to our generation became priests, and left unchecked. But I also realize that not everything that has come from your generation is a complete failure. I can’t even imagine how confusing going through the changes of Vatican II would have been on every possible level. Perhaps had I been in your shoes, I would have done the same thing. I’m not saying that “thing” would have been right, but perhaps I would have done it, being the weak-sinner that I am as well. I also think that every generation has its own unique set of being tested. And while ours at times judges yours quite harshly and with deeply rooted resentments, I’m sure that if we are not careful, we might make different mistakes of the same gravity?
FB: The sexual abuse has really been difficult for a lot of us priests. Some of these people were our friends, who betrayed not only the people of God, but our trust as well. It is one of the reasons I no longer wear my collar in public. I am ashamed of the priesthood at times, and I can’t bear to think of lifting it up to some sort of dignity amongst the people in the world considering the fall we just experienced.
FC: Thank you for sharing that Fr. Brook. That gives me a great deal of insight on an issue that has confounded me for some time. I wear my collar all the time, but my reasons are a bit different. Do you mind if I explain?
FC: One of the Canon-Laws that we have is to wear what would identify us as a priest for the sake of making ourselves available as servants. I don’t really look at the dignity of the priesthood – which is Christ Himself – as something for public-adulation, but rather public-service. The white collar represents that, and in many ways has been a spiritual yoke for me, always reinforcing an interior motivation to be holy and an example to others, but also readily available to be present to the people.
FB: You mentioned Canon-Law. You realize that is merely ecclesiastical law, and not dogmatic, right?
FC: I realize that Canon-Law, has ecclesiastical laws that can be relaxed. But as I mentioned previously, there is a “spirit” to why the law is followed, and why it is there. I think there is also a spirit attached to being obedient to the universal law that has a mysterious benefit for the Church that sometimes goes beyond even our own comprehension of what makes a ministry fruitful. I think one of the fruits in our own spiritual life is that we give up our will and intellect to God through a concrete authority. That is a non-abstract authority, but a real one. And what liberation do we experience through such obedience!
FB: Your stress on obedience disturbs me. Obedience is often done by people who don’t want to know why the rule is there, but simply want to avoid difficult grey issues by making everything black and white. It makes religious people stupid and complicit.
FC: I think there will always be exceptions. Sometimes we shouldn’t obey an authority, especially when they are contradicting God’s divine law as maintained by the Church. However, I feel as if, Fr. Brook, that sometimes the exception-becomes the rule, meaning that people learn to purposefully excuse themselves from legitimate rules in order to live comfortably. That is what I have experienced growing up.
FB: I’ve heard that rhetoric before. But God gave us a brain and he expects us to use it.
FC: Unfortunately, Fr. Brook, I’m not at that level of holiness where I have completely overcome the effects of concupiscence. Sin is still deeply rooted in my spirit – as scripture would call it: sins of the flesh. It affects my reasoning, and I have found that in the saints, they often prescribe humility as the solution. That humility to me has always meant that we do not cling to our own judgment, but rather defer to a more competent authority. But in that process we do need to discern the spirits.
FB: So I’m not humble?
FC: I didn’t say that. But I don’t think any of us really are. I was, nonetheless, merely speaking in principle, and in my own experience. Don’t you find, Fr. Brook that your passion can override your thinking-process sometimes?
FB: Well of course. I don’t mean to imply I’m not a sinner.
FC: Phew. I thought I might be alone in that category. Its good to know I have some company.
FB: What I don’t understand Fr. Chris is all the focus on traditions that don’t seem to be part of our culture as a diocese. You know very well that habits for nuns and brothers, the usage of Latin with regard to the Ordinary parts of the mass, and the style of vestments you use are not common practices within your own community. Where is a spiritual obedience to the culture in that?
FC: I don’t think culture is ever meant to be stagnated or unchanging. I think culture is fluid, and I think it is important that we assess two things with regard to culture: what is unchanging and what is changing. As a priest, I had hoped that perhaps I could contribute to the culture, and not merely be put into the melting-pot. But I also want to maintain the immaterial, universal truths of the Church in the meantime. Those never change. Furthermore, it seems evident to me that in the dioceses where they have resurrected these external practices, the vocations are increasing. I remember once hearing a priest being invited to speak to a group of nuns on how to promote vocations. This priest was the rector of a seminary in the United States who had a successful program, and it was filled to the brim with seminarians. His first piece of advice to the nuns was to bring back the “habit.” The superior of that religious order declared: “We’d rather let the community die than bring back the habit.” To which the priest responded: “That is a viable option.”
FB: You cannot expect to just walk into a community and change everything without some fall-out.
FC: Change needs to be slow, sometimes. But when there is a crisis, I think it needs to be swift. I think it’s a complicated thing too, and sometimes situations are dealt with on a case-by-case scenario. Wouldn’t you agree? And would you agree with a statistic that suggests 86 % of Catholics don’t practice their faith indicates that the culture in the diocese needs to be changed rather than kept the same?
FB: I agree. But I wonder why you think a vestment or some smoke will change the Church for the better. It is the heart that needs to change, not the externals.
FC: Could you imagine, Fr. Brook if Mary had said this to the Angel Gabriel. That we do not need a saviour in the flesh, that is visible, tangible, that is sensible, that is the image of the invisible God. Rather we merely need good-sentiments?
FB: But even Christ hated external-practices.
FC: Christ is an external. He couldn’t have hated himself. What he was doing, and correct me if I’m wrong, was teaching us how to allow there to be some consistency between our life in the Spirit and in the Body. As if, there could one day be a unity between the two of them, through grace. In fact, He was put onto a hill for everyone to see. He truly allowed His light to shine before others.
FB: You are saying that Christ cares about externals?
FC: Have you ever been hugged before Fr. Brook?
FB: Are you insulting me?!
FC: No! I’m not saying you need a hug…haha. I’m asking you if you appreciate hugs?
FB: One of the things I’ve learned in ministry is that touch is incredibly powerful. When going to the hospital, I like to hold the hand of an infirm person who is dying. I want to show them that they are not alone.
FC: Exactly. That is beautiful. And it is an example of exactly what I am talking about. External or sensible realities transmit love and grace. A person can have an encounter with Christ’s healing touch through their senses being activated through sensible worship. The ritual of the mass touches all five senses, and can transmit to that person what is actually taking place in heaven: Divine Love. It could go beyond even human love.
FB: But why are you and all the overly conservative seminarians spending so much time in adoration, when they could be serving Christ in the poor?
FC: How could we ever serve the poor if prayer were not a part of our life. Prayer is supposed to purify our hearts, so that our service to our neighbour can be truly authentic. But you raise an important point, something that I think we need to remember.
FB: What is that?
FC: We need to have a consistent spirituality between what takes place in the Church-building and what takes place outside of the Church-building. Since we are the Church, regardless of where we are, we should make sure there is a consistency between both. The centre of our lives is the Eucharist, but part of the celebration of the Eucharist is bringing to Christ the sacrifice of our lives. That is: all the deeds, works of charity and mercy we have done throughout our day or week. If we neglect our brother or sister in a grave way, we, as St. Paul seems to imply: “Drink condemnation upon ourselves.”
FB: That is really good to hear you say. Although I do think that you also emphasize receiving communion in mortal sin is a bit out-dated and sometimes hyperbolic. People are not black and white, they are ambiguous.
FC: I definitely agree that people are ambiguous, but it is that ambiguity that is precisely the reason why such a person shouldn’t receive holy communion, especially when that ambiguity reaches a gravity that is significant. When a person is in mortal sin, it does not diminish the fact that other actions might be done in good will. For instance, a murderer might still care for his children. Nonetheless he is still guilty of murder. It is that ambiguity that is intolerable to God. A spiritual schizophrenia, where God is blessed and cursed by the same heart. Consider how Judas kissed Christ – a sign of love, an external sign of love, meanwhile in his heart there is betrayal.
FB: I do not believe that the majority of people commit mortal sins. I often tell them this in confession. Most people would agree that they don’t explicitly hate God in-the-act. Their mind is not on hurting God explicitly, but on something else.
FC: Mortal sin is as much of a possibility as is love. It is a radical possibility. One does not need to explicitly or consciously be hating God in an action in order for it to be mortal. In fact, it is part of our freedom to silence our conscience so that we don’t think about the logical consequences of an action we take. For instance, a murderer might not think of all the people he is harming when he kills another man, including the man he kills. But he allows only a convenient flow of information to inform his conscience so as to appease his own passions. This very act of willful ignorance or rationalization is a hatred for all those people, it is a type of choice-neglect, a willful disregard for the good of another.
FB: You seem to have a logical answer for everything.
FC: Thank you.
FB: It wasn’t meant has a compliment. I don’t mean to be rude Fr. Chris, but logic will only get you so far.
FC: And passion will only get us so far as well. I think neither the intellect nor the heart are entirely redeemed. But I have found reason helps me to encounter God in a way that also guides my passion through proper discipline. I think passion is like the flow of water, and reason and truth is like the banks of a river. Truth is definitive and limited, and the passion of the water is what gives it life and meaning. When you put the two together, you get something that moves in a particular direction. But if it’s just passion, I think what happens is you get nothing but a body of water that moves nowhere, a body of sentiments that changes nothing, and resists change at all costs: its comfortable and doesn’t involve risk. And when all you have is a trench, or the limits of a river but no water, you have what Christ called a white-washed tomb. Nothing but death.
FB: I can’t say I disagree with your point. I sometimes get the impression that with all the traditions you guys are bringing back, that all you are doing is digging a trench.
FC: God forbid it. Can I tell you about an experience I had in my first parish?
FC: Our youth went to Steubenville Ohio for a conference. Many of them had an experience of Christ, most especially during adoration. And for many of them, that experience changed their whole life. They encountered God as a healer and lover of their soul. When some of those youth came back, during periods of adoration, some of them experienced ecstasy and visions of God. It took about an hour to snap some of them out of it. When you talk about adoration as being archaic or unimportant, and I see how it has changed this person who has now developed into a full blown Catholic, evangelizing and actually doing some mission work. In this sense, I am judging this practice by its fruits.
FB: I see your point. I’m not against adoration. I’m just against having only-adoration.
FC: As I said before, I agree with that point.
FB: We’ve gone off topic. Let’s get back to the original reason I’m here. Sara.
FC: Okay. As I said to Sara, I have no problem with her helping with the RCIA, or even offering a testimony pertaining to her faith. But when it comes to catechesis, I don’t think it makes sense to have a uncatechised person catechize.
FB: That is a judgment that belongs to me, Fr. Chris.
FC: Are you aware of what she was planning on teaching to the RCIA class?
FB: I believe I had assigned to her the task of judgment, heaven and hell, and purgatory. She is always praying for the souls in purgatory, so she seemed like the perfect candidate.
FC: Are you aware that she was going to teach the same heresy Origen taught that was condemned by the Church? The notion that one day hell will release the souls of the damned?
FB: Hmm. I wasn’t. But in the broad scheme of things, does it really matter?
FC: You asked, so I’ll answer. Yes, it does matter. We should be aware of the inescapable consequences of sin that could devastate a soul for eternity or reward a soul for eternity. If you were selling someone a car and said: “This will not get you to your destination, but will leave you stranded in the desert where you will die” do you think the salesman is right in telling you this? Of course.
FB: As a Church, we no longer emphasize this anymore. It causes a person to only promote a relationship with Christ that is purely fear based.
FC: I often hear that criticism, but I couldn’t disagree with it more. Fearing the loss of God is a sign of a love of God. We fear losing what we love, do we not?
FB: Should we fear that God would abandon us? That doesn’t seem healthy.
FC: That is an evil type of fear, the type of despair that makes us doubt God’s Love. Christ felt it in his bones but did not give into the passions of such abandonment.
FB: So what kind of fear is holy then? Fear of God really means a reverence for Him.
FC: Yes, and if we revere the goodness of God, if we have a deep love for who God is, we would want to avoid anything that might cause us to not be with Him for eternity. God never abandons us, but we abandon Him, and it is in that freedom that He permits that fear can reasonably exist. God does not kidnap anyone of us into heaven.
FB: That is a different way of putting it. But don’t you think we should be spending more time talking about how to fall in love with God rather than fearing walking away from Him?
FC: I think both need to be discussed: don’t you? Christ after all spoke more about hell than anyone else in the bible. I suppose that was because He loved us, and wanted to protect us from danger. Isn’t there love in that very action! We have a God who saves us.
FB: I understand that God saves us. But this preoccupation with sin is unhealthy.
FC: How can we ever fall in love with God if we don’t grasp the depravity of our sin? We would cheapen the gift of his mercy.
FB: What do you mean?
FC: God forgives our sins. But we would never appreciate that gift if we didn’t spend time realizing we don’t deserve forgiveness. Instead, we would fall into the trap of presumption.
FB: I’m dealing with a lot of people who are in despair. They grew up in a Church that made them think swallowing toothpaste before mass was a mortal sin.
FC: This is another example of making sure we focus on both sin and mercy. But there is Love in focusing on both. I’d add that it sounds like sin wasn’t really the focus, but rules without the spirit being united to it?
FB: I’m beginning to get the impression that you actually do care about the people and the spirit. But when I see the externals come back, my automatic reaction is to go back to that place where things were done for their own sake. Rules for rules, that is what I’m reacting to and trying to avoid.
FC: May I be completely direct with you Fr. Brook?
FB: I have been, so it would be unfair for me to not extend you the same favour.
FC: Thanks. I don’t mean this to sound rude: but what you just said to me outlines a complete ignorance of what my own generation of Catholics has experienced in our world. In your own words you are “reacting” to an external, but it might also be said you are reacting to a generation of Catholics that isn’t mine. Is it perhaps possible that you are projecting your negative experience of traditions without the ideology behind them upon my own generation?
FB: It was not my intention to misjudge your generation. But when I see the rise of externals, I always associate them with a legalistic attitude.
FC: And that is where I want to introduce you to another possible category: that there is a world where the spirit behind the external and the external itself can be united, and through that unity can transmit to others a grace. But when we have a visceral reaction to the external as a result of generational baggage, that grace is blocked and shut out.
FB: You are saying I have baggage?
FC: I think everyone does. I do. I know sometimes I struggle with resentments of the past generation of priests, and the trail of wreckage they have left behind them in the Church. But I’ve come to the conclusion that resentment is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m not reacting myself. I think that some in our generation have slipped into that trap. Especially those in the SSPX or those who condemn the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form of the mass. But I also don’t think that everyone involved in the Traditional Latin Mass have that same demeanor, and that community needs to be served just as much as everyone else. Sometimes they are treated like lepers by the Catholic Clergy. And when people are isolated and mal-treated it naturally creates a temptation to become resentful. It is funny how by resisting what is legitimately permitted in the Church ends up polarizing the situation even further. Extreme begets extreme.
FB: You mentioned a lot of things there. You also mentioned earlier that your experience of the Church wasn’t the same as I had mentioned. Could you tell me a little more about your experience of the Church?
FC: I’m blown away by you asking me that question. You are the first priest who has ever wanted to know where I was coming from! Usually we are just told the way it is by the Power-base.
FC: Sorry that is a term I had learned from one of the priests who spoke to us at the CCCB organized event for newly ordained priests in the Ontario region. It means the Vatican II generation who for the most part are in “power” right now.
FB: It sounds a bit derogatory and inflammatory.
FC: Typically having power involves a knee-jerk reaction from people. I suspect that the title was given to remind people of the dynamic of power that exists. The newly ordained are not in charge, and you are. That will naturally create a power-dynamic amongst the clergy. Some may be intimidated, especially if there is an abuse of authority, or a paradigm difference.
FB: Sometimes I am in my mind still thinking of what we went through with the past generation of priests that I forget what type of power and authority we have.
FC: That seems normal. But I think that there are things that have changed in the culture. You asked me what my experience was like, I’d like to share with you a couple of things.
FC: Growing up I rarely ever encountered friends in the Church who agreed with the Church’s teaching. Rather, we had everyone making up their own mind about what the truth was, without the guidance of the Church. People naturally looked at the authority of the Church as having no divine authority, especially considering all the sexual abuse scandals that seemed to dethrone us from having any moral authority. So as a result people have no sort of fraternal unity, because none of them are united by any truth, but everyone’s individual truth. That sounds abstract, but let me explain the impact it has on us, which is very real: we are lonely. And when we go to the Church, we look for refuge from the cultures radical-individualism. If the Church is truly united in the creed and all that is a consequence of it, we finally belong to something that fosters genuine unity, not just in the heart, but in the mind as well. Without a common-mission, we are always working against each other.
When we see priests in their collar what we see is a hero: a man who rises above the culture and is willing to be a sign for us of that unity and fraternity we deeply long for. When we see nuns in their habits, it is the same thing: instead of a bunch of individuals, we see a community that wants to express its solidarity like a light shining in the darkness.
That fraternity needs to be visible and tangible since the individuality in our culture is also visible and tangible. It means nothing if the spirit itself is not in it, of course, but again, its about both of them going together. Habits, cassocks, collars, vestments, and tradition all speak of something even more deep and profound: a fraternity with the past: with the history of the Church. Not only do we belong to a current trend in our contemporary culture, but we belong to something historical, something that is culturally grounded in the history of civilization as we know it today. And lastly, that not only do we belong to a cultural reality, to something deeply grounded in the identity of the past, but something created by our infallible and all-loving God: something Divine in its nature.
FB: Wow. So it isn’t just about some sort of sentimentality. Do you judge priests who don’t wear their collars?
FC: I try not to, but I struggle with it for a few reasons, as I mentioned before. One of the reactions I have inside of me is that when I see a priest not wearing their collar in public I immediately feel the disunity in the priesthood, and the lack of fraternity which runs even deeper.
FB: What runs even more deeply?
FC: Liturgical norms in each particular parish vary. The laity are greatly frustrated with that. I often hear men saying: “Every priest says, ‘this is the way to celebrate mass’ and yet every priest celebrates differently.” We both know that there are a variety of acceptable situations that are legitimate, and then there are acceptable situations that are not legitimate, and then there are unacceptable differences that are always illegitimate.
As the phrase goes: when you give an inch people will take a mile. People want to belong to something transcendent that is a basic design of any human being. But when each church does everything different, or each diocese, it merely buys into the culture of radical individualism. When we see that, we want to run far away, as it will merely offer us everything the world offers us already. It is that tough balance that we need to somehow strike. And I think examining the radical-individualism of our culture today, whether people want it or not, we need more of a stress on what is universal.
People don’t go to Church today, in our diocese, and I think part of the reason is they don’t find anything much different from the culture there. I think people are looking for something unworldly, something transcendent of both history, and of the world.
FB: St. Paul teaches that the Church is dynamic, and that everyone is different for a reason, and through that difference we develop unity.
FC: Absolutely. That is why I think uniformity is not always a good thing. But growing up in the Church there wasn’t much of it. We are attempting to bring it back moderately. I think using the professional standard applies here.
FB: Professional standard?
FC: In order to discern if we have our priorities straight sometimes it’s helpful to compare the expectations of what exists in the world and to the Church. For instance: the statement goes; “Come as you are.” And we assign this to God. I think it’s a fair statement…but the question I would ask is: “What do we have the potential to do when we come?” It seems unreasonable to give a future employer more respect than God in how we dress.
FB: I try not to judge people based upon the clothing they wear.
FC: Does that extend to priests who wear cassocks?
FC: I think we can both agree that wearing clothing is important. It certainly is mentioned in scripture. My question here is what the motive behind the clothing we wear is, is it appropriate given the various circumstances we find ourselves in. If someone wears something simple and is not dressed up well, is it because they want to be in solidarity with the poor or is it resulting from a lack of reverence for Christ? If a person dresses in their best, is it to show off their bling or to give honour to Christ. We can both agree that the motives might be bad in both situations, and we can both agree that perhaps there are two different legitimate ways to dress for mass. But we must both agree that the motive is important, and that some clothes are never appropriate: like a bikini or a thong, or boxers or showing too much skin, or a shirt with graphic images that are inappropriate (everywhere).
FB: ha…the standards do seem to keep getting lower. I can agree with you on that. It is nice also to note that you promote a certain clothing to be in solidarity with the poor. Franciscan Habits have always reminded me of the importance of being in solidarity with the poor and not being obsessed with externals.
FC: It is interesting to note that St. Francis actually noted the incredibly evangelical dimension to externals that he would dress in something that was a sign of great poverty to convey a spirituality. But St. Francis also spoke very highly of the importance of gold chalices and beautiful vestments.
FB: Really? I thought he was all about poverty in the liturgy too?
FC: No. St. Francis of Assisi insisted that poverty be a way of life, but reserved the sacredness and riches of the Church to the Eucharist and its celebration. It is interesting to note that St. Jean Vianney was the same way. I recently went to a Social Justice meeting, and a woman was complaining about all the statues and art within the Church. She went on about how all the younger priests and some older priests don’t care about the poor at all. She then spoke about selling all the art and giving it to the poor, and bringing back clay vessels for mass. She missed the whole point. I stood up and said, “Everything in the Church belongs to the poor. What doesn’t is what exists in the rectory. We should be selling all the lavish things that we priests have in the rectory before we start taking away from the poor and the Lord in the liturgy.” If we as priests really want to be in solidarity with the poor we won’t use the liturgy to convey this, but we will live it out in our way of life.
FB: But we aren’t monks.
FC: Nor was St. Jean Vianney
FB: But he is an extreme example and part of the past.
FC: A saint, worthy of honour who sets us an example. Just because he is in the past doesn’t make him irrelevant, just as Christ’s past doesn’t make Him even more irrelevant.
FB: What I mean is that we have a tendency to go to extremes with the spiritual life.
FC: That is true. However, I think sometimes people say that as a way of escaping a legitimate spirituality. When I clean my bedroom (which is often messy) I think it looks clean. Someone else comes in and says, “Wow you are messy.” I think to myself: “I just cleaned it…” My point is this: when we live in a spiritual mess, we begin to look at mediocrity as excellence, and excellence as extreme. I think the saints often had to deal with the same criticisms we might give the saints of the past today.
FB: Why do you think we aim for spiritual mediocrity today?
FC: First, 86 % of Catholics in the diocese of London do not practice their faith. So the majority of the Catholics baptized and confirmed don’t live up to the bare minimum. Then when mass is celebrated I rarely see the ideals being lived out. The Church teaches that “Gregorian chant” is preferred. But most of the lay-faithful never hear it. According to Vatican II and since Vatican II the faithful were expected to know how to participate in the mass with Latin in the Ordinary parts of the mass. If you sing the Agnus Dei today, it’s a huge change. We don’t use incense, and if we do, we rarely use it at the most important part of the mass: the consecration. Altar servers often don’t get trained very well, in some places they don’t even wear Albs. And this is the standard we live by in the Church building. If the standards are set low, it sends the message that what is taking place is not of great importance. Therefore it makes sense that about 70 % of Catholics do not believe in the true-presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Even our social-justice events rarely speak the name of Jesus and give him the glory in such activity. We have pushed God aside as a politically incorrect name to avoid mentioning. We are purposefully making Christ anonymous, and someone who loves Him wouldn’t do that…ever.
FB: You’ve given me a lot of things to think about Fr. Chris. I don’t know what to make out of this last comment. It somewhat bothers me. But I’m going to think about it.
As for Sara, I think it’s clear that her teaching something erroneous was not a good idea. It seems to me that we have a lot more to talk about. I’d like to share with you more of my experiences of the past as well, so you might understand where we are coming from too.
FC: I think that would be a good idea. Of course, we should also get some of the Pre-Vatican II priests in here if we can as well to let them speak too. I realize that these categories can be demeaning, since not everyone fits neatly into each box we might label them with.