Ripples From The Rock

If I had but one sermon to preach it would be this: The ripples are not the rock, the rock is not the ripple, and it is the confusion of the two that damages the Church.

A current trend amongst Catholic leaders, priests and ministers is to look at the Holy Mass and ask, “How can we get the world to come? Ah, well, we could bring the most beautiful art into our churches, we could bring the music people like into the Mass, we could orientate it towards families, we could have a later Mass so more people can attend,” etc. etc. And though these things are not all bad, they miss the point. They mistake the rock for ripples. The Mass is unspeakably gorgeous, our life and our salvation, but even more importantly, it is The Thing Itself.

What do I mean? Well, if the Mass is what we say it is — the wedding feast of heaven and Earth, the moment where God humbles himself into the physical, the veil is torn and we are consumed by the Creator Himself — then our previous questions are stupid. The question should be: “How do we get The Liturgy into our art? How do we get The Holy Mass into our music? How do our marriages reflect the wedding feast of heaven and earth? How do our families reflect the family of the Church?” The Mass is the rock, not the ripples spreading out from it. The Mass is the Thing Itself; all else should be reaction to and from it.

The pride of a Catholic — that stupid, dreamy grin that slips onto our faces whenever we start talking about transubstantiation or apostolic succession – it doesn’t come from the mere thought that “these things are awesome!” We know they’re awesome. Of course they are. But if our hearts and our minds stopped there, all we would have is the smugness of a child who has a brighter, better toy.

No, the pride of the Catholic comes from the fact that these things are the rocks dropped into the water, from the fact that the Catholic faith is not something that can be put on the scale of the world, labeled somewhere as a religious, artistic or political force, and measured against various other religions, powers, philosophies and movements. No, the Holy Roman Catholic Church is the damn scale. She is the cumbersome and ancient ruler which all things are measured against.

Thus when we look at Catholic Social Teaching, there should be no conundrum over whether it is too liberal or too conservative. No, liberalism and conservatism are far too unlike Catholic Social Teaching, ripples far from the rock. Or when we take the music of the Church, the Gregorian form; the question isn’t what genre it belongs in, the question is how do all other genres depart or conform to it?

These truths I hold not to be self-evident — and they are all the truer for the fact:

The Cross is not an event that took place at one time, in one place. The cross is a spear plunged by God into the void, and the world swells and exists around it.

The life of the Blessed Virgin Mary – the Immaculate Conception – was not merely a remarkable life compared to the human beings around her. The life of Our Lady was the life humanity was made for. Her life is how our lives should (and will) be: The Thing Itself.

The Sacraments of the Church — Communion, Confession and the like — these are not supplements to life, as one might be supplemented by drugs, literature, friendship, and romance. No, the Sacraments are the Thing that all supplements imitate – from heroin to meditation, adventure to friendship. The Sacraments are 7 rocks flung with violence into the muddy water of things-that-make-life-worth-living. All else is ripple.

The Eucharist is not simply a beautiful addition to life. It is not merely a glorious, loving thing. Rather, it is glory. It is beauty. It is love. In the words of J.R.R Tolkien:

“There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”

So there you have it. I understand the need to quietly love one’s religion, and to avoid smug Pride in its proclamation, I really do. But the fact of the matter is that one can have no more Pride in pointing out the awesomeness of Catholicism than in pointing out the blueness of the sky. Catholicism isn’t great. Catholicism is. She is the rock and all else the ripple; that is all there is to know, and all you need know, for everything else will orientate itself around that shocking, piercing point.

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  • Joseph Moore

    Thank you. That made my day and brought a tear to my eye.

  • Anonymous

    This is powerful.

  • Mandrivnyk

    Thank you. This really was a beautiful post.

  • Chris Hora

    I agree, this is truly powerful.

    I hear the echo of a statement from Archbishop Chaput, where he was talking about how both the Left (Democrats) and Right (Republicans) applaud and denounce Catholic Social teaching. The Left applaud treating immigrants as human beings; the Right applauds the right to life that all people have, from conception to natural death. But they both denounce what the other applauds.

    Catholic social teaching is the measure that everyone else is trying to desperately to measure up to. And, as a result, is heart rending when we don’t live up to the standards which are dictated by our Lord.

    • Anonymous

      If you don’t know that several major right-wing organs—the Wall Street Journal, for one—are totally in favor not only of amnesty for illegals, but of practically abolishing borders altogether, your opinions on the matter are invalid.

      And why do they support it? Same reason most Democrats do. Cheap labor that can be easily exploited, and has no real recourse when it is.

      Sorry, but it’s those—almost all Republicans—who favor rational, humane border-enforcement who actually want to treat illegals as human beings.

      Sheesh, do you also think outlawing slave-ships was racist? After all, they made it illegal to bring more black people over.

  • Arkanbar

    Dude. When are you gonna ever write something not so thoroughly permeated with total badassery?

  • Jack Viere

    Somebody doesn’t like Plato for breakfast… :P
    I really like that distinction. All I can say is I wish the heavily dominated Catholic North over here could understand this. I really like rock-ripple analogy; faith isn’t something we put on, decorate, and formulate. (And that’s when people groan and lose interest.) But your take on it puts that which people groan about into an incredibly positive light.

  • Kathleen Duncan Lundquist

    Holy cow. This (and you) are freakin’ amazing.

    But I think you already knew that. :)

  • Kathy Brents

    Marc. I have been following your posts for a little over a month, but this is the first time I have commented, mainly because after reading some of these, there are just no words…this one included! If your posts aren’t making me think, they’re making me laugh, or making me more in awe of my Mother than I already am. Some of the words that come out of you are ridiculously amazing. So I just wanted to say thanks, great post, and please keep talking about my Mother that way!

  • Orenjd

    I love this! It reminds me of how when I’m listening to any kind of song or even watching a particularly moving part of a television show or anything I think is beautiful and touching, I think to myself, this is like Jesus’ Passion because…or something along those lines. You write some great stuff.

  • Manny


  • Anonymous

    This is excellent. You’ve put into words what I feel but don’t have the power to explain.

  • Father Joseph

    “…in its actual form the Church is… the revelation of the divine Holiness, Justice, and Goodness. The Catholic does not desire some ideal Church, a Church of the philosopher or the poet. Though his mother be travel-stained with long journeying, though her countenance be furrowed with care and trouble—yet, she is his mother. In her heart burns the ancient love. Out of her eyes shines the ancient faith. From her hands flow ever the ancient blessings. What would heaven be without God? What would the earth be without this Church? I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” (Karl Adam, The Spirit of Catholicism).

  • Lori

    Chesterton would thoroughly approve.

    • MikeLeegbw

      Exactly what I was thinking as I read this; Chesterton!

  • Karen May

    Wow! I’m a new reader and just Wow!! Also, what is that awesome painting in the post? I love it! I am subscribing immediately. Thank you.

    • Pmholy

      It’s “High Mass at a Fishing Village on the Zuyder Zee, Holland” painted by George Clausen in 1876

  • mary york

    can you forward a reference for that beautiful painting of the Dutch children outside of Mass? I cannot stop thinking about it.

  • Johnccollier

    Thank you so much for this post. A friend sent it to me.Just wonderful.

    May I add, when it comes to the music, the homily, the art at mass, the care we take with these things is the care we take with Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    This is an amazing article of truth and it “tickles the ear” with awesome power. Thank you Marc for a commentary that solidly moves in the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit!

  • Good Saints

    Beautiful post!

  • Kurtis Wiedenfeld

    But where does that painting come from?

  • Fisherman

    Beautiful post Marc! But hark, you’ve got a typo in your second paragraph- “What do I man?” Should be mean. Unless if you are super confident in your masculinity.

    • Marc Barnes

      Ah, good catch! Thanks!

  • Rick Rice

    Friggin’ beautiful man… again…

  • Denise

    This is da bomb, not to mention the truth. Love it.

  • TotusTuusFamily

    SO grateful you resurrected this for the new reader. I LOVED it! Gorgeous! Favorite line, “No, the Holy Roman Catholic Church is the damn scale. She is the cumbersome and ancient ruler which all things are measured against.”

    Sharing to Catholic Pinterest and elsewhere.