Gimme that Ole Time Religion

I heard a comment about the celebration of the liturgy in America that “every priest seems to be making up his own version.” The way they celebrate Mass (the complainer went on) is infused with their own personality and what they think the faith ought to be.

So Father Friendly, who thinks the faith is all about fellowship and family and friends, says, “The Lord be with you, and isn’t it a grand day today? How wonderful it is for all of us to be gathered here in the Lord’s presence realizing his love for us and our love for one another….” Meanwhile Monsignor Maniple intones, “The Lord be with You” in his  stained glass voice showing that his version of the Mass is all about solemnity and worship of the transcendent God in the beauty of holiness. Father Peaceanluv says seriously, “The Lord be with you, and as we gather let us remember all those who are excluded from our church this day…”

It takes other forms as well. There is a tendency amongst some Catholics to turn their religion into an intellectual quest for ‘true orthodoxy’ or ‘solid theology’ or ‘a message that is relevant for people today.’ Others turn it into a search for ‘a spirituality that really suits them’. I heard another priest going on the other day about “modern man’s search for meaning and how each person must search the depth of their heart to find their heart’s true desire and then at that point they will have the Christ encounter.” Whaat? Sound like Jean Paul Sartre meets Dorothy Gale from Kansas.

I’m exaggerating, but you get my point.

What I’m realizing more and more is how very far the twenty first century church is from the simple preaching of the gospel and the core of the Catholic faith. What we don’t hear is the old time religion. What has gone right over our heads is how influenced we are by modernism and the thought of Rudolph Bultmann who insisted that Christianity was old fashioned and needed to be ‘de-mythologized’. He said modern man couldn’t deal with the old, out dated cosmology of heaven and hell and sin and repentance and all that stuff.

After him the psychologists swept in and told us how ‘sin’ was all a mental construct of an ancient age and how we were all really victims because our mother didn’t breast feed us enough (or breast fed us too much) or because our father didn’t pay us enough attention (or paid us too much attention) and furthermore didn’t we know that preaching about sin only made people feel guilty and was counter productive?

Fuhgeddaboudit.

The gospel message is simple: You don’t have to turn it into a quest for the perfect liturgy or a campaign for justice or peace or the creation of the perfect self help group. You don’t have to turn it into an intellectual or existential quest to discover your true self or the source of your heart’s desire.

You are unhappy and searching for something because you are imperfect. You have fallen short of the glory of God. This condition is called sin. You are a sinner. You are selfish, ego centric, lustful, unforgiving, angry, manipulative, self seeking and proud. You love pleasure rather than God and you will believe any lie as long as it allows you to continue in your sin. If you continue in this condition you will end up  becoming more and more unhappy and eventually you will be separated from God, light, love, goodness, truth and beauty forever because that is what you chose.

The New Testament, and the message of the church down the ages is straightforward: “Repent and believe the gospel and be baptized”. In other words, “Admit you are a sinner, turn to God for forgiveness. Accept the strange, but compelling truth that Christ died on the cross to forgive your sins. Receive his gift of new life with an open heart with nothing held back. Change your ways. Begin to live the Catholic faith in simplicity and honesty. Empowered by God’s grace, live in the church, learn to pray, live with the sacraments, love others. This is the way you follow Christ.”

People will say that preaching against sin is counter productive. It makes people mad. They stomp off to another parish and take their money with them. They reject what you are saying. But this is part of the deal. It’s there in the New Testament. Preach the faith. To some it will be a stumbling block. To some it will be a stepping stone. So be it.

Now the marvelous thing is that if everyone did this–if everyone really went back to the core gospel message and took it seriously and tried to follow the old path of sin, repentance, faith and sacraments, then all the other problems would be solved too. You would have a wonderful Christian fellowship. You would have the right kind of liturgy, you would have justice and peace. You would have the answer to your intellectual questions and you would find your heart’s desire.

Try to seek those things first though–and without sin, repentance and faith–and all you end up with is piffle. You may find the treasure chest, but it will be empty. Worse, you may find some sort of religion, but it won’t be the Christian faith.

It will be something you made up yourself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07947947676315341165 GMRUNNER

    The abuses as such are mostly limited to the opening and closing comments and are SO common and by and large SO accepted by the faithful one has to wonder if its a movement of the Holy Spirit? Where I agree with you is the woeful state of homiletics. Rather than challenging and engaging fire and brimstone preaching of sin, repentance and the need for conversion, the homilies are for the most part soft and feel good fuzzy experiences that seldom cause a pond ripple. They fail to pierce the heart and cause meaningful self examination that leads to inner conversion and reconversion. It's becoming far more common for homilies to start out as a comedy monologue. Short version: Did you hear the one where The Father got tired of hearing Jesus and Satan argue who was better on the computer, so the Father held a contest and Jesus and Satan did spreadsheets, printing and data searches, etc etc. The power goes out. Satan's work is lost and Jesus work is still on the computer. Why?…because Jesus saves…yuk yuk yuk.We've come a long way from Peter's convicting Pentecost homily of "You killed Jesus!" and the listeners' alarm. "Brothers, what are we to do?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04469448997139436175 Michael

    While I largely agree, I think that this post is perhaps too dismissive of liturgical concerns. Yes, I am imperfect and fallen and searching. But the liturgy helps me focus on what my heart longs for—-it is an instrument that draws me closer to God. Or at least it could be if the Roman Rite were conducted in such a manner. The comedy-hour-at-the-improv feel of 90% of liturgies I have attended in the last 30 years tends to distract rather than draw me to God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13851592041787358791 slimsdotter

    Good post. I am a new convert, with more than a slight tendency to be critical, and wish to "do things right". It is good to remember that this comes from my own imperfect nature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Suburbanbanshee

    He's not dismissing liturgical concerns. This blog has tons of liturgical concerns; you don't have to make every post about that.The point is that ANY good and laudable thing which becomes the goal (instead of being something pointing to Our Lord or commanded by Him) has become disordered. (And not intrinsically for everybody; only for us that are misusing it.) The Trinity is #1; there ain't nobody and nothing else that the Church is about. And Job #1 for Jesus has to be Job #1 for us. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the marbles come along with it.And then you do end up with good liturgy that helps convert people and help gain holiness. You also get the energy and wisdom to make it happen. But you have to be pointed at Jesus first last and always, or you get angry snarly liturgy fans or wispy English aesthetic liturgy fans; and they both skip Mass if the music is wrong, even though they know better than the hippie hoi polloi at the Mass down the street. It would be really awful to have all the spiritual advantages and still go to Hell, for lack of ignoring the basics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18146029141101557910 Micah

    I've been saying that last bit for years, but never as concisely. If we're aiming for the effects of grace, but trying to reach them by our own effort, we will utterly fail and end up as some empty social justice organization everyone feels obliged to participate with, but no one really wants to. If we are trying to love God, and be sorry for our sins, then every effect of grace will follow. It's the spiritual short-cutting that messes everything up. Perhaps especially because Americans are obsessed with results.This is why I cringe when I hear priests and theologians say that Catholicism is not a "me and Jesus" religion, but a "Church and Jesus" religion. I don't cringe because they're absolutely wrong, but because it's a false dichotomy. It's another "both…and…" If we don't make a personal effort to love God, then we can't be a part of the Church that loves God. If no one is making a personal effort to love God, then there can't be a Church that loves God. Likewise, if there is no Church that loves God, then how could I do it on my own? Or if I love God, how could I ever be content loving God without the Church?The Church is a body of individual God-lovers, and the Church herself is loving God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01988914212696765790 Fr. James Weldon

    A couple of my elderly parishioners told me that back when they were kids Father could beat the rosary. He would spin around so fast that his fiddleback would have to be readjusted. I think in every age there is the need to be celebrating the liturgy and our moral life more faithfully

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13885788074200788850 Etienne

    I am Msgr. Maniple. You have written this about me: "Meanwhile Monsignor Maniple intones, "The Lord be with You" in his stained glass voice showing that his version of the Mass is all about solemnity and worship of the transcendent God in the beauty of holiness." With all due respect, I do not have a personal version of the Mass; I like to think I am celebrating the *Church's* "version" of the Mass when I say "The Lord be with you" and stick to the authorized words and gestures. My voice has never been described as "stained glass", but I can give it a try someday.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04488655902681432534 BurgoFitzgerald

    "…You are unhappy and searching for something because you are imperfect. You have fallen short of the glory of God. This condition is called sin. You are a sinner. You are selfish, ego centric, lustful, unforgiving, angry, manipulative, self seeking and proud. You love pleasure rather than God and you will believe any lie as long as it allows you to continue in your sin…"It is true, but I don't want this. I don't want to be like this. That's why I need to be shown and taught the way NOT to be like this. Repeatedly. Clearly. Unceasingly. The lessons seem to only stick for a short time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Yipeeeeeeeeeeee! I love sermons like this. Let the bible bashing roll! I can't help it, I will always be a bit of a Baptist-ish type of Christian, even tho I am Catholic. I like Methodists too and Anglicans but Baptists are best (proddy wise, that is). BurgoFitzgerald said:'The lessons seem to only stick for a short time.'For me too. That's why we must remember it's a day at a time, but…..there are NO DAYS Off!I've started a new job and my prayer life has suffered, without me realising. I forgot to speak to Jesus the whole time I was at work today, although I did witness to a colleague, without them noticing!!Praise the Lord. This post has cheered me up. Thank you Father D.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07947947676315341165 GMRUNNER

    Hahahaha Msgr Maniple, I'd love to hear your stained glass version of the opening greeting! While important to note liturgical concerns, the holy water super soaker gun blessing comes to mind, it should not be to the extent of hateful community division or picking apart every liturgical transgression if it leads to a poisonous critical spirit.When liturgical correctness comes at the EXPENSE of community fellowship and charity as God's people come together to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass, I wonder if sometimes Jesus would say to us, "Lighten up."That said, if jokes are going routinely to be used to start the homily, better jokes would be appreciated! Msgr Maniple, maybe a homily in a stained glass voice could be humorous? Not sure what kind of voice that would be either but something deep and with much gravitas comes to mind!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01306017321460701751 Paul Rodden

    Most weeks, our homily has no bearing on the readings whatsoever.This last Sunday, for example, 'Monsignor Lastname' (we have to refer to him by his title) 'preached' on:a) how to prepare our houses and rooms for a priest's visit, and that we should greet him with a candle if he's carrying the Blessed Eucharist (Hmm. OK. That's a good thing, isn't it?, although maybe not for a homily.) But he proceeds by…b) telling us the 'secret' of how 'all those salesmen' who sell Home Mass Sets door-to-door know you're Catholic, andc) how people today don't respect priests like in the old days, as they rarely acknowledge him or take their hat off when speaking to him.Normally however, the homily's about some other 'failing' of the laity, like people no longer encouraging their eldest to become a priest or nun, the evil of single mothers (i.e., because they're tarts), or it's about the wonderful Irish missions converting the 'coloureds', as he calls them (we have an increasing number of African priests here, in England). Yep. He really goes there…!Of course, I don't know how many times we've been told we need to emulate the Irish as they're the only real Catholics…Our RCIA (30 sessions) last year was him sitting behind a desk, reading the Penny Catechism and Canon Cafferata's 'The Catechism Simply Explained', to us (published in 1932), for around 30 minutes each week. No discussion. No refreshments. Just listen.I'm not saying this for catharsis or any desire to commit the sin of detraction.He's just the product of Maynooth in the 1950's, and it's as if time stopped when he entered the seminary.In fact, imagine one of the priests in a Jack Chick tract sprung to life, and that's him.The old people love it because they say, 'It's just like the old days'.And sadly, that 'ole time religion' which allows our old folk to remain in their comfort zone, doesn't sound the remotest like the 'Ole time religion' you're talking about, Father.At the parish level, it seems one toxin was merely replaced by another at Vatican II.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00378688514450910456 D. V. Andrews

    GKC is saying Amen as usual to your words Father, as am I. Ironically similar words from the apostle of common sense but a century since:'There is a sceptic far more terrible than he who believes that everything began in matter. It is possible to meet the sceptic who believes that everything began in himself. He doubts not the existence of angels or devils, but the existence of men and cows. For him his own friends are a mythology made up by himself. He created his own father and his own mother. This horrible fancy has in it something decidedly attractive to the somewhat mystical egoism of our day. That publisher who thought that men would get on if they believed in themselves, those seekers after the Superman who are always looking for him in the looking-glass, those writers who talk about impressing their personalities instead of creating life for the world, all these people have really only an inch between them and this awful emptiness. Then when this kindly world all round the man has been blackened out like a lie; when friends fade into ghosts, and the foundations of the world fail; then when the man, believing in nothing and in no man, is alone in his own nightmare, then the great individualistic motto shall be written over him in avenging irony. The stars will be only dots in the blackness of his own brain; his mother's face will be only a sketch from his own insane pencil on the walls of his cell. But over his cell shall be written, with dreadful truth, "He believes in himself."' -Orthodoxy, Ch 2 the maniac

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01306017321460701751 Paul Rodden

    That said, he has shown me another little book he had as a little boy, also published in 1932, in Lancaster, which is a 'Bible Timeline', which covers the the 'narrative' approach to salvation history and the covenants for children – Jeff Cavins, eat your heart out! :)So it wasn't all bad…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04262145011152938282 Suz

    Thank you for this post Father. Especially this paragraph: "You are unhappy and searching for something because you are imperfect. You have fallen short of the glory of God. This condition is called sin. You are a sinner. You are selfish, ego centric, lustful, unforgiving, angry, manipulative, self seeking and proud. You love pleasure rather than God and you will believe any lie as long as it allows you to continue in your sin. If you continue in this condition you will end up becoming more and more unhappy and eventually you will be separated from God, light, love, goodness, truth and beauty forever because that is what you chose."Very convicting. Something I personally needed to hear today.The Holy Spirit rocks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12451222687723847058 codum

    Thank-you!!! The necessary battle for orthodoxy and proper liturgy has been so intense that it can be easy to forget that they're not enough.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10641590322019053562 TyroneHill

    Leave it to Jesus, He who makes all things new again, to give us the answer to liturgical tinkering — the beautiful old traditional Latin Rite Mass, also known as Tridentine and Extraordinary, which was restored to the world on July 7th, 2007 (7/7/7).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15949745385197316522 Regina Barzyk

    Thank you for feed back!. I agree with celebrant viring a bit. Sometimes we, the faithful have no choice but to come to the Church we belong.Via St Margaret Alocoque we are asked to pray for our priests!LovinglyRegina

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07482754930557197641 Richardpaul McMichael

    ad Deum qui laetificat joventutem meum….. Began what was a wonderful, elegant,liurgy which led to a joining together. People of ny age need more help trying to understand the modern liturgiesJ.M.J.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11218974916477894298 Sue

    "if everyone really went back to the core gospel message and took it seriously and tried to follow the old path of sin, repentance, faith and sacraments, then all the other problems would be solved too"Often overlooked, the Traditional Latin Mass comes with a commensurate spirituality, a package deal, handed down from the Apostles!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01232697562386338053 ancillamaria

    Father, this was an excellent post. Thank you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08395703772492059721 Benjamin Baxter

    Paul Rodden: It is true that catechesis is more than simply reading the facts of faith from a catechism. It is untrue, therefore, to say that it is less.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06684142528414196410 JM

    GREAT POST! THANK YOU, Fr, and press on.


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