St Ignatius Loyola
St Ignatius Loyola

St Ignatius Loyola’s memorial today reminds us of the role of the Christian soldier. Wounded in battle, Ignatius began to read the Sacred Scriptures and was truly and completely converted. He went on to found the Society of Jesus as a kind of military style religious missionary order.

The idea of the church militant is there not only in the battles of the Old Testament, but in our Lord’s stern words that he comes not to bring peace but a sword.

St Paul writes repeatedly with military imagery and the saints down the ages have all, in one way or another, and to a greater or lesser extent, been aware of the need for battle and the fact that we are engaged in a great conflict with evil.

St Paul says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

St Therese of Lisieux cries out, “Sanctity! It must be one at the point of a sword!”

The church today in the developed world, however, is too often the church hesitant rather than the church militant.

Sated by our materialism and comfort, afraid to take a stand lest we suffer financial deprivation, we shut up. We look the other way. We tiptoe around the problems.

Catholics, like most other Christian in America want to preach a greeting card kind of Christianity–all best wishes, sentimental cliches, schmaltzy music and feel good homilies.

We’ve sucked up the message of the world that it is all about tolerance, kindness, being nice and never offending anyone.

But in the gospel today Jesus says, “You cannot be my disciple unless you hate your brother and father and sister and mother.”

What does this difficult saying mean? It must mean that each one of us must stand up for the truth and that sometimes that means division even within families.

I am convinced that at some point in the Christian life each one of the baptized will be called on to take a stand. It might be something small or something great. We will be given a test. The right choice will be clear. The consequences of that choice will be clear and we will find our courage or we will not.

At that point we must, each one of say with Joshua the warrior, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house. We will serve the Lord.”

It is no mistake that this same Upper Room was the place where the Holy Eucharist was instituted, and where, by virtue of his command that they ‘do this in remembrance’ the Apostles were ordained and had bestowed upon them the priesthood of Christ. This same Upper Room where the Eucharist was established is also the location for the descent of the Holy Spirit. The five can therefore never be separated: The Holy Spirit, the Mystical body of Christ the Church, the Mother of God, the Eucharist and the Apostolic Authority. The five come together in the painting as the central feature is a large and permanent altar, on which the Mother of God stands and around which the apostles circle.

The Upper Room is painted as an exalted building with classical columns and an overarching ceiling which is open to heaven itself. This place is a Bethel–a threshold of heaven–the doorstep of transcendent glory. The place where the Holy Spirit descends is therefore shown to be the Church–empowered and strengthened by the pillars which are the apostolic authority and at her center the Mother of God who is also the Mother of Christ and therefore the Mother of the Church.

That this room is a solid, classical structure with columns, floor and altar and ceiling reminds the viewer that the Church is a temple and that the members of the church are living stones. It also reminds the viewer that the Church is not an invisible and spiritual reality alone, but it is a solid, historical, tangible reality. The Church, like the Body of Christ, is real. It is identifiable in history. It has a definable set of dogmatic beliefs and moral teachings. It also has a structure, a hierarchy, a code of law, and a system of governance and authority. It is something solid and substantial and historical.

All of this, we believe, was founded and continues to be inspired and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Individual experiences of the Holy Spirit are a good thing. However, Catholics recognize that on their own, they are ephemeral, subjective and unreliable. How do we know that what a person says is the Holy Spirit is indeed the Holy Spirit? As C.S.Lewis said, that ‘religious experience’ may simply be the result of a very good dinner. Likewise it may be an ordinary human psychic or emotional experience. It may be something manufactured by a blend of powerful oratory, emotional music and feelings of guilt or exaltation. It may even be the manifestation of disordered and evil spiritual entities.

The individual experience of religion therefore needs to be grounded in the objective experience of the Church. It is only within the Church that our individual experience can be validated, and it is only a Church with a reliable, historic, Scriptural, rational, Apostolic authority which can speak with the necessary authority to validate the subjective experience.

This is the church we see being established at Pentecost, and this is the Church which subsists today in the Roman Catholic Church.

fingers in earsRussel Saltzman is another Lutheran coming into the Catholic Church and finding the transition to be painful.

Like most of us from the Anglican and Lutheran traditions he is aghast at the poor quality of music in Catholic parishes.

Furthermore he looks around and instead of joyfully singing Christians he sees dour expressions, arms crossed body language, indifference and a kind of stubborn and defiant attitude. “I’m a cradle Catholic. Don’t you dare try to make me sing….”


Now don’t get me wrong. I love the Catholic Church. I love my fellow Catholics. However, converts do bring gifts, insights and perspectives into the Catholic Church. We may be the new boys, but it’s okay if we point out a few deficiencies in a spirit of loving correction.

Russel’s right. Compared to our former experiences music in Catholic Churches is awful.

Russel grumbles here at First Things with an amusing dialogue between the Lutheran pastor convert and his new Catholic priest.

Q: Let’s get right to the point. Why are Catholics such poor hymn singers?
A: It’s because we don’t have enough Lutheran converts.

Q: The hymn singing I hear hardly amounts to a “joyful noise.” Sounds more like plaintive squeaks from depressed marmosets.
A: Bless you, my son, for your candor.

Q: First thing I’d do, I’d make sure the hymn numbers in the little folder do in fact match the actual numbers in the hymnal.
A: There are many things we must simply accept as beyond human control.

Q: You must shame them to better singing. Denounce them and lash them with zest. Shaming is such a neglected part of parish leadership.
A: Uh huh.

Q: Yes, tell them right up front during announcements their singing stinks, that it is an embarrassment to the Hosts of Heaven. You must tell them the angels no longer veil their faces in awe of the Almighty, but out of indignation at Catholic singing.
A: Go on.

Q: And then tell them any nine little old Lutheran widows can sing better than the whole lot of them.
A: How about if I said eight Methodists on walkers?

Q: That’ll work. You tell them how to sing: Stand up straight, hymnal front and center, lungs filled, voices projected up and out, like they want to praise God in song.
A: And after that?

Q: Try them out on a couple verses of A Mighty Fortress and see if they haven’t improved.
A: I get the idea. But it’ll never work.

Why oh why is the music in American Catholic Churches so awful?

It’s complicated. Continue Reading

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Should the Catholic Church adapt herself and get up to date?

Holy deacon Kandra reports here on a survey on why Catholics stop going to Mass.

four major reasons why some Roman Catholics stop going to church, among them: Disagreement with church doctrine on birth control, women as priests, homosexuality; A view that there are too many scandals in the church; A feeling parishioners are being judged by the church or are not welcomed.

Here’s a sampling of some of the comments left by lapsed Roman Catholics completing the survey:

– “My daughter came out to me as gay, and I went through a divorce after 28 years of marriage. The Church doesn’t want either one of us.”

–“Being divorced they do not let you take communion. Treat you like an outsider. But they allowed priest [sic] that they knew were bad to stay in the church.”

– “The archaic idea that only men can lead a congregation and be in the clergy, the underlying message of guilt and fear and the lack of diversity and openness to gays.”

– “I struggle with the way the Catholic Church has not adapted an ever changing world. I also feel sometimes people are looked down upon instead of being lifted up by the church.”

The problem here is a misunderstanding of what the church is and what she is for, and the reason for the confusion is that people have forgotten (or never knew in the first place) what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.

First what the church is NOT: The Catholic Church is not a social club where everybody is supposed to feel affirmed. The Catholic Church is not an organization to feed the hungry or house the homeless. The Catholic Church is not an association of nice people who wish to make the world a better place. The Church is not a pressure group of concerned citizens intent on bringing about social justice. The Church is not a gathering of respectable people who are trying to do good. The Church is not a group of fine upstanding and morally upright people who support one another in their correct behaviors and attitudes. The Catholic Church is not a place to practice fine liturgy, appreciate art and historic architecture and produce beautiful sacred music. The Catholic Church is not an association to preserve ancient liturgical practices, foster the appreciation of dead languages and be a fashion show for brocade vestments from ecclesiastical outfitters in Rome. The Church is not a Bible study group or a pressure group for higher moral standards among the young, nor is it a group to change societies attitudes or impact economics, politics and policies.

Of course Catholics might do all the above activities and many more, but these are not the primary reason for the church and when any of these activities become the reason for the church’s existence disaster and disappointment follow.

Disappointment follows because people have allowed themselves to have the wrong expectations. They thought the church should be this or that and it let them down. Wrong expectations always lead to bitter disappointment.

Disaster follows because, being disappointed they will leave the church and usually start slamming the church for not being what she was never meant to be in the first place.

Have you noticed that in this conflict there are some Catholics who think the Church should be “up to date” while there are others who think she should be just the opposite. Some are trying desperately to bring the church into the twenty first century while others wish it were back in the twentieth. Some think the church should be modern. Some want her to be antique.

Both are wrong because both have forgotten what the Church is really for. Continue Reading

I know there are liturgical abuses, but I’ve been to plenty of Catholic churches in my fifteen years or so as a Catholic and I’ve only experienced really awful and crazy abuses two or three times. Most priests do say the black and do the red. The music, the servers, the approach, the architecture etc. is often lacking, but it’s real. It’s ordinary and very often a priest and a parish are doing the best they can with limited resources.

In addition to all the good work in most parishes, there are also many, many other wonderful things in the Catholic Church. Consider all the apostolates, the good religious orders, the missionary work. Sure they’re not all perfect, but look to the heart. See people where they really are. Understand their longings and aspirations. Know that they want to love and serve God. They can’t help it if they have been poorly catechized and are victims of the culture they live in. See what’s positive about the people and customs you don’t like. Cut people a break, and remember the golden rule.

That being said, there are also many practical things people can do within their own parishes and dioceses to make things better. First, support your parish priest. Be his right hand. Help him out. Be his friend. Pray for him. Love him. When he knows your love and support is genuine, then he’ll take you seriously when you offer constructive criticism. If he’s doing something you don’t like, instead of criticizing him negatively, go and ask him why he does this or that. If it is a minor matter let it slide. If he’s consciously deviating from the teaching of the church or the rubrics, then do your homework, pick him up on it, but do so gently and with tact. Do you like to be criticized for something you’re supposedly good at? I don’t think so. Neither does he. If it is real bad, write to the Bishop, but do so with seriousness and respect. Do you know how many cranky complaint letters the bishop must get every day?

If you want something changed in the parish, get involved and work for change. You can do so positively and creatively. If you want something to be different why not offer to pay for it. Don’t like the candlesticks or statues or vestments? Buy Father new ones. Get a group together to develop new devotions.  Start prayer groups and study groups. Always support the parish and work with positive joy with your parish priest. You think it’s hard working with him? Maybe he finds it hard working with you. That’s life. Keep working on it.

What about reverence at Mass? Make sure you and your family dress decently and respectfully. Make sure you kneel in silent prayer before Mass and that you receive the sacrament reverently. Do you kneel to receive on the tongue? That makes a huge impact on others. Is that outlawed where you are? You can challenge that. You’re allowed to receive on the tongue if you want. Is the music in your parish awful? Don’t just complain. Learn more about sacred music and request particular hymns and music that you like. Offer to buy new hymnbooks when they’re needed. I know one guy who didn’t like the happy clappy music so he got together with some friends and formed his own schola. They practiced and began to introduce more traditional music to the parish and lots of people liked it and things began to grow.

Remember that most of all, the lack of reverence is due to a lack of proper belief in the Real Presence as well as the rest of the cardinal doctrines of the faith. So do something about it. First of all, know your faith the best you can. Get some people together locally and organize a parish mission. Invite a dynamic, orthodox speaker (I can think of some…) Organize a diocesan conference and promote it not just amongst conservatives, but across the board to all Catholics. Start a local Catholic radio station. Get EWTN in your area if you don’t have it. Offer to help with RCIA. Be a catechist.

Get involved with work for the poor. It’s amazing how working with the poor helps put things in perspective. When you work with the poor you minister to Jesus and you immediately start to experience him more perfectly at the Eucharist. It also helps you to see everything else more clearly. Working with the poor helps you see that maybe all the stuff you thought was so awful about the church isn’t the worst thing in the world and you will begin to see yourself, your world, your church and your Lord from a fresh and more wonderful perspective.

Finally, ask for the spirit of joy. The biggest fault of conservative Catholics is that we often come across as cranky old complainers. Life’s too short. Be happy in Jesus.

On Monday the Church of England did not simply vote to ordain women as bishops. The members of the General Synod made an even more historic decision.

They decided once and for all the true nature of the Church of England.

After the Protestant Revolution of the sixteenth century it was very clear for three hundred years that the Church of England was a Protestant Church. Anti-Catholic sentiment ran high in the established church, and for three hundred years Catholics were a persecuted minority. Only in 1829 with the passage of the Catholic Relief Act did Catholics in England begin to reclaim their freedoms.

On July 14 1833 John Keble preached his famous sermon on National Apostacy–which is regarded by historians as the beginning of the Oxford Movement. (You can read the sermon here) In one of those nice historical co-indidences (if you believe in such things) the Church of England General Synod’s vote in favor of women bishops took place on the 181st anniversary of Keble’s sermon.

The essential point of the Oxford Movement–coming just a decade or so after Catholic Emancipation–was that the Church of England was not, at it’s core, a Protestant Church, but the ancient Catholic Church reformed. The men of the Oxford Movement were called “tractarians” after the series of leaflets or tracts written and published by John Henry Newman and his friends. In tracts and sermons the Tractarians tried to re-weave into the three hundred year old Protestant Church of England a new Catholic strand. (Read more about Newman here) The success of the Anglo-Catholic movement was a witness to their work. Not only in theology, but in literature and liturgy, in art and architecture, in music and academic studies there was a flourishing revival of a Catholic sentiment and spirituality.

It was, however, simply an additional Anglican costume. Already within the Church of England there were two strands: the old Protestant liberal strand of religion which was firmly attached to the principles of the Enlightenment, bonded with the political establishment and which was upper class, educated and elitist. The Methodist movement of the eighteenth century grafted onto the historic Protestant, rationalist liberalism a new kind of Evangelical, Calvinist fervor. Now, a century after the Wesleys (and also springing from Oxford) the Tractarians added a Catholic strand which came to be called Anglo-Catholicism.

For the next 180 years (1833 – 2014) members of the Church of England were able to perpetuate the Tractarian myth–the nineteenth century invention that the Church of England was, in fact, the ancient Catholic Church in England–but properly reformed.  This idea of the Anglican Church as the Reformed Catholic Church in England seemed credible enough. After all, the Church of England occupied all the ancient Catholic parish churches, cathedrals and colleges in the land. At the back of the village church where I was a vicar one could see the sign of all the  incumbents down through the ages from the first record keeping in the eleventh century to the present day. Not only did the Church of England occupy the ancient buildings, but with the Anglo Catholic movement the clergy looked Catholic. After the triumphs of the Tractarians an increasing number wore Catholic vestments, lit candles, used incense, studied the church fathers, installed images into their churches and made room for the Virgin Mary. After the second world war the Anglo Catholics, with their dedication to the urban poor enjoyed a surge of popularity. With the liturgical changes of the 1960s and thereafter the Eucharist–which had in many places been celebrated only monthly–became the main weekly form of worship. The new Anglican liturgy resembled the new Catholic version. Archbishops Fisher and Ramsey met with the pope and ecumenical discussion were started. It even seemed that the Ancient but Reformed Catholic Church in England would be re-united with her mother church.

So it might have been, had the Church of England continued on that trajectory.Continue reading.

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