February 4, 2017

splitI will be re-posting various article from the past that I have written for various outlets. This article was first published by National Catholic Register in 2008.

The Tale of Two Churches

I have been a Catholic now for thirteen years. Like most converts, I described my reception into the Catholic Church as ‘coming home.’ However, the homecoming was not all that the sentimental phrase implies. It is true that in coming home we received a warm welcome from many Catholics. It is also true, that in coming home we soon sensed that there were strangers in the family homestead. There seemed to be interlopers—aliens who had sneaked into the family home and taken it for their own.

I was quite prepared to find fellow Catholics with different tastes in music, church architecture and liturgy.  I was also prepared to encounter Catholics with different opinions concerning politics, history, education and social matters. I knew I would also encounter a good number of poorly catechized Catholics who simply didn’t know their faith, and I was prepared for ‘dissenting’ Catholics who knew the faith, but disagreed with the teachings of the church while still remaining within her.

What I was not prepared for was to find two Churches within Holy Mother Church. These two churches are very difficult to identify and define because the two different groups cannot be separated according to outward criteria alone. It is too easy to divide these two groups according to ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’; ‘charismatic’ or ‘traditionalist’; ‘right wing’ or ‘left wing’. The two groups I am talking about exist within all these preferences. The two groups are distinguished not so much by what they do, the way they worship or the causes they espouse, but by their underlying understanding of just what the Catholic Church is for.

Built Upon a Rock?

We receive our foundational assumptions from those who first educated us. These underlying assumptions, like the foundations of a building are invisible, yet they support everything else. Two very different sets of underlying foundations have created the two churches within the church. The two opposing views can be called ‘Happy Here’ and ‘Happy Hereafter.’ Those who hold the first believe that the point, not only of the church, but of the whole of human existence is to produce human happiness here in this life. The second is concerned with finding eternal happiness.

According to this basic assumption, this life is a vale of tears. This mortal life is hard because it is a place to battle against sin and to produce those diamond-hard souls called saints. Those who hold to the ‘happiness hereafter’ viewpoint expect to sacrifice their happiness here to win happiness hereafter. If this is your basic assumption, then your expectations for this life are realistic. You consider yourself and other people, while created in God’s good image, to also be sinners who need redemption and daily discipline. You believe in the reality of evil and consider this life to be the place and time to engage in spiritual warfare for the winning of souls.

This underlying assumption used to be the foundation belief not only of Catholics, but of all who called themselves Christian. All Christians understood life here and hereafter in this way. To do so was simply what Christianity was all about. Unfortunately, this basic assumption has been eroded within every branch of the Christian community. Modern Christians seem to have adopted one of America’s founding principles as the founding principle for the whole of life and the whole of their understanding of the Christian faith. The American ideal of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ may be a noble political ideal, but once the ‘pursuit of happiness’ becomes the basic foundation for one’s whole worldview a terrible distortion of the faith is the result. Continue Reading

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August 9, 2016

Jesussaves1As you drive around the American South you can’t help noticing that the old fashioned Baptist churches are ditching their Baptist label. Reassuring brick churches with classic style porches and steeples used to be called “First Baptist Church” or “Second Baptist Church” or “North Road Baptist Church” or maybe something with an Old Testament link like “Ebenezer Baptist Church” or “Mount Zion Baptist Church” or the ever faithful “Calvary Baptist Church.”

But the word “Baptist” is gone and they’ve all started to re-brand themselves. The old neon signs that said “Jesus Saves” or “God Loves You” are gone.

I think they must be trying to compete with the cool big box churches in the suburbs that have credit card swipe gadgets in the pews, Starbucks in the lobby, flat screens, dry ice machines, a rock band and go go dancers.

So the pastors get an up to date logo and a new name. I noticed a local church that was called something ordinary like “North Street Baptist” is now “North Street Fellowship”. That is a rather tame re-branding. A few months ago they chucked it all and were calling themselves “Lifesong.” or some such.

This was, for a time, a suburban phenomenon, but I notice that it is moving out to the little country churches too. Where once a shabby, but picturesque sign pointed to the “Beulah Faith Baptist Church” you might see it replaced with a slick new sign and logo that says, “BFB” or “Faith Church”.

I like the ones with  with ‘creative’ spiritual sounding names.

I’ve spotted:

  • Cornerstone
  • Fresh Spring
  • Living Water Fellowship
  • The Heritage
  • The Vineyard
  • Carpenter’s Church (70s music maybe?)
  • New Spring
  • Flame Fellowship

Then there are the ones that have mysteriously cool hip hop names:

  • Elevate
  • Velocity
  • The Edge
  • Spark
  • Matrix
  • Volt
  • WaveWalkers

This led to some creative church naming of my own. I’ve come up with:

  • Hot Wings
  • Hearts of Fire
  • HeartBurn
  • Winds of Flame
  • Breaking Wind
  • Sound of Running Water
  • Chariots of Fire
  • Kingdom Hall

In a post some time ago I mused that perhaps the Catholic churches ought to jump on the bandwagon and re-brand ourselves. After all, we’re sooooo uncool. I mean we’re two thousand years old. C’mon man. We have to get with the times, right?

So here are some names of Catholic churches and some ideas on how they could be re-branded:

  • St Peter’s – The Rock
  • Our Lady of the Rosary – Beads.com
  • St John’s – BeLoved
  • Prince of Peace – PeaceMan
  • St Therese of Lisieux – ARose
  • St Mary’s – Virge
  • St Anthony’s – ATone

You get the idea…

June 17, 2016

ChoristersA lot of Catholics complain about the music at their parish. The congregational singing is weak and half hearted, the choir members are trying hard, but they lack real training. Often the music choices are contemporary, drab, sentimental words with equally weak music.

It’s not easy to change a musical tradition–especially when the music in the American Catholic Church took such a drastic wrong turn fifty years ago. However things can be changed. Brick by brick something new can be built.

One of the ways to improve the music now and for the future is to teach the children to sing and to teach them good hymns. They have not been conditioned to like bad church music, so you can start from scratch.

Therefore, when I came to the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary one of the things I started immediately was a choral scholar program. I got this idea from some of the historic schools in England. The idea is that the church offers partial scholarships to students at our parish school. For the scholarship money they sing in the church choir. We now have about twelve choral scholars who are learning to sing, learning good music and learning the basics of solid liturgy and beautiful worship.

This year we are also going to start a weekly hymn singing session in the church with all the school children. That way they will learn to sing well and they will learn a repertoire of good hymns which we will then sing at the school Mass. When they have a “class Mass” on a Sunday they will sing their hymns and the grown ups will learn them too.

One of the keystones to having good church music and a good choir is having a good organ to lead the sacred worship. In our new church we’re going to have a pipe organ. We’ve salvaged it from a church congregation that closed. It’s not a huge instrument, but its just right for the size of our new church.

We’ve managed to finance it through our existing fund raising and financial program, but for it to work we need to build an organ chamber which will cost $40,000

Will you help? We’ve launched an online appeal to bring in the funds we need and we’ve already raised over $26,000.

To see (and listen) to the organ we’re going to install you can watch the video here on our webpage. At the bottom of the webpage is a button to make a PayPal donation.

We need lots of small donations, but we need some large ones too.

Therefore, for a gift of $1,000 or more we’re giving people the opportunity to give a gift in memory or in honor of a loved one. These names will be inscribed on a plaque to be placed on the side of the organ console, and the names will be recorded in our book of memories to be prayed for at Mass.

If you would like to make a donation, but don’t want to use PayPal, there is an address at the bottom of the page to which you can send a check.

If you want to make a memorial please include the  names in a note on the PayPal payment form or write to us at the parish address.

Go here to learn more.

September 10, 2015

7. Hypocrisy –  People can tell if a congregation is vital, spiritually alive and trying hard to follow Jesus Christ or not. Spiritual torpor, laziness, immorality and hypocrisy send people running for the doors. They don’t expect Christians to be perfect, but the do expect them to be consistent. They expect us to be doing our best to practice what we preach even if we fail sometimes. It’s not the failure that puts them off–its the not trying. The worst hypocrisy is the sluggish pew holders who turn up every week but whose lives are a lie.

8. Lax Liturgy – Why oh why do we keep trying to imitate the Protestants? They do Protestant well enough. Let them do so. We should be Catholic and not ashamed of it. We should build beautiful churches, train our altar servers, invest in good musicians, work hard to beautify the liturgy and make the sacrifices necessary to do so. Along with the externals we must all work to make the Mass as reverent, prayerful and worshipful as possible. Modern man is dying for the one thing that feeds his soul: worship. He cries out for the good red wine of worship and we give him watered down grape juice.

9.  Works Without Faith and Works Without Faith – The book of James says “Faith without works is dead.” Well, it goes the other way too. Works without faith is also dead. When religion becomes a weekend club of do gooders people run a mile. Why would anyone want to get up out of bed on a Sunday morning just to have a politically correct pep talk about how to make the world a better place? If religion is no more than being good you can keep it. Any atheist can tell you, “I can be good without religion.” and he’d be right.  The opposite is also true.  See No. 6 above. People can spot a religious phony a mile off. All that religion. All that dressing up. All that reading of holy books and parading about. Then the religious folks tootle off home and forget about the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the mentally ill and all the people with problems. May the Lord Have Mercy.

10. Being Miserable – You know what C.S.Lewis said about religious people? “You can always tell the pillars of the church because their faces look like stone.” If we’re redeemed why don’t we look more redeemed? Honestly, if you tune in to some of the religious folks all they do is grumble, grouse, grip and gossip about all the terrible sinners and all the horrible things in the world. All they do is blame others and defend themselves and huddle down into their little religious enclaves to be miserable together. Fuhgeddaboudit. If your religion doesn’t make you happy there’s something wrong. Happy? I should say joyful. There’s a difference. Christians are people who are joyful–even in adversity especially in adversity. They sing in prison. They joke on the scaffold. They have a supernatural confidence and joy that is attractive and winning. If that is not present there’s a problem.

September 9, 2015

Mother-TeresaFrom time to time I receive emails from readers who complain about the state of the church. Maybe they say, “I wish I could be near your parish Father. There is no parish within driving distance where the priest teaches the Catholics faith. It’s all fuzzy fuzzy feel good liturgy.”

Or maybe they complain about lukewarm Catholics, lax morality, relaxed Catholicism and general apathy.

They may be willing to put up with a liturgy they don’t like and music that they find shallow and they may be willing to endure sentimental or politically correct homilies, but they see a deeper malaise in the church and don’t know what to do about it.It’s like they are looking at a beautiful garden over run with weeds and they don’t know where to start or what to do to restore the garden.

A heartfelt comment I received recently expresses the anger and loss many traditionalist Catholics feel at the corruption and liberalism in the church:

 I find myself grateful for your comments about being too critical and how it can cause more division in the Church. I also come back to a question, how do we confront the corruption, and there is much of it along side many good people, that are tearing apart the community of the Church? Do we simply say, well God will take care of it at the end of time? Some times this is the only possibility. Yet, as I watched Michael Voris’ Mic’d up regarding the systematic squashing of his ministry from those unnamed people that run dioceses, all I can say is I have seen it first hand. I have seen one really fine energetic Catholic after another, priests and laity, that have been silenced into oblivion for simply teaching the faith with clarity. I will tell you I have never seen someone who teaches absolute falsehood regarding the faith so treated. How is that? What do we call this except a corrupt system? I wont even mention what it took to uncover the sexual abuse that had been covered up for so many years and the seemingly intentional blaming it on pedophiles rather than homosexual relations with post pubescent children and priests (this is not pedophilia, yet we keep calling it that). Why? Do we just remain silent, or only talk behind closed doors to keep things from going public and we keep a good face? How does one go about this and have some good affect? I to have watched good Catholic people become so angry at the corruption that they no longer have much peace of heart and seem to be holier than thou, as you said. This is no good either. So maybe you can give us more insight into these questions and inconsistencies.

Let’s consider the options: you start protesting. You speak out against corruption, liberalism and indifference. What happens? You will be marginalized as divisive, angry and self righteous. Remember, the people you are fighting are just as convinced of the rightness of their way of doing things as you are of yours. They not only like the banal hymns, the shallow homilies and the feel good liturgies, but they believe them to be the best way forward for the church. Is there scandal and corruption? Those who are trying to fix the problem will not thank you for angry protests.

Furthermore, should you engage in angry protest you will be rejected and excluded from the conversation. This will make you more angry and bitter and before long you will develop a martyr’s complex, and if you’re not careful you will spend all your time licking your wounds and berating your enemies and you may well drift further and further into schism and even heresy yourself.

Let us compare Martin Luther and St Francis. Both were passionate Christians during a time of corruption, indifference and worldliness in the church. Luther began to protest. Many of his complaints were justified. He wanted a pure church–one untainted by what he perceived as heresy and scandal. The protest ended up as Protestantism and the result of that was war, rebellion, sectarianism and five hundred years of strife.

St Francis, on the other hand, heard the words of Christ “re-build my church” and he began to do so with his bare hands. When his order was under attack from the authorities as being sectarian and heretical he went and stood barefoot in the snow until he was able to have an audience with Pope Innocent. In other words, St Francis became a saint. That’s how he confronted the scandal and corruption in the church–by showing the world what it truly looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

So how does one confront the corruption, heresy, indifference and scandal in the church? Continue Reading

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September 9, 2015

st max photoBe a radical disciple.

Be a Mother Teresa. Be a Maximilian Kolbe.

With a joyful heart begin re-building the church right where you are. Serve the Lord with gladness with the gifts he has given you. Do you dislike the music in church? Join the choir. Form a chant group to sing at one of the masses. Offer to pay the salary for a new organist and choir director. Get involved in the parish council. Sponsor a parish mission with a dynamic speaker. Get to know and love your pastor. Overwhelm him with joyful and loyal service. Find out what he needs and deliver it. Soon you will be his confidante and friend.

Do the same at the diocesan level. Get to know the people involved. They are not the enemy. They are your brothers and sisters even if you disagree. If they have a pet cause or mission get involved and help to make it work. When the church is riddled with scandal and corruption fight it by identifying others who are trying to weather the storm and bring good out of the mess. Support them with your prayers, your giving and your friendship.

Do the same at the national and international level. Find the religious orders, apostolates and ministries that are doing good and support them. Every year I go to the Catholic Leadership Conference and meet over a hundred committed, on fire laypeople who are running a whole range of wonderful apostolates that help the poor, spread Catholic devotions, foster strong spirituality, engage in the political debate and seek to evangelize and share the faith. Get to know these groups. Support them with your friendship, your enthusiasm, your zeal and your dollars. Join in with the people who are changing the church in a positive way. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty and get to work.

The more you get involved in the groups that are doing wonderful work in the church the more you will be filled with joy in being a Catholic. The corruption, scandal and heresy will fade away like shadows. You will see clearly what you should be doing and it will be positive, life filled and life giving. You will soon see all the good that is going on and the bad you see will fade in importance.

Finally, remember this, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Why did you think that the church would be free from corruption, scandal, indifference and heresy? It has always been like this and it always will be. Read church history. The complainers and protesters never accomplished very much. The saints did. The saints confronted corruption with radiant lives of simplicity and power. They skewered scandal with radiant lives of purity and goodness. They overwhelmed indifference with radiant lives of zeal and joy. At times they spoke out against the scandal, indifference and corruption, but they always did so based on the authority of their own powerful sanctity.

In other words, overwhelm the world with the light, life and beauty of Christ alive in you.

Don’t curse the dark.

Set alight a life ablaze with glory and goodness.

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