February 8, 2011

One of the weaknesses of our day is spoiled, sappy, soft, sweet, sentimentalist Catholicism.

I’m all for Jesus the friend of sinners, and gentle Jesus meek and mild, I’m all for love and forgiveness and not being judgmental, but I’m also for Rooster Cogburn Catholicism. Sometimes we also need backbone and some true grit.

When we’re inclined to drift along and believe in the soft and sentimental comfortable Jesus we need to be reminded of his ‘hard sayings.’ Mary Rose over at Prodigal Daughter has collected some of them. Here are two:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matt. 10:34-39

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. – Matt. 7:13-20

Those are just two. Read the rest of the New Testament and you find St Peter and St Paul and even the gentle St John all speaking in violent terms about false teachers, heretics and sinners. For example, in Galatians St Paul is inveighing against those who would insist on everyone obeying the Jewish law and says, Circumcision! I wish they’d go the whole way and castrate themselves!” In his epistles, John repeatedly calls false teachers, “antichrists, liars, deceivers and children of the devil.”

To Timothy St Paul writes,

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.

Or how about this humdinger from the second epistle of Peter…

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment…This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings…But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.

They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!… These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

Whew! Strong stuff. But then when you read the whole passages, you realize that as soon as the Apostles say this they turn around and say, “But I’m the greatest of sinners.” and “Love! you must love one another!”

We’re called to love and forgive and be tender hearted and gentle, but we’re also expected to defend the faith, call sin what it is and point out when people are in error because there are souls to be saved or lost.

Just remember though, you can only make a righteous judgment if you’ve first taken a long, hard look in the mirror, and remember St Paul’s words–also in Galatians–

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions.”

October 3, 2014

So he left Rome and headed for Bethlehem where he lived in a cave, opened a monastery for men and three communities of women. His friend Paula became head of one of these, and after her death was succeeded by her daughter Eustochium. Jerome himself lived and worked in a large cave near the Saviour’s birthplace. He opened a free school there and also a hospice for pilgrims, “so that,” as Paula said, “should Mary and Joseph visit Bethlehem again, they would have a place to stay.”

From his cave he continued his intellectual battles: he argued with Heldivius and Jovinian’s ideas that the Blessed Virgin had other children by Joseph. He combatted a monk Vigilantius who was down on the veneration of relics and celibacy and even crossed swords with Augustine.

Excuse me for loving great St Jerome. Maybe it is the monk in me, the recluse, the bookish hermit in me that would also like to retire to a cave somewhere, but Jerome reminds us that “the church of nice” isn’t the only way. Jerome rightly warns us against worldliness, sentimentality, intellectual shallowness and cowardice. He reminds us to fight the good fight with all our might, and if he descended into sarcasm and satire, he was also always aware of his own weakness, temptation and soiled humanity.

The fact that Jerome is plonked down right there between the angels, Therese and Francis reminds us that the army of saints needs little flowers and holy friars who preach to birdies, but it also needs saints with True Grit. We need some Rooster Cogburn Catholics as well as the sweet little girls, the angels and the beautiful foolish dreamers.

And while I love this holy week in the beginning of October, that is the down side: the sweet angels with their girly faces, simpering Therese smiling from her little girl photographs and holy St Francis taming the wolf of Gubbio or standing in the snow–this all appeals to the sentimentalists. It’s greeting card Christianity…all twee and tacky and gooey and sweet. Of course those who have ever met an angel know they are far from the feminine looking creatures with long hair and pretty wings so popular in Christian art. Those who know St Therese realize that the little flower was also a little warrior and that she would have gladly gone to live in a cave next to Jerome. Likewise, anyone who knows St Francis realizes that his asceticism and severity would have been right up there with Jerome’s.

That’s why Jerome’s curmudgeonly style is just the spice we need in the midst of this week’s sweetness. He gives some salt in the dish to accent the sugar. He adds some bite to the battle and gives a boost to all those who wade in to counter the worldliness, foolishness and trumpery of the world. He reminds us that we need prophetic voices in the church to call a spade a spade.  He reminds us that we need scholars who are saints and saints who are scholars.

Finally, each one of the saints reveals a vital aspect of Christ the Lord. If St Francis reminds us of Jesus’ gentleness and love of poverty, and if Therese reminds us of his love of children and the need to become like little children, Jerome reminds us of the Lord’s intellectual acuity, his sharp tongue, his willingness to be controversial for the sake of truth and his ability to cut straight to the point, criticize the religious hypocrites and live a radical life devoted to God alone.

Long live the curmudgeons and praise God for Jerome!

September 15, 2014

What American Catholics need is some backbone, some true grit. This article from a while ago talks about it: Rooster Cogburn Catholicism.

What if we took our Catholic faith even just a fraction as seriously as we took our athletics?

What if the priest was a bit more like the coach or the drill sergeant? It wouldn’t do us any harm.

Why is it that we will beat our bodies to a sweat in the gym but we won’t fast on Fridays?

Why are we willing to humiliate ourselves by jogging in the street in ridiculous clothes but are too shy to give witness to our faith?

Why do we spend loads of money, time and pain on botox and boob jobs but we take no effort for our souls?

The athlete, soldier or artist trains, takes instruction, sucks up criticism, disciplines his body and mind to achieve his goal.

Do we imagine that it take less effort to become a saint? No it takes more effort. Becoming a saint is the most difficult thing in the world. It is the greatest goal and the highest calling. It is the greatest adventure and the most risky of all enterprises for everything must be risked.

Our problem is that we’ve swallowed a lie of Satan: we’ve accepted his sugar coated, self help version of Christianity. It’s all sweetness and light and traipsing down the yellow brick road with our friends until one day we get to the Emerald City.

You know what its called: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. Moralistic: just obey the rules honey and everybody will like you. Therapeutic: Religion will help you be a nicer person and help you with your self esteem problems Deism: God is out there somewhere like Colonel Sanders–constantly smiling down on us but not really interfering too much.

Asceticism is that historic discipline in the church which helps us toughen up. It requires study, attention and commitment.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a good drill sergeant.

September 7, 2014

Some Catholics talk disparagingly of the “Church of Nice”

They are referring to the modernist church where indifferentism, complacency and tolerance replace the truly Christian virtues. They object not to niceness, but to a church that is nothing but nice.

I’m with them. I can’t stand watered down religion. Modernist Christianity has eviscerated the gospel, removed the supernatural, “de mythologized” the message and turned Catholicism into nothing more than a do gooder religion for the country club set.

As one commentator has observed, “This ain’t a religion. It’s a set of table manners.”

I have written on this blog constantly of the danger to real Catholicism of removing the miraculous and robbing the church of the one power she has: the supernatural power of the sacraments, the fullness of the magisterium, the power of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of truth in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

When Some Catholics sneer at the “Church of Nice” I’m sympathetic.

Let’s not tame the lion or water down the wine. Let’s hold to a full blooded, rip snortin’, Rooster Cogburn Catholicism.

The problem is…what’s the alternative?

If not the Church of Nice do we need to be the Church of Nasty?

In the Catholic blogosphere and Catholic Church generally I increasingly whiff a very bad smell.

It’s what I call the Church of Nasty.

Trying to avoid the insipid, spineless and lily livered “Church of Nice” too many Catholic are falling into the other trap of becoming the Church of Nasty.

It may be someone sending intentionally misleading headlines to a news aggregator to smear another Catholic, or it might be some guy who’s set up a super nasty website full of horrible attacks on others. It might be a radical traditionalist hell bent on attacking all the modernists and compromisers or it might be a radical progressive intent on attacking all his horrible right wing enemies. It might be some Catholic who has his knives out for Muslims, Jews and Protestants. It might be someone attacking homosexuals, sinners,  modernists or feminists.  It could be a progressive launching endless attacks on traditionalists, conservatives and Republicans.

Sometimes it gets so bad that it feels like, “If you don’t hate the people I hate the same way I hate them, then I hate you too!”

Wherever it is coming from and wherever it is going they’re intent on being the Church of Nasty, and let me tell you it can get real ugly.

I’d link to some of the poisonous websites out there, but I do not want to send them traffic or soil the unblemished minds and hearts of my dear readers….

Suffice it to say that some of the nastiness is very nasty indeed.

Does this immature lack of charity, wisdom, kindness and good will accomplish anything positive at all?

Does it attract people to the gospel?

Does it make people say, “Gee, I’d really like to be like that person!”

Does it make people say, “You sure can tell these Christians because they love one another!”

Probably not.

Therefore, there must be a way between the insipid Church of Nice and the snarling Church of Nasty.

To stop and think it through, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt there are two different virtues vying for predominance: the virtue of charity and the virtue of truth.

The Church of Nice too often sacrifice truth on the altar of charity and the Church of Nasty too often sacrifice charity on the altar of Truth.

There must be a way to be both truth and charitable–both Nasty and Nice.

How do we envision that way? How do we live that way? How do we learn that way? Continue Reading


November 14, 2013

I found myself in a foul mood today because some of the glittering successful people snubbed me. I was in their world, but I walked out on it, so they erased me from their history. OK. I deserved it, but it got me thinking about the strange games we play in the world of religion.

We try to make our religious organizations–parishes, schools, religious communities–whatever–shiny and “successful”. In America we are so enchanted by the glittery god of success and shiny wonderfulness that we try to make our religious communities like that too. So Father Wonderful presents himself not just as Jesus but as the handsome, suave, Mr. America–not only totally successful but hey! I’m holy too! Or a founder of a religious order makes all his young men comb their hair and shine their shoes and says “Yessir! Nossir! Three bags full sir!”

We’re all running around trying to make ourselves religiously wonderful and shiny and perfect and in the meantime we’re giving ourselves the equivalent of spiritual boob jobs and botox. It’s all fake. I don’t believe any of it. I especially don’t believe it about me because hey, guess what, I’m in the game too. I have publishers who want a glossy image of the writer to adorn their books. I have people in parishes who want a glossy “celebrity Catholic writer” to lead their parish mission. I have conference organizers who want me to be the wonderful convert priest who comes to tell his story and thrill their audience.

That is very seductive. It is not only seductive for me, but here is the creepy part–it is seductive for the audience too. You see, they  want a hero. They want a plaster saint. They want Father Wonderful to be up there on his pedestal so they can worship him rather than God. They collude with the whole artificial religious Disneyland because that kind of religious world (and it happens in Catholicism and Protestantism, in traddy groups and trendy groups) is safer, easier and more comfortable than real religion.

Real religion is grit not glitter. That’s why I don’t trust the glitzy, glamorous, glittering examples of religion. I also don’t trust the phony religious people who parade their poverty and brag about how they live on just a few dollars a week while everyone who thinks it through knows they get a house, a car, a phone, utilities,  an insurance policy and a retirement plan, a job for life and all expenses paid. I know plenty of working Dads who would be happy to have that kind of poverty.

Give me the graft and the grit of authentic religion–the humble hard working priest who never complains or the simple sister who spends her life serving the poor. Give me the authentic heroic virtue of the saints.

I may never reach that summit, but that’s the mountain I want to climb.

Read Rooster Cogburn Catholicism.

June 15, 2012

It took me a while to appreciate the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion. To tell the truth, as a convert, it all seemed kind of sappy, sentimental and well, French. All hearts and flowers and perfume–almost like a Valentine from Jesus. Yucch.

But then I learned about St Margaret Mary Alacogue and realized that she (like all the saints) was pretty tough. The saints inevitably endure some sort of suffering in their identification with Christ, so it has to be that Christ’s love–shown in the Sacred Heart of Jesus is everlasting love–but it is also tough love.

C.S.Lewis once wrote to a friend who had lost his wife and was questioning the love of God. He said that his friend was experiencing “a severe mercy”. When thinking about the love of God it is absolutely vital that we keep this in mind. God’s love is unconditional and everlasting, but it is also a tough love. I’ve written here about “Rooster Cogburn Catholicism” a Catholicism that is tender but tough. One of the most terrible things about modern Christianity is that we have forgotten this. In an attempt to please everyone we’ve turned Christianity into a soft and sentimental self help philosophy. Read more.

Follow Us!

Browse Our Archives