Last week my ire over the public trashing of a Bishop I care about by a man he had been a friend to led me to sin in my casual comments about SSPX. Originally, I wrongly attributed sedevacantism to them. Though that is the case with a few of their members, the organization specifically eschews sedevacantism. I corrected that in the article, itself. In the process I disheartened some of the folks at SSPX who are good friends. SSPX is a very traditionalist Catholic society that has flirted with schism, at times, and is deeply opposed to Vatican II. They say that they only oppose parts of it but in this case, almost all the adherents I have ever met are eager in their trashing of it. I may call those adherents “members” at times, but formally the society only recognizes their Priests and Bishops as members.
This hits one of my hot buttons. In the summer of 1990 I was doing a lot of reading of Reformation-era literature. Somehow I picked up St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” which preceded the Reformation by over a thousand years. It triggered in me the desire to seriously examine the Catholic Church. In fact, it made me wonder why I had never seriously examined it previously. I was never anti-Catholic, though for a boy in the 50s and 60s from a southern fundamentalist background, there was a certain dread attached to looking at the formal Church seriously, even if that dread did not attach to her individual members. For over a decade and a half I DID look seriously at a large number of Protestant denominations hoping for a home, always to be disappointed. By the time it occurred to me to look seriously at Catholicism I had become like a poor orphan boy, believing there was no home for me on this earth.
It turned out RCIA was starting just a couple of weeks after I had finished St. Augustine’s mighty work. (For non-Catholics, RCIA is the process of inquiry and instruction for adults considering conversion into Catholicism. It usually starts in September and culminates at Easter). While I had this new, last hope of finding a spiritual home, I was not going to be fooled again. So I read voraciously the first two months, trying (quite frankly) to find the catch before getting too deep into it. I read many Church Fathers, many saints, and many catechetical commentaries. The first things I read, though, were all the documents from Vatican II. What those documents convinced me of was that I may, indeed, have found my home. Oh sure, I was later to hear all sorts of abuses and offenses justified as being part of the “spirit of” Vatican II by people – and prelates – who had contempt for what the Church actually teaches. But I had read the documents – and I well knew this “spirit of” garbage had no connection to what Vatican II actually taught. After some time, whenever anyone spoke to me of the “spirit of” Vatican II, internally I thought, “Okay, here is another one influenced by the evil spirit desperately trying to attach itself to Vatican II.”
It was two months in when I knew that, barring some major problem, I had found my home. Through this process, there are several rites which move things along. At one point, we had the Rite of Acceptance coming up. For two weeks before that I had nightmares that at the moment of the rite when the Priest came to me, he would tell me, “We do not accept you,” and cast me out of the Church. I told the woman I was dating at that time about these nightmares – and she actually started giggling. Deeply offended, I asked her what she thought was so funny about my nightmares. “You’re intimidated, aren’t you?” she asked. I conceded that, yes, I reckon I was. She replied that she had never seen me intimidated by anyone or anything before and she thought it was about time I felt a little of what the “rest of us” feel most of the time. I was, indeed, a poor orphan who had gone so long without a home I had convinced myself I didn’t need or want a home – and now I had a home I wanted with every fiber of my being and feared it might be taken from me.
I was always Christian but now I was Christian in vivid technicolor, with all the riches of the saints and the ages around me. The depth of the intellectual inquiry and theological treasure dazzled me, filling me with joy. For me, this was my pearl of great price. If St. Augustine’s great tome was the light that first drew me, the Documents of Vatican II hold pride of place as my gateway to the majestic edifice of full Christianity. I have an emotional attachment to those documents – and a visceral loathing for those who try to pervert and defile them with that “spirit of” nonsense. Thus, a repudiation of the actual documents of Vatican II is a repudiation of one of the keystones of my conversion. It is a hot button for me.
That said, from my earliest days, my focus has been on unity. Shoot, I chose my Christian name, “Abraham,” because of my admiration for the Biblical Abraham and for Abraham Lincoln. The Biblical Abraham is regarded as a patriarch in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. A powerful sign of unity. Abraham Lincoln held America together through a great convulsion through war – another sign of unity that also recognizes that a real commitment to unity in hard times is not for wimps…or a matter of just being “nice.” I chose the name because of its recognition of the complex dimensions of working for unity.
To live unity well, one must know who one’s opponents and who one’s allies are. My opponents are those who seek to destroy the Church and Christianity – including those preening secular opponents outside the Church and those Priests and Bishops inside the Church who seek to correct Jesus Christ and the early Apostles. Those who truly believe Christ to be God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; and believe that His words are authoritative and binding (even when they disagree on how to interpret those words) are my allies and my brothers. In criticizing someone for senselessly attacking an ally, I ended up disheartening an ally of my own.
I disagree with SSPX on some important things, the nature of obedience and the validity of the documents of Vatican II being the most important. But similar sentiments can be said of many groups of Christians I also respect and am allied with. SSPX does believe firmly in Christ and His sovereign pre-eminence over all things. If there is what I believe to be a lack of docility to legitimate exercises of authority, there is also a profound courage there. It did not escape me that while most of the Bishops of the world were trimming their sails or outright shutting down Mass during the overhyped Covid scare, SSPX continued Mass as usual, demonstrating their deep understanding that we were made for eternity. That was gutsy and inspiring.
In both Psalm 4 and in Ephesians 4:26 we are commanded to be angry but sin not. Last week I allowed my anger to cause me to sin against an ally that was an innocent bystander. I am utterly ashamed of it and heartily glad that I will go to confession tonight.
As many had expected, this week Pope Francis tightened down the screws in his effort to suppress the traditional Latin Mass, announcing that no Bishop in the world can allow it without first getting his express permission.
I am not certain this is canonically valid. The Dioceses of the world are not mere branch offices of the Vatican. Each ordinary Bishop has authority to make exceptions to certain liturgical norms if, in their judgment, it is for the good of their Diocese. That is not to say the Vatican can never suppress certain liturgical forms. In many ways, the adoption of the Tridentine Mass 500 years ago was to standardize the form of the Mass at a time when a veritable hodgepodge of liturgical forms had grown, genuinely threatening Catholic unity. But even as many forms were suppressed, the Vatican was liberal in approving of alternates to the Tridentine form, provided they had a deep cultural history in the region affected. This earlier move was a clear effort to establish unity when it was threatened, but with a due regard for local sensibilities.
Pope Benedict had tamped down divisions over the Latin Mass vs the Novus Ordo by proclaiming each to be legitimate expressions of worship. It had led many people – and many young people – to take a fresh look at the beauty and majesty of the Latin Mass. Meanwhile, not being treated like country cousins had led devotees of the Latin Mass to see the deep faith of many who prefer the Novus Ordo. It will be hard to argue that this edict is to unite the faithful when it clearly seeks to divide the faithful – and has opened up old wounds that Pope Benedict had largely healed.
Normally, even if a Papal disciplinary edict is not canonically valid, the Bishops of the world comply anyway because the Pope DOES control who will be promoted. That may not be the case this time. Pope Francis and the Vatican have made it amply clear over the years that any Bishop who follows Scripture and the Magisterium, who is orthodox, has risen as high as they ever will while Francis is Pope. The best way to advance as a prelate under this Vatican is to support trashing the traditional Magisterium and Scriptural commands, supporting active homosexuality, transgenderism, and even abortion…to try to remake the Church into these predatory clerics’ image instead of conforming ourselves to the clear, overt commands of God. If some Bishops choose to make their stand and fight over the canonical validity of this edict, what have they got to lose? Pope Francis has already made his contempt for orthodox Bishops clear – and that he will not promote them. I think we are headed into a real fight here, and one that will reveal even more clearly the battle lines in the hierarchy.
Some very good people have accused me of risking schism for not just agreeing with whatever Pope Francis says whenever he says it. I think Francis has been determined, from the start of his papacy, to force a schism, making people choose whether they will choose a false version of obedience by following him into a repudiation of Scripture and the Magisterium. As my director Priests can attest, I was warning of this time a quarter of a century ago. The battle lines grow ever clearer. I will still obey any legitimate exercise of hierarchical authority, but I will NOT be ordered into rejecting Scripture and the Magisterium. The suppression of the Latin Mass does not rise to that level, but I think it is going to become a proxy for that battle.
I hope you caught the US Grace Force Podcast with our own Desmond Birch. Fr. Richard Heilman and Doug Barry continue to do great work – and it was a real pleasure to see them highlighting sound eschatology with Desmond’s interview. You will note that Birch looks hale and hearty on the program, so I expect it won’t be long before the catechism classes he teaches online for CORAC will resume.
This Sunday, Feb. 26, at 7 pm Eastern time, I will preside over a national meeting. The link to get on has already been sent out to all CORAC members. On Saturday I will post the link here for anyone else to attend. I hope to see you then.
Thank you to all of you who have answered the call to donate to CORAC. We now have expenses for March covered and are halfway to covering expenses for April. We have an ambitious year ahead where we are going to drill down deep at the local level and ally with many other groups that are doing good work locally. We can share our many resources with them (if you have not checked out the CORAC website lately, you really should. There is a ton of useful material available there) and they become a resource to all of us to help knit the social fabric back together again under God. You have been wonderful in donating your time and talent. If you have some moolah in this Biden economy, we appreciate you donating to us. If you have already donated, God bless you – and keep those cards and letters coming, folks.
If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.
Find me on Twitter at @Charliej737