Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Ignorance of Youth

I was a late Catholic convert. But as I grew up, I found out a few things about the Church, and had a few misconceptions, too.

Here are some things from my childhood:

- At age 5, I attended Mass at the New Cathedral with my parents. I thought that the Bishop was the King. Maybe I didn't know about the American Revolution?

- I was always scared of the crucifix, but was horrified when I realized that it was a depiction of an EXECUTION! I originally thought that the Romans were just being mean to Jesus, putting him up on a cross like that.

- While visiting Saint Ferdinand Shrine in Florissant, I became terrified when I saw that there was a DEAD BODY under the altar. I was even more scared when told that it was the body of Saint Valentine, of February 14th greeting card fame. It took a long time before I found out about relics and wax effigies. The thought of catacombs, however, was too much for me to take, since Catholics apparently had huge stacked piles of bones in them.

- I was confused about the "Our Lady of the...." shrines that are abundant in the Saint Louis area. Who were all of these women that Catholics liked so much?

There were some really cool things about the Catholic Church, that even a little kid could recognize.

- Most of the churches were really, really, beautiful. Protestant churches were boring.

- Catholic churches had candles that you could burn and pray over. My Mom would give me some coins, and would let me drop the money in the slot and light the candle.

- Gregorian Chant and Latin were way cool, even to a kid under ten years old.

- The vestments of the priests were great. Far better than the TV preachers (although the preachers were easier to understand). Nuns habits were also really cool, although a little weird.

- Catholic friends of mine were far holier than other kids. Jaded Cradle Catholics may laugh at this, but it was very obvious, even to a six year old child.

- Priests KNEW STUFF, really mysterious stuff, that no one else had a clue about.

- Catholic kids ate fish on Friday. My public school always offered fish on Fridays for them. I didn't like fish myself, but I liked that discipline.

- Catholic kids played soccer and were usually better athletes than most other kids.

- Monks and monasteries were the best thing about the Catholic Church. I was under the impression that monks had to chant all day long, which I thought was too difficult.

- The one thing that I really disliked about Catholicism was the handshaking during Mass. I thought it was just too weird.

For those who are too young to remember it, the Second Vatican Council was huge international news that everyone, not just Catholics, talked about for years afterwards. Here are some things that I, as a child, thought that I knew about the Council:

- Catholics didn't worship the Virgin Mary or the Saints anymore. That used to be a nice thing to do back in the Middle Ages, but they had to modernize. Back in the '60s the general attitude was that everything HAD to modernize.

- Christopher and Valentine were decanonized and weren't Saints anymore.

- Latin was outlawed.

- New Catholic churches had to look Protestant.

- Nuns didn't have to wear habits anymore.

- Guitar and folk music were now required. The use of the pipe organ was probably banned. As I grew a bit older, I thought that the old Church was stuck in the Middle Ages, but God Forbid that the new Church would be stuck in the 1960s for centuries!

- Most young Catholic Religious were Marxist. They didn't have missions, but worked for the United Nations instead.

- Catholics still didn't read the Bible.

- Vatican II was just the protestantization of the Catholic Church, so that it would be more modern.

- Many things that were sins in the past were now OK. Don't underestimate what this meant to the world at large. Even though most folks in the U.S. were not Catholic, they still had a great fear and respect for the Church, and if Catholics said something was a sin, it most surely was a sin. The Vatican talked and Protestants listened, even if they didn't like it. The great "DSR&R" revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was partially based on the mistaken notion that all of that was somehow OK now.

- My attitude as a teenager was that Vatican II was necessary, since the Church had to modernize (remember that in the 1960s EVERYTHING had to modernize), but that the Church sadly threw the baby out with the bathwater on many issues.

So even as a child, I missed some of the lost Catholic patrimony. In the 1970s, there was a popular television show called "Kung Fu" which featured a boy growing up in a non-Christian Chinese monastery, where he learned extreme discipline and ancient wisdom. I thought to myself, sadly, that Catholics used to be like that too, but that Vatican II got rid of the discipline and wisdom, as well as the monasteries.

Eventually, as I started attending Lutheran Sunday school, things Catholic still kept popping up. First of all, the Creed had the phrase "catholic church" and so was was a bit confusing to most of us kids: why were we here instead of at the Catholic church up the road? Also, you had to talk to the Catholics to get answers to the really difficult questions. And every teenager in the 1970s knew that only Catholics could do exorcisms.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Mardi Gras is Shrove Tuesday

Mardi Gras will be celebrated this year on February 8th, the memorial of Saint Jerome Emiliani in the Church calendar. The City of Saint Louis is well known for its Soulard neighborhood Mardi Gras festival, one of the largest in the world. This Carnival is consciously modeled after the New Orleans, Louisiana celebrations, and has a similar reputation for outlandish parades, drinking, sexual license, and general excess.

Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, is called Carnival (meaning 'taking away of flesh') in Southern Europe and Latin America, but has the English name Shrove Tuesday. 'To shrive' means 'to hear confessions', and since at least A.D. 1000, Shrovetide, the week before Shrove Tuesday, was a time for going to confession. This makes sense, for Lent, starting the day after Shrove Tuesday on Ash Wednesday, is a penitential season. Catholics then ought to use this week for examinations of conscience, going to the Sacrament of Confession, and then be generous in doing penance for those sins during Lent.

It is only natural that before a solemn season of fasting and abstinence from meat, a great feast should be held, with much celebration and fun, and Catholics (unlike the Puritans) have a great tradition of hospitality, as Saint Martha did for our Lord. The Church's calendar has many feasts days. These literally should be FEAST days, so celebrate, have a dinner party, and invite your parish priest, closest friends, family members, and some poor or sick acquaintances who don't get out much. Hospitality is a fruit of the virtue of charity. A true feast should be for all ages and all states of life, and is primarily about good food, thanksgiving, and fellowship.

The Mardi Gras tradition goes beyond hospitality and clean fun, however, and is used as big excuse to commit multiple mortal sins in one evening in the company of strangers doing the same. What a difference one Mardi Gras in Soulard can make...I recall one party, in the 1990s, that ended in adultery, rape, endangerment to innocents, loss of faith, and about one hundred people losing their jobs due to the scandal of what happened. It was all in good fun, some would say, but got out of control; others say that we need to be personally responsible, but without telling other people how to live their lives. Ultimately, Mardi Gras is an outrageous parody of a true feast. It is a shame that the City Fathers encourage this, since it is ultimately destructive and degrading to the participants.

Some suggestions for celebrating the eve before Lent: avoid Soulard, especially if you have kids, since even the "family" events are gay-friendly, and the adult events are dangerous. There are way too many drunks and the police will be very tense. Make a good examination of conscience and go to Confession. By the way, you CAN'T confess the sins that you want to commit later in the evening. Have a party at home, with a filling gourmet home-cooked meal; this will help absorb any alcohol consumed and will reduce the amount of drinking by guests. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, and remember to go to Mass the next day, which should be easy since you won't have a hangover. And don't be afraid to be seen in public with ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

New Church in Washington, Missouri

There is a new Catholic church in Washington, Missouri; Our Lady of Lourdes. Like the recent Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka, Missouri, this building also looks like a church, which is a great relief for those of us who love the iconography of the Church.

Unfortunately, I arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes at about 4 p.m. on a Sunday, and it was closed; however the parish offers 24 hour Eucharistic devotion from 8 a.m. on Thursday to 8 a.m. Friday. Since I was unable to see the interior, I don't want to offer a complete review until I can see it in better detail.

The church is plainly visible to the east of Route 47, north of Route 100. Due to the verticality of the structure and its large steeple, as well as its site on a somewhat elevated location, it is hard to miss, even though it is located off of the main streets in the area. The building is noticably a church (although not particularly Catholic) and is symetrical in appearance, with a pediment on square cross-section columns, a matching roofline with an angle of roof pitch similar to that of most buildings as traditional in our area, surmounted by a prominent steeple, and topped by a cross. The side windows on the façade were of the pointed style familiar from the Gothic, although the church itself is not of that style, but looks rather all-American.

Upon driving into the church grounds, I noticed that at the parking-lot level of the façade were prominent glass-door entries into the parish hall, while a semicircular driveway led to the doors of the narthex of the church proper. I parked at the top of the driveway in front of the church and checked the doors, which were locked. At that time I wondered how someone who can't walk well would enter the church? But apparently there is an elevator going from the entry vestibule of the church hall to the narthex.

The round window below the steeple is of clear glass and has an interior framing in the shape of a Greek cross; those of you who have read Michael Rose's book, Ugly as Sin, may let out a shudder, since this element is barely symbolic enough to be called Greek cross, and some would say it it isn't a Christian cross at all, but it would never, ever be confused with a crucifix, and so, according to Mr. Rose, is a symbol of the school of iconoclastic Liberal Protestant architecture.

The pointed-Gothic style windows on the sides are also of clear glass and not distinguished. The Narthex itself is spacious, and I was straining to see the nave beyond, but due to the clouds in the sky and time of day, was unable to see anything.

The nave itself is roughly square in plan, rotated 45 degrees, so this is another auditorium church, with the seating not facing forward but at angles on the side. I find this disturbing, but I won't bother the reader with my thoughts and feelings yet. According to the web site, this church has its Eucharistic adoration chapel behind the altar, but since I didn't see it, I won't comment on it.

The church itself is faced with brick, of the familiar red variety that should make most Saint Louisians feel at home. The church is also oriented towards the East, in the paleotraditional manner.

This is not a traditonal church. But it is not a Modern church either; it is mainly Post-Modern, which means that it is Modern in its basic design, with a few traditional elements added. Beware of Postmodernism, though -- read Tom Wolfe's book From Bauhaus to Our House for an examination of what Postmodernism really means. However, it is perhaps a step in the right direction.

This church was designed by Chiodini Associates of Clayton, Missouri, who designed the Southwest Bank building on Manchester.

I must confess that I always wanted to be an architect and design cathedrals -- a good job if you can find it! I've learned that many myths about the lack of traditional architecture today need to be exploded, and there is little excuse anymore for building modernistic churches.

Web site: Our Lady of Lourdes Parish

Monday, January 10, 2005

Of Humility and Obedience

Sadly, parishioners of the Saint Stanislaus Parish in north Saint Louis have voted to withhold their church property from the Archdiocese, in violation of canon law. The parishoners, of course, are getting much positive media attention, who are portraying the disagreement as the usual class conflict.

One of the main virtues recognized in natural law is that of obedience: a person submits to his superior with the precise intent of fulfilling the injunction. This virtue is valued by Catholicism as the highest of the moral, if not theological, virtues. Obedience is the willful following of a legitimate authority, without coersion. Our modern world, being democratic and egalitarian, is repulsed by the notion of obedience, and prefers to use coercive power to ensure compliance with authority.

If the parish is being disobedient out of scorn or derision of the authority of Archbishop, then this act would be a grave sin; but since it seems that the parish is acting out of fear of losing their church to which they spent much effort and money, this act may be venially sinful, but certainly appearing to show pride and avarice, as well as disobedience.

From the Rule of Saint Benedict:

CHAPTER LXVIII
If a Brother Is Commanded to Do Impossible Things


If, perchance, any difficult or impossible tasks be enjoined on a brother, let him nevertheless receive the order of him who commandeth with all meekness and obedience. If, however, he see that the gravity of the task is altogether beyond his strength, let him quietly and seasonably submit the reasons for his inability to his Superior, without pride, protest, or dissent. If, however, after his explanation the Superior still insisteth on his command, let the younger be convinced that so it is good for him; and let him obey from love, relying on the help of God.

CHAPTER II
What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be


Let the Abbot always bear in mind that he must give an account in the dread judgment of God of both his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. And let the Abbot know that whatever lack of profit the master of the house shall find in the sheep, will be laid to the blame of the shepherd. On the other hand he will be blameless, if he gave all a shepherd's care to his restless and unruly flock, and took all pains to correct their corrupt manners; so that their shepherd, acquitted at the Lord's judgment seat, may say to the Lord with the Prophet: "I have not hid Thy justice within my heart. I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation" (Ps 39[40]:11). "But they contemning have despised me" (Is 1:2; Ezek 20:27). Then at length eternal death will be the crushing doom of the rebellious sheep under his charge.

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So it appears as though we may have a church go into schism, which is greatly harmful to the Church and wounds the Body of Christ. Some humility is called for on the part of St. Stanislaus church: I assume that they think of themselves as good Catholics, and I am sure many are quite faithful. It is very sad that they have the pride to oppose canon law and their Archbishop in this matter.

Of course this could be a huge victory for those who wish to continue the Protestantization of the Church and so eliminate the hierarchy. A Church divided is a weak Church: I am sure that the enemy loves the division of Christianity into ever smaller, disagreeing pieces. This is why unity is critical, and unity can only come with humility and obedience.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Help Wanted

The world's largest and oldest healthcare, educational, psychological counseling, social welfare, and diversified services organization is seeking men for employment.

Qualifications: Seeking men who are highly disciplined, without dependents or debt, and with the willingness to follow direction without question. Must have superlative moral character, and the ability to observe a strict code of conduct at all times. Intellect, a strong work ethic, and language skills needed. Required is the ability to precisely follow a fixed daily schedule, sometimes without adequate food and rest. Must be prompt at all times, and must not be a late riser. Candidate should have an agreeable demeanor, even when dealing with difficult personalities. Many positions require public speaking. Must have the courage to withstand working around the dead, dying, and those in despair. Ideal candidates may have served in the military, police, emergency services, or in the professions of medicine or law, or in a skilled trade. Should have or be willing to obtain the equivalent of between two and ten years of college education in the liberal arts. Our organization is highly selective; those applying must be motivated to a degree far greater than most.

Benefits: Employees will be paid little or nothing. Room, board, and uniforms will be provided. College and postgraduate education may be provided; as is healthcare, retirement housing, and burial benefit. In most circumstances, the employee will live where he works.

Locations: men urgently needed worldwide, with the greatest need in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia. The organization has branches in most cities and towns in the world, as well as in many rural areas. Volunteers are also needed for extremely hazardous duty in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Typically, the employee will be assigned to a particular location and may have to relocate on short notice.

Other Considerations: the qualified candidate must be single, and cannot marry. The candidate must be willing to dispose of all of his property before employment. He will also live with other employees in communal housing. The candidate must be willing to provide labor for the upkeep of the living quarters, and perform kitchen, janitorial, repair, security, or hospitality functions as needed, in addition to the service work of the organization. The employee will be expected to grow in self-discipline and will be always under the guidance of more experience employees.

Term of Employment: Normally for life. New employees will typically undergo a provisional term of employment for two to five years, and then those who are willing, and deemed acceptable, may be offered lifetime employment.
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I recently re-read the Rule of Saint Benedict. I first was assigned this book in college as part of a Medieval history class, and I was quite impressed by it, but also discouraged by the amount of work that was required of a monk of that era. Upon rereading the Rule, I realized that modern military men are some of the few living today who have the discipline needed to be a monk. Even Saint Benedict's Rule, in the spirit of the Council of Nicea, is quite relaxed compared to the asceticism of the Early Desert Fathers, but is far too disciplined for the modern man, except for those who do not have comfortable jobs and who deal with life and death daily.

Our Modern world needs Religious vocations. Most people do not pray for themselves, so they need a monk to pray for them. A monastery of brothers can provide a beacon to the world around them, shining with the light of purity, charity, and faith, the lack of which is ruining the lives of so many in the world today.