Is Catholicism Still Worth Dying For?
I appreciate Jack Hitchcock’s advice (“Please Lighten Up, Marian,” letters, Nov.) on how to cure my Catholic blues, as reported in my article “One Humdrum Catholic & Apostolic Church” (Sept.). I have done my best to follow his advice.
Jack recommends the Book of Wisdom 9:13-18, wherein Solomon asks, “For what man knows God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” Hoping to find there, as Jack hints I will, a scriptural warrant for shrugging my shoulders and going along with the liberal Catholic crowd, I found instead that Solomon has just acknowledged, in verse 8, a solemn commission from God: “You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain, and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place, a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from of old.” Replaced in its context, Jack’s snippet doesn’t convey his nobody-can-say-what’s-best nostrum, but rather, “Let’s keep the old ways, since man can’t know better than God’s wisdom.”
Well, it was no relief to hear the timeless wisdom of Solomon sounding so much like my weekday worries. So I turned to Jack’s suggestion that I join a parish liturgy team because it “can be a conversion experience.” Maybe he is right. Maybe I should have waited until now to join one. I guess it was premature of me to have already served on the liturgy committee. And perhaps I diluted its beneficial effects by also working in RCIA, Adult Education, and so on. About conversion he is certainly correct: My experience converted me into one very worried Catholic.
I’m afraid I have also anticipated his recommendation of the African Missa Luba. Having owned a recording of it for some time, I regret that I am unable to discover it at Jack’s suggestion. I can only agree with him that it is very moving — and point out that neither this nor any other beautiful music, old or new, is what I hear at Mass Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.
What’s left of Jack’s kindly advice? He says I should lighten up by writing some poetry. Telling that to me, an English teacher, is like telling a plumber to relax and unwind by soldering a few sections of pipe. But Jack is an old friend, and I trust him, so, okay, when I finish this letter, I will.
Verbal imagery is the professional concern of the English teacher. And I notice that the principal image Jack offers me in hopes of curing my malaise is that of the Catholic Church as a “pilgrim Church.” That image makes me more worried yet. My article dwelt on how much we Catholics have lost and forgotten. Have we even forgotten what a pilgrim is? A pilgrim, more than any other sort of traveler, knows exactly where he is headed. He has a destination that is fixed, sacred, and usually ancient. The goal is definite, and it is not a goal that any Committee of Concerned Pilgrims has invented.
Jack expects a “broader view” of the “evolving Church” from somebody teaching at Notre Dame. Every year at Notre Dame I face students who identify themselves as Catholic but who don’t know the first thing about sacraments, Church history, apologetics, ecclesiology, Catholic social teaching, Catholic devotions, or even the liturgical year. If ignorance is broad and knowledge is narrow, then I guess I would prefer narrow.
Jack has heard a “clarion call” from Vatican II “to take responsibility for our baptism and the priestly ministry therein conferred.” Sorry, Jack, but as it filters through my classroom windows it sounds far more like taps being blown for knowledge of and belief in the central tenets of our faith.
My worry (undiminished by Jack’s ministrations) is, as my article tried to make clear, that our externals bespeak eroded understanding and belief. It is not that I prefer Latin to English, old to new, or fancy to plain. It is that I see few indications that we Catholics now share a faith that rebuts secular humanism, is counter-cultural, and challenges the reigning ethos. The loss of signs and symbols, the diminution of coherence, the wanderings of the “pilgrim Church” into various relativistic byways, these make me worry. Most worrisome of all is, as I said in the article, the loss of seriousness — the loss of the sense that this is a faith one could die for.
Marian E. Crowe
Notre Dame, Indiana
You Smoked 'em Out
Regarding your November editorial, “The Issue That Won’t Go Away,” about the banning of your satirical ads by America, the National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor and all its sister periodicals: Satire is a venerable literary form. I can hardly think of an author of renown who hasn’t used it, and many of the greatest and most beloved are known solely for their satire.
Your ads are grand satire. In my circle of acquaintances, I know of no one who, having seen your ads, has not found them a source of delight. People of intelligence and generosity of spirit — whether orthodox Catholics or not — can have no problem with this form of literary composition or the skillful way in which you have employed it. Still, as anyone who has used satire knows, this is the form that “smokes ’em out” — and you’ve certainly smoked them out!
No one can be surprised that America banned your ads. You seem surprised, however, that the Register and Our Sunday Visitor banned your ads. Frankly, I’m not.
Edgar Wyatt Stephens
From a Letter to the Register
The NEW OXFORD REVIEW ads that the National Catholic Register refuses to print are brilliant — they go right to the heart of the matter. I’m so tired of so many years of constantly yielding to the modernists, of losing every battle. Those priests who essentially abandon Rome and are satirized in NOR ads deserve to be satirized. It’s great to see somebody — the NOR — say it right and say it well. It’s great to see a spade called a spade.
For you not to stand up for a very rare publication like the NOR is absolutely inconceivable. I will not even consider subscribing to the Register until you print the NOR’s ads.
James C. Kussy, M.D.
Granite Falls, Washington
“Fr. Flapdoodle” Is No Joke
Your November editorial mentions that your ads sometimes caricature certain kinds of priests, giving them satirical names such as Fr. Flapdoodle. Well, let me remind you that life imitates art: There is a priest resembling Fr. Flapdoodle out there who travels around giving “missions,” which are really infomercials for selling his tapes — and CDs of songs sung by his traveling companion. I actually attended one of “Fr. Flapdoodle’s” missions, which spanned four days. His talks are about loving the love inside you, and are full of the “warm, fuzzy, make-you-feel-good psychobabble” which Russell Ruscigno, in his letter (Nov.), says he hears in homilies.
This Fr. Flapdoodle’s ridicule of traditional Catholicism was like a late-night comedy routine, and his body language — four days of flapping arms! — reminded me of a television pitchman selling appliances or used cars.
Fr. Flap was a big flop with me.
To follow up on Russell Ruscigno’s letter (Nov.) on modernism in the Diocese of San Diego: Certain liberal pastors in that diocese of mine won’t allow the NEW OXFORD REVIEW in their pamphlet racks. Why? Probably because your utterly charming ads are devastating, and those that describe the typical liberal priest do so perfectly.
Simi Valley, California
Tail Wags Dog
I bought an issue of First Things just so I could get a copy of the NOR ad in its pages and subscribe to your magazine. Say, how much do you charge First Things to carry your ads?
Buchanan Dam, Texas
Pick & Choose: Why Not?
I value your magazine as a courageous effort to preserve the Catholic faith, but I’m afraid you pretend to be much more than you really are. All the fuss about your ads is really much ado about little. Your ads roar like a lion, but your actual publication meows like a kitten.
I believe this discrepancy is due to the fact that you are a “convert” magazine. Converts, it seems, are very reluctant to challenge basic Catholic institutions. That is very understandable and commendable. It is the opinion of this lifelong Catholic, however, that we cannot meet the challenge of this age without examining not only where we are but also how and why we got here. Simply repeating stories about how bad the situation is doesn’t really help correct it.
To many of us, it seems clear that we got here because of Vatican II. Robert Moynihan, Editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, had the courage to say, “the vineyard does not yield good grapes. Its grapes are sour…. It is time to be honest. The time has come to make distinctions. The time has come to discern between what the Holy Spirit inspired at the Council (and after) and what the spirit of the age, the spirit of the world inspired” (Inside the Vatican editorial, Jan. 1997).
Vatican II is the “how” we got here; the new philosophies and theologies — of Rahner, de Lubac, and Ratzinger, among others — are the “why,” the real reasons why our old faith has been abandoned.
I was really ticked off by the article by James Hitchcock in your November issue (“McNug-
gets from McCormick”), in which he excoriated liberals for picking and choosing among the statements of Vatican II. But why shouldn’t they? The documents also allow me to choose statements that suit my orthodoxy. It was the intention of Karl Rahner and his associates to keep the documents “open” so that future “interpretations,” developing their own particular theologies, would be justified. But Hitchcock, like the Adoremus crowd, although deploring the present situation and wanting to change it, cannot afford to jeopardize their positions by criticizing Vatican II.
I wrote an article on the Real Presence in the Eucharist that was published in The Remnant (Sept. 1997), pointing out that the deliberate confusion of the meaning of “real” and “presence” in the Vatican II documents has contributed to the loss of belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Surely the book In the Murky Waters of Vatican II, by A.S. Guimaraes, has demonstrated, as have other books, that one of the principal characteristics of the documents of Vatican II is ambiguity based on compromise.
Another trait of the convert is the reluctance to criticize the Pope. Yet it is evident that what has happened to the Church has happened during John Paul II’s pontificate. Even Hitchcock admits that the reign of this Pope has been characterized by “Teacher Si, Ruler No” (the title of an article by Hitchcock in Catholic Dossier, Jul.-Aug. 1996). In that article Hitchcock praises the Pope as a philosopher.
But what exactly is the Pope’s philosophy? What does phenomenology mean in his particular meaning? I gather from Rocco Buttiglione’s book Karol Wojtyla that in the Pope’s phenomenology, objective truths (the truths of natural law and Revelation) are accepted tentatively, but are “tested” against the “phenomenon” of human interrelationships. This reluctance to impose discipline based on objective truth may well explain the description by Hitchcock as “Ruler No.”
It would appear that Fr. Malachi Martin agrees with this interpretation of phenomenology when he writes these words for his fictional “Slavic pope” in Windswept House: “if you see me traveling across the whole world to meet with people of all civilizations and religions, it is because I have faith in the seeds of wisdom which the Spirit has planted in the conscience of all those various peoples and tribes and clans. From those hidden grains will come the true resource for the future of mankind in this world of ours” (p. 561). See also page 642 in Windswept House for what has been “accomplished” in this pontificate, and page 643 for a possible explanation of the Pope’s conduct.
It seems to me that you have sufficiently proven your faithfulness to orthodoxy. It remains to be seen if you have the courage to challenge the how (Vatican II) and the why (the philosophies and theologies active in Vatican II) that have led us into this distressful time — that is, it remains to be seen if you will stand tall, not as timid converts, but as confident Catholics, and really roar like a lion.
Robert C. McCarthy
You May Also Enjoy
Reviews of The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband... The Madonnas of Europe: Pilgrimages to the Great Marian Shrines... and more
Will Chinese Catholics belong to the Church, or will they be sold over as part of a political deal that some in the Vatican wish to strike with the powers of the world?
False doomsday prophecies and other gross theological errors that present faith as delusional and oppressive can taint all forms of Christianity and implicate all Christians to some extent.