Category Archives: Roman Catholicism

The one true church of the Apocalypse, or the harlot of Revelation? You decide.

Revisiting the Catholicism of “Christ Among Us”

Educating new Christians in the basics of the faith has always been an important task of the Church.   A few years back I featured a series on Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, which date from the fourth century.  Evangelical churches can be very casual about the whole business, their reputation for dogmatism notwithstanding.

With Roman Catholicism, things are a little more involved.  Roman Catholic doctrine and thought is enormously complicated; it can be a lot for the novice to absorb.  The approach here too has varied.

For many years American Catholics were inculcated using the famous Baltimore Catechism.  Vatican II pretty much left this behind.  When I first revealed to my parish priest that I was interested in becoming Roman Catholic, he gave me Martin Farrell’s Parish Catechism. You can see an earlier edition of this here; the one he gave me had the obligatory hat tips to Vatican II, but the content was essentially the same.  Farrell was succinct and clear: you knew what the Church that followed it expected out of you, and that was fine with me.  I reviewed it, told him I was good with it and made the Profession of Faith.

Today, of course, it’s different: we have the RCIA, a multi-year voyage which includes the sprawling Catechism of the Catholic Church.  This document is the stuff of legend among conservative Catholics.  We have, for example, the spectacle of Al Kresta, who strolls to his talk show microphone with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in one hand and the New York Times in the other.  (Let’s hope his helpful staff has put the coffee on his desk in advance.)

Between the two was the stuff of another legend: Anthony Wilhelm’s Christ Among Us.  First published in 1967, when I got involved in the Texas A&M Newman Association, I found it was “all the rage.”  One friend had it read at his wedding.  Echoes from it can be found in the Catholic folk music of the era.  It was used frequently in study and, when I got to Dallas, I found myself using it in my high school CCD class.  Since then it’s fallen out of favour.  But what was the appeal?  And did (and does) it deserve the adulation?

The subtitle of the book is “A Modern Presentation of the Catholic Faith.” Both its strengths and weaknesses stem from that premise.

Its Strong Points

  • It makes being Catholic out to an adventure.  And, truth be told, in the 1970’s being Roman Catholic (for me at least) was both fun and an adventure, more so than before or since.
  • It really is a readable and easy to follow presentation of Catholic theology, doctrine and life.
  • It attempts to present the essentials of the faith without making the accretions to Catholic life essential in themselves.  To put it another way, it did not make the sacramentals that characterised pre-Vatican II Catholicism a necessity to arrive at the sacraments.  This, probably more than anything else, set the traditionalists’ teeth on edge.
  • Probably the best part of the book is “Our Christian Presence in the World,” where Confirmation is discussed.  Although not a Charismatic book, it actually adopts a “power to witness for Christ” view of the infusion of the Holy Spirit, something I would find again when I worked for the Church of God.

Its Weak Points

  • It brings in a rogues gallery of modern Catholic thinkers such as Kung, Schillebeecx, and Teilhard de Chardin.  (To its credit it also brings in John McKenzie; it also brought up a name I hadn’t heard in years, namely Michel Quoist.)
  • It works under an implied assumption that the supernatural work of God in the past has been superseded by our own work.  That’s the defective assumption behind the “Contract on the Episcopalians,” and it doesn’t work any better in Roman Catholicism than it does in the Anglican-Episcopal world.  That, of course, leads to its emphasis on social justice work.  I’ve discussed the problems of Roman Catholic social teaching in the past; this book doesn’t do anything to solve those.  The Charismatic Renewal could have helped to bring the supernatural and the temporal together better, but it got bogged down in authority issues and other problems.
  • It frequently implies that the practical magisterium of the church will shift from the bishops to the academics and lay people.  That, of course, hasn’t happened, and many of the changes they hoped for haven’t happened either.  In Mainline Protestantism, the seminaries have been the main source of trouble, eventually rolling both bishop and lay person alike.
  • Its presentation on which sins break the relationship with God and which sins don’t is mushy.  It studiously avoids for most of the book the terms “venial” and “mortal” sin, even though these are central to the whole Catholic penitential idea.

Probably the most objectionable point in the book takes place in (where else?) its discussion of sex and marriage:

Some couples feel that they have a deep, mature and permanent commitment t one another before the marriage ceremony–and often it has its consummation in the sexual union–and in the judgement of the couples this is not wrong.  Their permanent, unconditional commitment (not the instability of trial or companionate marriage) draws them to a fuller expression of their love.  Priests who are counselling couples, while they must present the Church’s ideal regarding this, also realize that what is a beautiful and attainable ideal for one couple may be deeply frustrating and disruptive for another.  Each couple, in dialogue with God, will have to do what they are capable of. (p. 323)

So how do we look at Christ Among Us on balance?  I think the concept is a good one, but the execution leaves something to be desired.  If it were “tightened up” in places, we’d have a real winner.  Unfortunately the drift with many “modern” presentations is outside of Christianity, and that occupational hazard pokes its head out more than once in this book.

The traditionalists, buoyed by the pontificate of St. John Paul, had their knives out for Christ Among Us.  In 1984, after a two-year letter writing campaign, the future Pope Benedict XVI ordered Newark Archbishop Peter L. Gerety to remove his imprimatur from the book.  This move, nearly unprecedented, pushed its publication to a secular house and made its use problematic for parishes.  Combined with the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church later in the decade, the book largely went out of currency in catechetical work.

And as for me?  Personally I’m glad my years as a Roman Catholic saw my intellectual formation with the Fathers, Aquinas and writers such as Bossuet and Pascal and not Christ Among Us.  I am also glad that my spiritual formation came through not only the influence of this book but of the Charismatic Renewal.  Unfortunately the combination created a “new wine in old wineskins” problem with Catholic parishes I was a part of after undergraduate school that lead to the inevitable burst.

Where I teach, one of the Dean’s secretaries was a Third Order Franciscan.  She noted that the Catholic parishes in this area had a low view of spiritual formation, with few opportunities for growth.  That’s not restricted to this area, sad to say.  Christ Among Us was an attempt to do something about that and, although it leaves something to be desired of, so does the current state of spiritual life at the parish level.

 

When the Catholic Faithful Were Not Allowed to Vote

If you listen to Catholic commentators–especially conservative ones–you’ll hear about the obligation of the faithful not only to vote but to vote for the proper person, i.e., one that is pro-life, etc., and that it’s a sin to fail to do so.

But there was a time when the Church had a less roseate view of voting, and in one case wouldn’t allow its people to vote at all.  But a little history is in order.

I005_Papal_States_Map_1870Italy, unlike the UK or France, was relatively recent to unify.  Before that time it was a collection of small countries, one of which were the Papal States, under the direct rule of the Vatican.  (See map to the right.)  They literally cut the Italian peninsula in half.  When unification first took place in 1860, most of the Papal States (the pink part on the map) were made a part of Italy, so the bisection problem was solved.  But then there was Rome…that was annexed against the will of the newly infallible Pope Pius IX in 1870.  He became a “prisoner” in the Vatican.

Needless to say, the Pope (and his successors) were not happy with this situation.  One of their responses, as Daniel-Rops points out in A Fight for God, was the following:

What attitude could Catholics adopt to counter this offensive? They might, like the German Zentrum, have joined battle in the parliamentary field; but Pius IX would allow no such course.  When asked by some of the faithful what they should do at elections, he stood firm by his principle of completely ignoring the monarchy, and directed the sacred penitentiary to tell them, “it is not fitting” that they should take part therein.  This formula, non expedit, imposed upon Italian Catholics a rule of conduct; they most not vote at political elections; and in fact when balloting took place in 1871 more than half of the population of Italy abstained.  They were advised, however, to take a hand in municipal and other local elections, in order to sway public opinion.  For more than half a century, at least in theory, non expedit remained the rule, imprisoning Catholics in a sullen opposition to all that the government of their country might do. (p. 90)

The problem was eventually solved with the Lateran Treaties in 1929, when the Vatican State became a really small nation.

So when you hear Catholic commentators go on about how the Church expects the faithful to vote, just remember that there was a time and place when it was not fitting for them to do so.

Just One Bull Away…

His Holiness has done it again with Amoris Laetitia, his latest encyclical on the family.  The traditionalists tell us he’s betrayed basic Roman Catholic Doctrine.  The loyalists (to the Church) say it really doesn’t say anything new.  And the revisionists fell a “thrill up their leg” while reading it.

Given all of that, I’m reposting my April 2005 piece “Just One Bull Away,” written in the wake of St. John Paul’s death.  Although Francis’ encyclicals are mostly long and tedious, the potential for disaster is always there, as this piece noted.


The recent death of Pope John Paul II has brought an extensive–and well deserved–outpouring of grief from around the world. He did attempt to build bridges between Roman Catholicism and the rest of humanity while at the same time persevering the integrity of the Church. He also was instrumental in the collapse of Communism in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, so much so the Soviets attempted to have him assassinated. And his conservative implementation of the Second Vatican Council restored order–especially in North America–to a church which was flirting with anarchy.

But now there is speculation. Who will take his place? How will the course of Roman Catholicism be affected by it? John Paul’s long papacy insured that the cardinals were more to his own bent than those of his predecessors. Ultimately, however, any pope is confronted by two possible courses of carrying the Roman Catholic Church forward, and both of these courses have pitfalls and opportunities for the Church and everyone else.

The first is to continue John Paul’s course of what Pentecostals would call “the church being the church.” His idea was that Roman Catholicism would be at its best when it was itself. This is why he stood against Communism in an era when many people–including those within Roman Catholicism–had bought into the idea that Marx’ concept of “historical determinism” was really true and history was on the Communists’ side. This is also why his “consolidation of power” fell hard on both liberals and Charismatics alike in North America.

From a purely institutional standpoint, this course is probably the best. Protestants will not find this conclusion to their taste–justifiably so–but the 1960’s and 1970’s proved that, when Roman Catholics experiment with ideas from the outside, they may benefit but the church does not. The Achilles heel to this strategy is the celibate priesthood; in this sexually overstimulated age of ours, expecting people to give up intercourse for any reason is an uphill battle. The priesthood is so central to the life of the church that its continuing shortage is a long term drain on Roman Catholicism.

The second would be to attempt to accommodate the “spirit of the age.” This is especially tempting to Europeans and North Americans, fighting as they are the rampant secularism in their societies. Roman Catholicism has always been happiest when it is in concert with the prevailing ethic of a society; if it cannot define that ethic, then it is tempted to try to work out an arrangement with it. The first example of this took place after Christianity was legalised by Constantine; that’s why we have the devotions to Mary and the saints.

Post-Vatican II Catholic history would suggest that such a strategy is short-sighted, especially since the “centre of gravity” is shifting to the “Third World.” It is the strategy that the Episcopal Church has pursued, and they have the membership loss to prove it. This may bring glee to Evangelicals, who see the potential of discouraged and confused Catholics seeking spiritual fulfilment elsewhere, but a conservative Catholic Church brings credibility to traditional values, which in turn extends the time when real Christianity remains legal in a society whose upper reaches are filled by so many sworn enemies.

And this brings us to the ultimate warning. In spite of its rich intellectual tradition, Roman Catholicism is ultimately a religion defined by the church itself. The church is literally one Papal Bull (or encyclical, to use the more current term) away from a non-celibate priesthood, from the abandonment of Jesus Christ as man’s only road to God, from the unlimited acceptance of homosexuality as a way of life, from just about anything. And although left-lurching moves may weaken the church, they may also make it easier for the powers that be to dispatch the rest of us when they get the chance.

The passage of John Paul II is both a challenge and an opportunity for Roman Catholicism. While he is definitely a “hard act to follow,” how he is followed will have consequences both for Catholics and for the rest of us.

After the Resurrection, Did Our Lord Need Purification?

Of all of Jesus Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, this one is, in many ways, the most intriguing:

Meanwhile Mary was standing close outside the tomb, weeping. Still weeping, she leant forward into the tomb, And perceived two angels clothed in white sitting there, where the body of Jesus had been lying, one where the head and the other where the feet had been. “Why are you weeping?” asked the angels. “They have taken my Master away,” she answered, “and I do not know where they have laid him.” After saying this, she turned round, and looked at Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. “Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” he asked. Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary answered: “If it was you, Sir, who carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away myself.” “Mary!” said Jesus. She turned round, and exclaimed in Hebrew: “Rabboni!” (or, as we should say, ‘Teacher’). “Do not hold me,” Jesus said; “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my Brothers, and tell them that I am ascending to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.” (John 20:11-17 TCNT)

There have been many explanations of Jesus’ statement “Do not hold me” to Mary Magdalene; in this piece I’ll look at two of the oldest interpretations, from Origen.  Both of these date from the first half of the third century.  The first one we’ll look at is probably the earliest, from his Commentary in John, VI, 37:

 And having by His passion destroyed His enemies, He who is strong in battle and a mighty Lord required after His mighty deeds a purification which could only be given Him by His Father alone;  and this is why He forbids Mary to touch Him, saying, “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go and tell My disciples, I go to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”

This is a pretty bold statement about someone who, as we saw last week, was sinless.  Origen was given to bold statements, which got him in trouble in life and in death.  But Evangelicals routinely blurt out stuff like “Jesus took on our sin,” so how did he get rid of it?  That’s a question that most evangelicals, as is often the case, don’t have a good answer for.

Simply put, Origen looks at Jesus’ death, resurrection and victory as a very high form of spiritual warfare, from which Jesus emerged victorious for himself and the rest of us.  Some kind of “recovery” after the battle is natural to posit.  It was in this situation that he told Mary Magdalene not to touch him.

Later in life he had the chance to discuss this issue again.  Origen wasn’t above changing his mind about things (as was the case with the transmigration of souls) and in his Dialogue with Heraclides he states the following:

If the spirit was put into the hands of the Father, he gave the spirit as a deposit. It is one thing to make a gift, another thing to hand over, and another to leave in deposit. He who makes a deposit does so with the intention of receiving back that which he has deposited. Why then had he to give the spirit to the Father as a deposit? The question is beyond me and my powers and my understanding. For I am not endowed with knowledge to enable me to say that, just as the body was not able to go down to Hades, even if this is alleged by those who affirm that the body of Jesus was spiritual, so also neither could the spirit go down to Hades, and therefore he gave the spirit to the Father as a deposit until he should have risen from the dead. . . . After he had entrusted this deposit to the Father, he took it back again. When? Not at the actual moment of the resurrection, but immediately after the resurrection. My witness is the text of the gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. Mary met him and he said to her: “Touch me not.” For he wished anyone that touched him to touch him in his entirety, that having touched him in his entirety he might be benefited in body from his body, in soul from his soul, in spirit from his spirit. “For I am not yet ascended to the Father.” He ascends to the Father and comes to the disciples. Accordingly he ascends to the Father. Why? To receive back the deposit.

Allegorists like Origen are criticised for playing “fast and loose” with the literal meaning of scripture.  But in reality they often “nit-pick” the scriptures for fine points, and do so better than more “literal” interpreters.  That is the case here.

Origen, in common with both the New Testament and Philo, considered human nature in three parts: body, soul and spirit.  “Then Jesus, with a loud cry, said: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” And with these words he expired.” (Luke 23:46 TCNT) Origen doesn’t simply take Jesus’ words as a figure of speech: he states that Our Lord placed his spirit up with his Father on a temporary basis.  The body then went to the tomb and the soul, with his divine nature, “…went and preached to the imprisoned spirits, who once were disobedient, at the time when God patiently waited, in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared; in which some few lives, eight in all, were saved by means of water.” (1 Peter 3:19-20 TCNT)

But that wasn’t the end of it: “And referred to the resurrection of the Christ when he said that ‘he had not been abandoned to the Place of Death, nor had his body undergone corruption.'” (Acts 2:31 TCNT) The Resurrection was simply the beginning of putting the pieces back together; the body was reunited with the soul, and then the Father returned his spirit to the Son.  But in Mary Magdalene’s early encounter, Our Lord had not been reunited just yet.

God is timeless; the Incarnation, like anything else in the material world, took place in time.  The fact that the process is not instantaneous should not surprise us.  The thing that we should never take for granted is not that it happened in time, but that it happened at all.

Much of this article is based on Crehan, J. H.. (1950) “The “Dialektos” of Origen and John 20:17″ Theological Studies, 11, 368-373.

The Meaning of Outside the Camp: A Good Friday Reflection

If I had to pick a favourite Bible verse or passage, it would be this:

The bodies of those animals whose blood is brought by the High Priest into the Sanctuary, as an offering for sin, are burnt outside the camp. And so Jesus, also, to purify the People by his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go out to him ‘outside the camp,’ bearing the same reproaches as he; for here we have no permanent city, but are looking for the City that is to be.  (Hebrews 13:11-14 TCNT)

I first picked up on this while working as the webmaster for the Church of God Chaplains Commission; v. 12 was their theme scripture, as it is for Outside the Gates Ministries, the current ministry of Dr. Robert Crick, the Commission’s director for many years.

Verses 11, 12 and 13 each take the reader “outside” something.  For v. 12 it is outside the gate.  That’s pretty straightforward: Jerusalem, like most ancient cities, was walled, and to enter or exit same you went in and out of gates.  Jesus Christ was taken through one of those gates outside of the walled city to be crucified and suffer.

But what about “the camp” in vv. 11 and 13?  It’s tempting to read that as an analogy for Jerusalem also, but there’s more to it than that.  To dig a little deeper we’ll have recourse to Philo Judaeus.  The relationship between Philo and the New Testament is subject to some dispute but there’s no question both of them drew to varying degrees from the same well, and no where is that clearer than in the Book of Hebrews.

A little introduction to Philo’s concept of the human person is in order.  Drawn from Greek philosophy and psychology, it posits the existence of an immortal, immaterial soul in each of us, joined to a body while on the earth.  The baser “passions” of the soul came up from the physical body, with its desires and irrationality.  The ideal was for the soul to gain mastery over these passions which, in Philo’s Jewish context, was necessary for us to be oriented Godward.  This runs contrary to much of the spirituality/emotionalism nexus that dominates these days, but the result in the society we have speaks for itself.

It is in this context that the following should be understood:

We have, then , in Jesus, the Son of God, a great High Priest who has passed into the highest Heaven; let us, therefore, hold fast to the Faith which we have professed. Our High Priest is not one unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has in every way been tempted, exactly as we have been, but without sinning. (Hebrews 4:14-15 TCNT)

The idea of Jesus’ sinlessness even while human, expressed more directly here than anywhere else in the New Testament, is one that also bears repeating.

In Allegorical Interpretation III, Philo divides the passions into two types: those of the breast, the “angry passions” which need to be excised completely, and those of the belly, which are related to our embodied state.  The latter too need to be excised.  But then Philo comes to the obvious question:

Is it then possible for us, who are bound up in our bodies, to avoid complying with the necessities of the body? And if it is possible, how is it possible?  But consider, the priest recommends him who is  led away by his bodily necessities to  indulge in nothing beyond what is strictly necessary. In the first place,  says he, “Let there be a place for thee outside of ‘the camp;” (Deut. 23:12)  meaning by the camp virtue, in which the soul is encamped and fortified; for prudence and a free indulgence in the necessities of the body cannot abide in the same place. After that he says, “And you shall go out there.” Why so? Because the soul, which is abiding in companionship with prudence and dwelling in the house of wisdom, cannot indulge in any of the delights of the body, for it is at that time nourished on a diviner food in the sciences, in consequence of which it neglects the flesh, for when it has gone forth beyond the sacred thresholds of virtue, then it turns to the material substances, which disarrange and oppress the soul.  How then am I to deal with them? “It shall be a peg,” says Moses, “upon thy girdle, and thou shalt dig with it;” (Deut. 23:13) that is to say, reason shall be close to you in the case of the passion, which digs out and equips and clothes it properly;  for he desires that we should be girded up in respect of the passions, and not to have them about us in a loose and dissolute state. On which account, at the time of the passage through them, which is called the passover, he enjoins us all “to have our loins girded,” (Exodus 12:11) that is to say, to have our appetites under restraint. Let the peg, therefore, that is to say reason, follow the passion, preventing it from becoming dissolute; for in this way we shall be able to content ourselves with only so much as is necessary, and to abstain from what is superfluous. (Allegorical Interpretation III, LII)

From this we can see the following:

  1. “Outside the camp” was a nasty place.  In addition burning the sacrifices (Heb. 13:11), Philo reminds us that it was the place where people and their sin was sent for purification of one kind or another.
  2. Since Jesus had no need for purification (Heb. 4:15), the reason he went “outside the camp” was not just to get outside of Jerusalem proper, but also to both experience our passions (in the Incarnation) and to achieve purification on our behalf as both sacrifice and priest at the same time (in the crucifixion and resurrection.)
  3. For us to go “outside the camp” does imply a need for purification, which is a process whose perfection is beyond human effort but whose initiation and pursuit involves some decisions and actions on our part.

We tend to make God’s becoming man a commonplace business.  Philo and the Greek world, however, did not: God was way up there and we were way down here.  The same sharp bifurcation is also very strong is Islam. For God to become one of us is amazing in many ways, we should never take it for granted.

And what about us going “outside the camp?” I think there are two levels we can interpret that.

The first is that, since Jesus bore our sin and the reproaches of being executed as a criminal, we should do likewise in the world, and not just hide “inside the camp.”

The second is that, since we bear the sins caused by our own embodied state, we should seek liberation and purification from same, and do so by sharing in his sufferings.  That’s a “penitential” concept of Christianity that’s not fashionable in many circles, but it should be.

As we celebrate the great work of redemption that our God has done for us, let us keep the following in front of us:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 KJV)

If the Country Doesn’t Make It, Will You?

This election cycle has been a wild one, and we’re not even halfway through the primary season.  Both parties are seeing broad-based revolts in their bases.  The Democrat establishment has done a better job of managing the upheaval, because they did what the Republicans did not: pick one candidate and get behind her.  Bernie Sanders would be doing a lot better today if the Democrats had split the vote against him the same way the Republicans have done with Donald Trump, although the candidate they’ve picked has some seminal weaknesses.

As for the Republican establishment, IMHO they deserve where they’re at.  Their current efforts are a miserable attempt to shove the “scab labour” out of the nominating process.  The more they try to do, the worse it gets.

The way Christians are handling this on, say, social media isn’t much better. The core problem is the idea that there is only one way to “vote Biblically,” which is all-pervasive, although there are variants on how to do this.  The Roman Catholics try to put some consistency by telling the faithful that voting for candidates that take certain positions is a mortal sin.  I find this a little amusing; there was a time when the Roman Catholic Church didn’t support the idea of the faithful voting at all, at least in certain countries.

Not voting at all brings up something Evangelicals in particular like to forget: the option for Christians or anyone else to choose their leaders is a recent one.  In New Testament times and for many years afterwards voting wasn’t an option.  Paul and the other apostles didn’t have to waste the believers’ time expounding upon which emperor would be the Biblical choice, something they might know since God used them to write the New Testament.  Caesar was there and that was it.

Christianity’s legalisation only thrust an unprepared church into a leadership role.  There was no time or impulse to develop the concept of a “Christian commonwealth,” and the result was that Christian emperors didn’t act any differently than their pagan predecessors.  That could be a wild ride, as anyone who is familiar with the Arian controversy will attest.  Absolute power was exercised arbitrarily.  Donald Trump, unpredictable and inconsistent as he can be, is a worthy successor of Constantine, Constantius and Valens.

There was another disconnect as well: Christians didn’t expect their rulers, even when they conquered by the Chi-Rho sign, to be the moral paragons we do now.  (The Church didn’t like to admit them to the priesthood when their time in secular rule ended, either.)  It took a massacre for Ambrose of Milan to force the hand of the Emperor Theodosius, but in general Christians recorded the less pleasant activities of their rulers with a minimum of moralization, as Gregory of Tours did with the Franks.  Islam was no different; the Ottomans broached the strictures of the Qur’an as they pleased.

This carried over even when democratic process took hold, as anyone familiar with the politics of the “Bible Belt” will attest.  Some of this was due to ignorance, but a lot of it was due to the attitude that those in power were by necessity both in the world and of it, and that it wasn’t the place for a good Christian.

It’s only been in recent years that Christians have seriously taken up the idea that their rulers toe the line Biblically.  How recent depends upon the place, but that attitude, while admirable in one way, defeats the purpose of Christianity in another.  It forces us to become too invested (financially, emotionally and otherwise) in the state.  In pushing for “righteous” leadership (which would exclude the likes of David) we too become both in and of the world.  The question we need to ask ourselves as American Christians before all others is a simple one: if the United States doesn’t make it, will we?

It is my opinion that, as a result of years of mismanagement, obsessively sexualised social policy (which has led to the breakdown of the family,) expensive warmongering, and strangling the economy with regulation while ballooning the debt, this country is headed for a crash.  I don’t think that it’s any longer a matter of if, but when.  It may result in the dismemberment of the country, much like the Soviet Union broke up in its own bankruptcy a generation ago.

Unfortunately American Christians have had the “God and country” thing drilled into them so unremittingly that they are unprepared for such a event and the many which will take place between now and then.  That, I think, is why Evangelicals support the likes of Donald Trump; they don’t have a game plan “after the ball,” to steal a term from our LGBT opponents.  And that’s sad, not a cause for anger, as many Christians think.

By “make it” I don’t mean that Christians will be living in the kind of mansions they think they’ll have in heaven, or hit the jackpot on the next money-making scheme.  What I mean, however, is that Christians need to realise that they have only one true country, to be free of unnecessary encumbrances, and to stick together when things get tough.  God will take care of the rest.

It’s still the question: when this country doesn’t make it, will you?  Time to think about it.

Ed Gutfreund: From an Indirect Love

Epoch VII EG100 (1974)

“The old folk Mass” has become the phrase used by teary-eyed, nostalgic Catholics (and some who left the Church) for the liturgical events of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the organ gathered dust and the guitars–six and twelve string–were unpacked for the celebration of the sacred mysteries.  But was it really folk music?  Or was it just music done in a folk style and instrumentation?

Falling into the first group is this album.  Ed Gutfreund, familiar to many old NALR aficionados, is a real folk musician who put out this, a real folk album.  He’s best known for his rendition of the Baptist classic “How Can I Keep From Singing,” which introduced this to many Catholic churches. That alone made him memorable, but many of his other songs deserve much more play and performance than they get these days.

Gutfreund, in some ways like Sebastian Temple, is an upbeat composer and performer. That contrasts him with the more moody, minor key style we see in, say, a Roger Smith, and that should have made him more popular as a liturgist.  The problem, however, may be that, as a true folk musician, his work is harder to perform than many of those who simply use folk instrumentation.

And it doesn’t take much for Gresham’s Law to work in Catholic music.  Gutfreund, like many other good Catholic composers and musicians (like fellow folk musician Juliana Garza) got thrown under the OCP bus during the pontifical reign of John Paul II.  Coupled with the liturgical translation changes, much of the “old folk Mass” is pretty much history. And that’s a pity.

Note: this album is unusual in one other respect in that the music specifically for the Mass is interspersed with the other songs, as opposed to the time-honoured practice of putting these pieces at the end of Side 2.

The songs:

  1. Good Morning, Zachary
  2. Lord, Have Mercy On Us All
  3. Alleluia, Praise To The Lord
  4. When We See
  5. Back And Forth
  6. In The Day Of The Lord
  7. How Can I Keep From Singing
  8. When We Gather We Proclaim
  9. The Children Of Sunlight
  10. Your People Of Faith
  11. The Lights Of The City
  12. From An Indirect Love

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Sandi Yonikus: Building the Earth

Liturgical Press  11468 (1968)

This “pre-NOM” album (which means we’ve had one and a half liturgical upheavals since then) is, despite its pretentious title, a mixture of a children’s’ album and early Catholic folk.  Or maybe the pretentious title is reasonable: children are the future, something that the dropping birth rate of the time tended to lose sight of.  In any case, it’s a reasonable effort in both respects.  It’s also a composite effort: in addition to the children from the parish school, it includes seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and some help from the Catholic Student Centre at the University of Texas.  (That’s hard to take for an Aggie, but…we knew how to deal with Catholic students from Austin.)

In addition to this effort, Sandi Yonikus (1936-1988) was also a writer of children’s books.

The songs:

  1. Building The Earth
  2. Our God Is Good
  3. Spirit Of God
  4. Gio (The Little Yellow Bird)
  5. We Come As Your People
  6. I’ll Find Me A Mountain
  7. He’ll Come Again
  8. Knock On Any Door
  9. Sing Alleluia
  10. Teach Me
  11. Christ Takes His Throne
  12. Sing With Joy
  13. Gather ‘Round The Table

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When Public Servants Were Barred from Being Priests

Such was the case in the late Roman Empire, by no less of a personage than Pope Siricius.  Writing to the bishops in North Africa, he gave eight reasons why a person should not be consecrated to the priesthood, saying that “if after the remission of sins (baptism) he (the candidate for the priesthood) takes on the belt of public service it is not right for him to be admitted to clerical orders.” (Letter V, 1) The “belt of public service” was part of the uniform of the Roman bureaucracy, which took on military form in its civilian part as well.  The Council of Toledo made the same prohibition in 401.  Siricius expressed the same disapproval of people passing from civil service to the priesthood in a later letter to several bishops (Letter VI, I, 3.)

Why was this? Siricius and others were well aware of the nature of late Roman politics, which involved patronage and graft, to say nothing of torture and execution.  He could not imagine someone successful in the Roman bureaucracy having the moral character necessary to be a Christian priest or bishop.  For all the trashing of fourth century Christianity by some of those who came after, this is a higher standard than much of what we see these days.  We are better at making our own system look clean, but there is plenty of corruption to go around.

And when the opportunity to unload this bureaucratic weight came around, as Britain did a few years later, the glee was clear, as we can see in the Pelagian Fastidius’ De Vita Christiana:

We see before us plenty of examples of wicked men, the sum of their sins complete, who are at this present moment being judged, and denied this present life no less than the life to come…Those who have freely shed the blood of others are now forced to spill their own…Some lie unburied, food for the beasts and birds of the air…Their judgements killed many husbands, widowed many women, orphaned many children.  They made beggars and laid them bare…for they plundered the children of the men they killed.  Now it is their wives who are widows, their sons who are orphans, begging their daily bread from others.

Today, of course, Christians are made to think that participation in public life is their Christian duty, but there was a time when just the opposite was commended to Christ’s followers.  In both cases good reason is involved; it is not as easy an issue as some think.