This interesting quote, from Daniel-Rops’ Jesus in his Time:
God does not seek to take men by surprise and the Church has always frowned on sudden vocations dictated solely by sentiment. It is only to the soul fortified by preparation and knowing its way and its strength that the spirit gives the supreme impulse.
The call to ministry (or vocations, to use the Roman Catholic term Daniel-Rops does) has always assumed the aura of a mystical legend, especially in Pentecostal circles. Although dramatic calls to the ministry aren’t unknown in the New Testament (Paul’s Damascus Road experience is the most prominent example) most are multi-stage processes with stumbling along the way, in the case of the Apostles right up to the day of Pentecost. It’s a good reason why churches are wise to have a discernment and training structure built into their credentialing process. (The big problem with independent churches is that there is little or no such discernment going on, with predictable results.)
Having said that, there are three errors churches make in their ministerial development process.
The first is non-existent or inadequate development, which I’ve discussed.
The second is too heavy of a requirement, especially with formal education. The sad truth is that most churches–especially these days with changing stewardship patterns–can’t afford the student-debt larded “Jeremiah Generation” as pastors or other ministers. We need to focus our attention more on character and maturity issues rather than raw formal education, encouraging life-long learning.
The third is to impose requirements or encourage things that should not be imposed or encouraged. The most egregious one I can think of (although it’s doubtless not unique) is that of the infamous Jesuit James Martin, who was asked during his discernment process whether he was “experienced,” with the expectation that he was before his ostensible vow of celibacy. So he lied about it to please those “over him in the Lord.” It’s little wonder that he has strayed so far, along with many of his colleagues.
I have an Iranian office mate. My contact with the Iranians has been educational in my understanding of the Scriptures. One thing he’s really big on is bread. One time we went to a bakery where he brought a loaf of sourdough bread, which he consumed in its entirety–in one sitting. I bring bread from […]
To be Roman Catholic these days is an unenviable business, especially if you’re aware of what’s going on in the Catholic Church (and many Catholics, sad to say, are not.) It’s easy to comment on what’s happening, but what really matters is how one plans to fix the problems that face the Church.
So what is to be done? One group of people with “the answer” to these problems are the “trads,” those whose idea is to return to some kind of traditional Roman Catholicism. They’ve been around since their church was turned upside down with Vatican II, although many have had to operate in the shadows. Now, as was the case with the Anglican-Episcopal world, the combination of the internet, social media and wider broadcast choices have made networking easier to do. (A sympathetic former Pope didn’t hurt, either.) So do they really have the answer?
I think the best reply to that question is…sort of.
Stating the obvious is the quickest way to get Americans angry, but let’s start there anyway. “Trad” Catholicism is not, to use a good Scholastic term, univocal. We have the #straightouttairondale types and we have the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) types, and they don’t always get along. That’s a typical problem with groups which focus on liturgical precision, and Trad Catholics certainly do that. The first thing that Trad Catholics need to do is to promote unity amongst themselves, even if they don’t agree on every point.
That leads to the next problem: Trad Catholics are too focused on the sacramentals and not enough on the sacraments. What Trad Catholics of all types are trying to do is to reconstruct the Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II years, down to the last devotion and spiritual discipline. Their idea is that Vatican II wrecked the church by throwing the doors open, which led to the exodus of people and religious that has led to the current crisis. This ignores something that Europeans should understand but Americans don’t: that the decline in Catholic numbers in Europe long antedated Vatican II, Tridentine Mass and all. Vatican II was called in part to address this issue; for the American church, booming (like their Episcopal counterparts) in the post-World War II environment, such a reform was almost unnecessary.
The biggest challenge the Trads face, however, is the structure of the Catholic Church itself.
The church the Trads find themselves in is the result of the greatest triumph of long-term Trad Catholicism of all: ultramontanism. The term means “beyond the mountain,” and refers to the centralisation of power and authority in the Pope. Largely facilitated by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic upheaval, it eliminated practices such as the regale and curtailed the national autonomy churches had guarded for centuries. The proclamation of the Pope’s infallibility at Vatican I (the same time the Italians trashed the Papal States) sealed the deal. It eliminated meaningful national autonomy and certainly any lay input into the life of the church, something Vatican II tried to address without much practical effect. Both autonomy and lay involvement would have been handy for American bishops to deal with the sex abuse crisis; instead, the Vatican ran interference and the American church will suffer the consequences.
None of this should obscure the fact that the Trads have some strong points: they have a definite idea of what Christian life should be all about, they’re good at attracting people to vocations (something that may be a life saver in a priest-starved church,) and their people, like Bossuet’s characterisation of God, tend to be fertile.
I’m not sure that the Trads Latinate, legalistic and overly sacramental view of Christian life will have the broad appeal they think it will, although they will attract some in this way. I would like to see the Trads, to borrow more Scholastic terms, differentiate more meaningfully between the essentials and the accidentals. But I’m afraid, as was the case with the Charismatics a generation plus ago, that the Church itself will be the worst enemy of those trying to renew it, and that’s the saddest part of the whole business.
A favourite pastime of the #straightouttairondale crowd is to trash just about every piece of Catholic music written after 1965 (except, of course, what they put out.) Boosting the “Jesus Music” era is a goal of this blog, but this gem has an appeal that gets past not only their idea but Roman Catholicism itself: it’s a good carol for just about anyone.
A great carol for your Christmas service, but remember Catholics: if it doesn’t start at Midnight, it’s not Midnight Mass.
Under the breakthrough, Pope Francis recognized the legitimacy of seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government. Because they had not been selected by the Vatican, they had previously been excommunicated.
For centuries, the monarchs of Europe exercised authority in the choice of bishops in their realm. The triumph of Ultramontanism in the wake of Napoleon put an end to the practice; since that time the Church has stoutly resisted bringing back what the French called “la regale.” It has paid the price for it; relations between the Vatican and the then-newly independent states of Latin America got off to a sour start because the Vatican refused to extend la regale, which had been in place during colonial times.
The ultimate fruit of Ultramontanism, which places a heavy emphasis on the central power of the papacy, wasn’t this but papal infallibility. Given the erratic nature of the current occupant of the See of Rome, the wisdom of that decision needs to be seriously reconsidered, although getting the #straightouttairondale types to do that won’t be easy. But Francis’ decision to recognise these bishops, in the historical context of la regale, is a major move that may come back to haunt the RCC, especially in countries where secular governments like to exercise authority over just about everything.
Pope Francis’s condemnation of capital punishment is simple and unambiguous: It is inadmissible. No exceptions for especially heinous crimes; no loopholes allowing execution when other lives might be in jeopardy, as in past Catholic teachings. No, declared the pope; state-sanctioned killing is always an unjustifiable attack on the dignity of human life, it’s always wrong.
My senior year in prep school, one of my teachers was both a recent graduate of the school (which was not even ten years old at the time) and a newly minted “Sixties radical” to boot. He brought this up, using the same commandment as the New York Times to oppose capital punishment. My parish priest (I was a newly minted Roman Catholic) had, in accordance with the teaching of the Church, told us back at the parish that the commandment meant “Thou shalt do no murder.” (Given the place of capital punishment in the old law, that makes sense.) I repeated this to the teacher and he did what his kind are best at: he exploded in my face with rage.
But that illustrates the duplicity of those struggling to hold the “moral high ground.” Most of those who oppose the death penalty also support abortion and euthanasia, and now explode in our faces on social media with the hope that many of their opponents can be liquidated. The question is not really keeping people alive but shifting who’s chosen to die from one group to another.
P.S. One of the most impassioned pleas for the restriction of capital punishment except in the most heinous cases comes from Blaise Pascal’s Provincial Letters, but Jesuits like the Pope and James Martin would sooner have us forget this masterpiece, as it shows what happens when you let the Jesuits run wild on issues of faith and morals.
Is he or is he not on the road to being canonized?
In the coming weeks, the fate of Gilbert Keith Chesterton will be known.
Soon, all eyes will turn upon Canon John Udris as he presents his written report to the bishop of Northampton, England, with, thereafter, a decision being made.
I’m not optimistic about seeing “St. Gilbert” anytime soon, although the Roman Catholic Church is full of surprises. Some of that is due to his anti-Semitic remarks, which should endear him to the current Labour Party. But frankly I’m surprised that the RCC in England, as liberal as its hierarchy is, is even allowing consideration of Chesterton for anything.
On a broader view, the Roman Catholic Church has always had an aversion for canonising or even celebrating its best post-Reformation thinkers and preachers. Whether you’re an Old Folk Mass or #straightouttairondale type, Catholics in parishes are presented with some of the most banal examples of Catholic thought and life out there. For the better ones, one in particular whose cause is a main item on this blog is Jaques-Bénigne Bossuet. AFAIK, he’s never been considered for canonisation, although he is the Church’s best and most eloquent defender since Trent. Perhaps it is best that Chesterton be left to his fans to insure his legacy.
In the UK, he is known mostly for the Father Brown series; his magnificent apologetic works are mostly admired outside of Old Blighty. With Bossuet it’s different; the French still consider him a major literary figure of the XVIIth Century, in some ways the country’s Golden Age. But then again the French are better at appreciating their literary heritage en bloc, as they did recently when they re-entombed Simone Veil (a Holocaust survivor) in the Pantheon.