Where Hath Catholicism Gone?

I commend to your considered attention the article at http://www.christendomrestoration.org/blog/the-priest-shortage-a-manufactured-crisis#.VNEZTlXF9ex

In a nutshell, the study indicates that from 1920 to 1965, there was a linear increase in the US in numbers of seminarians and priests. And that, from 1965 to 2014, there has been an exponential decay (qualified in a not very significant way) in these numbers.

I have been giving increasing attention to issues such as this for about 5 years or more. As it seems to me, studies such as these are more and more necessary as “scientific” analyses of what seems to me evident upon reflection of experience in the Catholic Church. Why? Because people are not paying sufficient attention, using their eyes, to see the absolutely deplorable state of things Catholic in just about every measure and way. Hence, we need statistical studies to wake us up to common sense, blinded for various reasons. (Some people have a dog in the fight, and need approval from hierarchs and therefore fear to tread these waters. Others are naively pious that lived Catholicism must in every case be simply real Catholicism. Of course, this naive piety contradicts their own love of ecumenism, which (rightly, let it be sated) states that lived Catholicism can sometimes be worse than lived Orthodoxy. The liturgy is one way in which this dictum proves true. Now, if we take that ecumenical insight to bear on the living of Catholicism since 1965, we can be freed to be loyal sons of the Church who yet point out that contemporary Catholicism is very sick. Very, very sick. One who says this is not thereby disloyal in any sense of the world. The blind piety of some, however, can be indeed called fearful, timid, unable to come out of the clamshell of denial, for fear of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

In short, the Church has been, on so many levels and in so many ways and in so many areas, in decay since 1965. Have there been “ups”? Sure. The laity have experienced this or that new emphasis on the universal call, etc. A few good women have become theologians.

On the other hand, I tend to be cautious when I hear these latest things praised and the previous experienced criticized. Often, this is useful idiots repeating what they were fed. I recall professors trying to force feed this to me in graduate school and undergraduate days. Investigation of 1900-1960 might tell a different tale. In fact, back in the day, there were many active sodalities and other organizations, doing good to the poor, instructing the ignorant, praying for the dead, etc. The laity were quite active, nor were they under the foolish clericalist illusion that they should become mini-priests, such as so-called “extraordinary ministers”, etc. For back in the day, real Catholicism did not mean only what you do within the walls. Conversely, it certainly meant that within the walls you did a mystery; rather, a mystery made you! Hence, you could not dice it up with neat analytical statements. You could never get one “bird’s eye view” of the whole? Why not? Because you were a man! Rather, a worm, and not a man.

Moreover, data such as these studied here cannot be ignored. One could also examine Pew’s data on mass attendance, catechetical formation, acceptance of moral teachings, etc.

Moreover and most importantly, perhaps there is a study on ‘life orientation’. What do I mean? I mean an answer to this question: Do I or do I not consider attaining union with God the definition of my success, such that all is failure short of this. ALL is failure. It would be instructive had we data on that. But what has in fact happened since 1965 is a creeping wordliness. We “embraced” the world in 1965 so as to order it to God and convert it. However, what could so easily happen in fact happened: We began to “enjoy” the world. Augustine’s firm doctrine, and that of Jesus (mammon or God), is that we can truly “enjoy” only God. Everything else we must approach only in order to God.

This is why in the past, many Catholics frequently refrained from many of the activities associated with the world. There was resistance to the world and its march “forward”. Not Luddite backwardness. Rather, ‘pressure’ against swiftness to change. A slowness to use the latest thing regularly. A sobriety of judgment; unwillingness to be rash. At the same time, confidence in reason and discovery. One can be confident in reason and discovery yet prudently cautious to embrace the use of the latest technology. (Witness Steve Jobs; though to his reasons regarding his children, we should add considerably more and higher reasons.)

This is why there were figures in Brideshead Revisited such as “Bridey”. A bit glum and perhaps smug; nevertheless, not simply a downer. In fact, I suspect that Bridey did not have no role in the eventual repentance of Julia and thus of that of Charles. At any rate, consider Cordelia after she has “left the girlish ways,” as Saint Paul did (When I was a child, I reasoned like a child; but when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.) She is not the colorful, fun-loving spirit of her youth. She is measured, far-sighted.

In short, all these outlooks consider death and dung (TS Eliot) as the outcome of human life. And indeed, an inductive study would back their outlook up. Death and dung. These things Catholicism-of-Late (not the essence, but the lived life, the practice) has dismissed with a wave of the hand. No, not everywhere. But in most places.

When have you heard a homily on hell; on the reality of hell; on how it is by no means impossible to land there? When have you seen black at a funeral? When have you heard the “Dies Irae”? When have you heard a funeral homily rather than a eulogy? When have you heard the priest say that we don’t know whether the soul of this corpse is in heaven? And that therefore we should pray for his rest? When have you heard the pains of purgatory even considered? They exceed those of crucifixion, and yet mum is the word! When, alas, have you heard a priest say that in case this soul is not in hell, we might pray for it? That hell is real; that you, in the pews, might go there. That it doesn’t take you being Satan to go there. That all it takes is you to have committed adultery and not to have repented to go there. That all it takes is you to have donned a condom and had intercourse to go there. That all it takes is you to miss Sunday Mass without legitimate excuse to go there, for our Lord spread his arms between heaven and hell, not for his glory but for your salvation, and by cavalierly missing his Sacred Gift of the Mass you have thrown his blood in his face!

I did hear one priest at a funeral mention purgatory and urge us to pray for my Grandfather’s eternal rest. God bless you, Fr. Mel, for a real sermon; the best lived sermon I have heard. Thank you, and may you rest in peace, Fr. Mel, OSB.

Those years before 1965 were sober years, those years of supposedly “gloomy” Catholics. Gloomy to children who want to disobey their parents; gloomy to rebels who want to suck the marrow of worldly goods, as their bodies slowly drift towards rot. Gloomy to those who are perishing, and who think only the faded lamp of the moon is the real sun of being.

For the real Catholics of yesterday loved not the things of this world but pursued holiness. We today can’t hope to measure up to many of them, yet we laugh at and mock them about “Jansenism”. We today hardly know what Jansenism is. We today find every ascetical effort to be backwards, needless, or perhaps only as fruitful as an exercise regimen.

But we do not view asceticism as our cooperating with Christ in paying the penalty for sin. We dot not view asceticism as connected with the truth that every crime deserves to be and shall be punished. We do not see asceticism as also discipline in righteousness. We do not see it also as a statement: “Dust you are, and unto dust shall you return!” Not as a judgment on the world: “You are not my everlasting shelter from the storms of being!” Not a rejection of the Prince of the Power of Darkness, who has ruled and wishes yet again to rule this world! Our asceticism is effete. Our lived Catholicism has become empty—banal.

We are all delirious from the wine not of the Spirit but of this world.

“O Lord, can you not see that the boat is sinking? We are on the point of drowning. Save us, Jesus, from the belly of the beast that seeks to sink us.” And yes, I quite catch the irony of his answer to us. He called for faith, but He did not call for denial!

But then again, I have seen some of this sobriety, this right judgment, this sound ordering of the worldly things to God as last end, the Gospel urgency to evangelize, the urgency to be converted and to convert (yes! to convert: For those in darkness must turn to the light; those pursuing evil deeds must turn and repent; those floundering around and looking, almost in vain, for the one true religion must be told in unequivocal terms: “Here is the one true religion, and all else are either false or have been superceded”), the deep consolation of a mercy that is exacting also, the thrill of a call to greatness in the eyes not of the world but of God, the humility before the face of liturgically experienced mystery. I have seen these things and tasted them.

Where? In the Traditional 1962 Liturgy and in all that accompanies the wisdom of Catholicism up till that time: Its theology, its Magisterial clarity and continuity, the metaphysical and logical rigor of its theology, its depth of real charity, its sobriety, its true love of the poor, its wisdom in ministry, its true pastoral spirit, its holiness, its mystery, its humility, its grandeur.


Chris Malloy

3 thoughts on “Where Hath Catholicism Gone?

  1. “That all it takes is you to miss Sunday Mass without legitimate excuse to go [to Hell]…”

    Is that correct? I thought that Sunday attendance was decreed by the Church to be the right thing to do, what is an act of proper thanks to God; that it, like the Rosary, is best for the soul but not soul-imperiling.

    1. Good question, Randall. Well, the flow of rhetoric is one thing; precision is another. My piece was clearly rhetorical and not fully precise. So, some precision regarding the particular point you ask about. The sufficient condition for damnation is unrepented mortal sin. If I commit a mortal sin and do not repent and then die, I meet the condition and am damned. The person who for 40 years missed Mass here and there, not because of necessity but because of frivolity meets the condition of unrepented mortal sin. But then, 10 days before his death, he wakes up in the dung heap of the corn husks he feeds the swine. He calls to mind God’s tender mercy and his own pitiable wretchedness. Not letting his sin be greater than the Tender Mercies, he cries out to heave, “Jesus, Be Merciful to me, a sinner!” And Jesus has little choice but to forgive him, for he is merciful, as is his Father and the Holy Spirit. Thus, this man does not plunge into eternal fire, but into the temporal fire of purgatory – and he suffers but with joy and hope. However, if he had not repented, he should depart into the everlasting darkness of gloom. Mordor forever.

      Why? Why is missing Mass with full knowledge and consent a mortal sin? Because we are commanded by natural law to give periodic worship to our Creator. And Jesus left us his Holy Church to guide us not just in the natural but in the supernatural order. Concretely, God commands we keep Holy the Lord’s Day. The Church imposes this obligation as steward of Divine Law. To neglect this commandment with full knowledge and consent is indeed to sin mortally.

  2. Amen! I will accept no more the premise that I may only be a Catholic if I agree to be a diminished Catholic.

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