Confessions of a rigid Catholic

I need to come clean. It is me. And others like me. We are the ones out of favour with certain members of the hierarchy and therefore find ourselves marginalised, even demonised at times, and called names like ‘rigid’ and ‘neo-palagian’.

It is us who frustrate the desired programme of change by refusing to liberalise on matters of faith, morals, doctrine and scripture; that the church might be in vogue with the world. It is us. We are the rigid. But why? What compels us to swim against the tide and not join this modernist revolution?

Here is what I would say to those who label me as rigid.

First it gives us no pleasure. It isn’t much fun existing on the naughty step, even if God has blessed me as I sit here! Like many who attempt to be faithful to the magisterium, when so many prelates favour the ‘modernist approach’, my ministry has involved glass ceilings, invisible walls and alienation. This doesn’t bother me much – for I love my parish- but its worth noting because this cost speaks of conviction. We rigid are not being difficult for the sake of it. Nor scared, backwards, stupid or uncaring- as claimed by those who dislike us- rather it is a matter of conscience. We believe modernism is wrong. Very wrong. A heresy in fact. And therefore feel compelled to state it even to the point of suffering if necessary.

Why do I think modernism wrong? Because, in multiple ways, it has failed to convince me. Ultimately us rigids have weighed up the evidence and, sorry modernists, your calls for liberalisation just don’t add up…and I speak as a Christian with a lot of experience. All my Christian life I have witnessed decline in the Christian faith and culture of the West. And the hours I spent studying and praying and examining and experiencing Christianity, at one time in a very liberal Anglican seminary incidentally, in two different denominations and across a raft of churchmanship, has led me to one conclusion; its modernism silly! That is the problem. Not the faith.

The claim has ever been that a more liberal/modernist/progressive direction guarantees renewal for the Church. But there exists no evidence whatsoever to support the claim. Quite the reverse. Which is hardly surprising given that the entire history of Christianity teaches the polar opposite; that radical fidelity and witness lead to sanctification and God. Nevertheless many Christians have embraced modernism and I have witnessed first hand how they then tend to fall away, to become more secular in outlook, more faithful to the beliefs of the present secular age than to the revealed Word of God.

Why do many still choose it, given its awful track record? Partly because some know no better, its all they have experienced, others because modernism is convenient; it demands little and promises a life of comfort and ease in this world. It allows for a cafeteria faith- the tribal belonging but without the rigour and discipline. Which is to say it chimes with the West at present. And because 1970’s clerics (the fathers of this revolution) are now in the ascendancy it is experiencing revival. Yet let us not be so foolish as to confuse popularity with success. The awful television programme ‘Love Island’ may be popular- it doesn’t make it any good!

So leaving aside the unsurprising popularism of a loose and easy faith let us explore its fruit. And here we reveal a paucity of spiritual edification. Most Catholic schools opted for modernism since the seventies and what did they churn out? Not many authentic Christians, if we are honest, but militant lapsed atheists with a strong social conscience are two a penny. What we seem to have taught was a type of Marxist activism- a focus on the philosophy of man not God. Little wonder the budget for worship in most of these schools is less than negligible and few of the teachers practice themselves.

Next we might consider how it was on the watch of a modernist leadership that rot set into Western faith to the point that we enabled the secular mindset, so hostile to Catholic faith, to take over. So many dioceses are run like businesses today and not as houses of prayer. Modernist prelates have become line managers not pastoral shepherds and defenders of faith. They are seldom seen in parishes for their time is taken up in so many meetings and with bureaucracy. Priests too are sidelined by a strange understanding of lay ministry that encourages everyone to take up occupancy of the sanctuary, therby emasculating clergy and stealing their sacred functions,  instead of going out into the world to serve as evangelists!

And who can deny a loss of beauty and reverence in modernist worship? Little wonder seminaries emptied and parishes closed where houses of God became mundane and unappealing. And statistics back this up. Liberalisation leads to decline no matter the denomination. Yet still the trend persists….and for some reason it is the prelates whose own dioceses have experienced the greatest decline who currently have the loudest voices in this papacy. Why are we listening to the voice of the church in Belgium where zero growth is found? Why don’t we listen to the voice of China and Africa where growth is impressive?

And consider liturgical experience in recent decades. My experience of modernist worship is dreadful. Sorry but it is. Awful music, poor teaching and chummy embarrassing attempts at entertainment have become normative. The emphasis is all wrong- it seems to be on championing man and celebrating the community- not worshiping the God of scripture. Where is the reverence? Where is the awe? Where is the righteous fear of the Lord? So much seems off where worship is banal and dumbed down and devoid of supernatural awareness. Whereas I find a more traditional hymnody centred on Christ and I find the use of altar rails and historic Christian art stirs my soul to worship. So worship proves another nail in the coffin for modernism in my book. Where is the depth and  beauty? The holiness and  fidelity to Christ?

And, whilst I am on a roll, there is the intellectual life. Sorry modernists but your arguments seem shallow in contrast to orthodox thinkers like Pope Benedict XVI and the desert fathers. You ever hide behind clever ambiguity but you avoid both truth and clarity. The very things that appeal to me. So this again fails to convince.

In modernist praxis I see only impoverishment of living faith then and this makes me suspicious of real motives. It cannot be coincidence that many of the voices calling for a downplaying of moral teaching are the ones embroiled in scandals; lurid murals involving sexual licentiousness to the erection of a St Gallen Mafia to subvert the role of the Holy Spirit even to reported orgies in the Vatican. How do these men survive? It seems only the orthodox are punished- the modernists protected at all costs.

So there you have it modernists. Understand nobody who knows me personally views me as rigid. Only you. Because you have failed to convince me.  Failed because, as I see it, liberalisation breeds only surface popularism and fails to win souls for Christ. Oh I know it  delights those who want faith neutered- including atheists, nominal Christians, those enslaved to particular sin etc, – but it does not encourage real and living faith. The sort I want for my children. Which means instead of baptising all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you stand with Pilate, asking  ‘what is truth?’and visibly shrinking from certainty, integrity and obedience. For that reason I am out. I stand with the saints not you.

See I didn’t give my life to the priesthood to make the church like the world, or to excuse the sexual revolution. I did it for Jesus because I believe the Gospel! I am for the magisterium. The dubia reflects my concerns and I thank God for those who raise it. For if traditional Christian faith built the West it still has much to offer. And if saints and martyrs lived by this faith by grace and flourished – so can we! And in defence I refer you to Revelation 3:16 and the entire letter to Timothy.

Therefore I mean to remain rigid in the faith of the Apostles until my dying breath, hopefully beyond that. Though not being a very good Christian I cannot guarantee it. But nevertheless I shall not apologise for it.

With that said by all means let us debate mercy- how might we reach out in love and help the church become a hospital for sinners not just a club for the holy? I love the way you think that important. So do I. I will debate this with joy -for I am actually quite a liberal chap underneath it all- it is just that when it comes to the faith itself well that is not up for grabs. Non negotiable no matter my feelings. On that I am rigid. I think its what God asks of us. Struggling sinners that we all are.

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18 thoughts on “Confessions of a rigid Catholic

  1. Father Ed,

    BRAVO! At 63, I have made my fair share of mistakes! My marriage ended 10 years ago! I married a Protestant. I believed we shared the same morals, ethics and values!

    With time I watched a group scold me about the all forgiving Lord and the Martin Luther axiom of sinning large! I held onto my Catholic up bring that drove home humility, shame and reverence! Tangential to this were the traits of confession, remorse, and restitution! It is the Holy Spirit that is my conscience!

    In a fire storm of revelations I was left broke, broken and without my son! The horrors that my ex committed are mind warping! It was as I watched their indifference that I recognized the value of those traits stated above! I pray that I have instilled them in my son!

    Your blog was a God send to me and I pray for you to stay the course! I too look at my church in horror over the last 50 years! Let us pray that the voices of honor are heard!

    Jim Donohue

    1. Keep in mind that the voice of The Spirit can, and often does, speak quietly in the midst of the storm, seemingly unheeded, but it works away undermining the foundations of those who would sink the ship. That has been the lesson of history – He steers His ship through the storms.

  2. It may surprise you Fr. Ed but I do accept the general thrust of your argument. In particular I hate queing for communion and very much admire those who kneel to receive. The problem for me at my age is that I wouldn’t be able to get up again! The wonderful thing about altar rails was that not only was the reverent reception of communion automatically sorted, but also you could, with some dignity, push yourself back into a standing position.
    I also find that statues and religious art help focus the mind. More importantly the position of, and reverence towards, the tabernacle are both of paramount importance.
    Modernism in so far as it has defaced our churches is to be deplored. Likewise where it has watered down belief in tha Real Presence, the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the important place of Mary in God’s plan it is truely evil.
    In allowing the celebration of the EF, Pope Benedict was only using common sense. How could what had been practised, loved, celebrated even died for since 1570 be forbidden?
    Our Catholic faith and heritage and in particular the way we worship has been tampered with far too much.
    There is always a ‘but’! I do believe, however, that the term ‘modernism’ is used far to loosely when it embraces every conceivable thought and action that takes us away from 1950.
    There is a time and a place for modern hymns and ‘enthusiastic’ charismatic worship as long as it does not go over the top and never ignores the realities of Eucharistic belief and practice. Indeed I have witnessed wonderful, informal yet very catholic events. On one occasion in particular when a priest carried the Monstrance around a tent full of young people blessing each one individually, I witnessed a really tangible devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
    Of course things of that nature must never be allowed to deminish the sense of right doctrine and reverence.
    All things being considered, I think that there is definitely something in the aspirations of Pope Francis that strikes a chord in many of us, but I do not pretend that there is not also something disconcerting about his effect.
    I ponder these things a lot and whilst I can appreciate the fail safe appeal of a resort to rigidity, at the same time I do believe that the Holy Spirit is at work notwithstanding the horrors perpetrated in
    ‘the spirit of Vatican II’! Perhaps I’m not so much of a ‘cafeteria ‘ catholic as a chap who wants to have his cake and eat it.

    1. i have no beef with reverent charismatic worship. So long as it is Christ centred and not egocentric, so long as it unites us with God not our own feelings and schmaltz. So we seem to agree a great deal given your last post. I am also not rigid nor stuck in the 1950’s. I just fear we have begun to debate what was never for debate and to forget things that never should have been forgotten and the Catholic culture is suffering because of it. Modernism has, overall, caused much more damage than is admitted.

  3. Father Ed – one thing occurs to me. You never actually articulate the theological difference between modernism and correct Christianity. What is that difference at its core? We know what you think about lax morals, banal worship, gay marriage, women clergy, but what is it really that divides the two sides? Not the fruits of modernism, but what it is. Modernists hide behind “clever ambiguity” rather than the truth. About what? Is it not the case that the two torpedoes which have holed the church below the waterline are Darwinism, and historical biblical criticism. If you can get round those two obstacles, carry on as a traditionalist. I suspect you cannot, and that is why you go on about secondary issues in your blog.

    1. Darwinism most certainly didn’t sink the church, though it did sink the world by loss of belief in souls as sacred and worthy of dignity. Biblical criticism too hasn’t – just read Benedict XVI.
      I have addressed these previously.
      The difference is in fact belief in revealed word of God or one man is revealing.

  4. The problem I have with Charismatic worship is not just that it’s not to my taste ( although see rant below) but that it vastly over elevates personal experience. So, if you feel the Holy Spirit that’s great but what is you don’t? And, anyway, how can you be sure what you are feeling really is the Holy Spirit and that you are not deluding yourself and/ or getting caught up in the crowd dynamic? One of the many great things about Catholicism has always seemed to me that it works on reason and authority not personal emotional response. As is well known Mother Theresa herself went through many years of dryness when she lost all sense of communication with God but she carried on. If she had been of the turn of mind that valued feelings above reason and magisterium then who knows what might have happened ? So I am always very dubious and, for those who may be interested in reading further into this kind of phenomenon – which has popped up time and time again from the very earliest days of the Church – I recommend “Enthusiasm” by Ronald Knox. He is very lucid indeed about it all and skewers deftly the narcissism which has, through the ages, characterised this type of thing. And he died a decade before Catholic Charismatic worship came along in, guess what, the 1960s.

    And now for the rant. I absolutely cannot stand people who wave their hands in the air. Fortunately it seems virtually unknown in the Catholic sphere (or maybe I haven’t frequented the kind of gatherings where people do it. Thank God) ; however the last two Anglican funerals I have attended, one of which was admittedly strongly evangelical, but the other of which was middle of the road there were people sticking their hands in the air left, right and centre. I don’t care that it apparently is meant to show submission to the will of God. The whole point is that you shouldn’t be advertising that you personally are submitting and that you personally (but not, presumably, the person next to you who is not shoving their hand up) have been touched by the Holy Spirit. The text about not parading your piety always springs to mind and I long to shout ” Put your b****y hand down and STOP SHOWING OFF!” *
    I also remember what I once heard a priest say which is that we are called to be fools for Christ’s sake not idiots.

    * so far I haven’t…

    1. Mary,

      One of the negative aspects of the charismatic renewal is that it does tend to attract some people people who can range from the mildly eccentric to the raging attention seeking and even the mildly insane.
      There are however many genuinely devout people as well.
      Those of us brought up to rein in our feelings and emotions can find charismatic celebrations embarrasing. Sometimes our reactions to situations can say more about ourselves than the situation.
      The most important thing about charismatic prayer groups and celebrations is that there must be strong, respected and discerning leadership. I have no doubt from personal experience that the Holy Spirit definitely inspired the movement and that it can and does bring great blessings and deepens ones faith.
      There is one important aspect which we must be aware of and which applies both to the Charismatic Movement and also to Marian prayer groups and centres of devotion which I can vouch for from personal experience, and that is that where the Holy Spirit and Mary are at work the devil is also at his most active. He seeks to divide us and use our weaknesses, our ego, our judgementalism against us. He creates petty jealousies tempts us with elitism, spiritual pride etc.,etc., and whilst it is true that the devil does this whenever he can, he is far more active and determined in the Chariamatic and Marian setting. The reason for this is obvious. The stronger the work of the Spirit and Our Lady and the greater the potential for good,then the greater are his efforts to corrupt, ridicule, defame and to destroy.

  5. P.S.

    It is not only Charismatics who attract attention seekers. I have seen some ladies at mass who appear to be flaunting yards of net curtain on their heads, which is a far cry from the tasteful black mantillas of my childhood. Others are weighed down by massive rosaries, scapulars and jingling religious medals.
    I think we (especially me) just have to accept and love all these people and try not to judge them.

    1. Exactly.
      The Lord sees things differently and we cannot know what He sees. We need to call to mind – “as ye judge so shall ye be judged” – a sobering thought.

  6. Hi David! i don’t think my worst enemy would cause me of reining my emotions in. The exact opposite in fact!
    I would be interested to know what your thoughts are about the reason v emotion dichotomy I posited above. Also, yes, you do see the odd attention seeker at Mass but it does semem to be very rare mercifully . The great thing is being one of the literally anonymous crowd . My Catholic work colleagues include the cleaner, one of the very junior trainees, someone in a clerical role and one of the senior professional staff. But when we all show up at the Cathedral on a holy day of obligation we are all exactly the same. Which is as it should be.
    Ps none of us are handwavers!

    1. Mary,

      You asked about what you call the reason v emotion dichotomy. I have to say that I have never seen the relationship between reason and emotion with regard to my faith as a dichotomy as such. Obviously the intellect comes into play when explaining and understanding the faith. One thinks of Newman’s Apologia pro vita sua in particular, or of Aquinas or the fathers of the church or of Benedict XVI and so forth.
      If I remember correctly Aquinas claimed to prove the existence of God entirely from reason and as you point out reason is fundamental to any understanding of Catholic belief. Indeed some converts seem to sail into the church on a wave of intellect and reason.
      However, whilst I would use my intellectual and reasoning powers (indeed as I am doing now), to explain my beliefs to others, or even to myself, I do not think I would still be a catholic today without the emotion that I experience both in the public and private practice of my faith. I am not sure whether one can have a purely intellectual experience without an emotional response, but I am sure that one can have an emotional response without using intellect or reason. Perhaps I should substitute ‘ me ‘ for ‘one’ in the last sentence.
      I suppose what I am saying in a long winded way is that I do not see emotion and reason in opposition as regards my faith. Indeed it is emotion which allows us to experience the love and beauty and wonder of our Catholic faith and I personally have to be in touch with my emotions as much as possible.
      Of course there are dry periods, desert experiences, when we coast by purely on reason, just knowing that we are doing the right thing and most of the saints have done that and got the tee shirt. But I have to say that when the ‘consolation’ returns it is for me at any rate an emotional oasis.
      Love can be an emotion and it is nice when it is,but sometimes real love has to be a decision we make, not an emotion we feel. I am thinking about the times we act in a loving way because it is the right and Christian thing to do, when we act kindly and with compassion when we really feel like wringing someone’s neck. This is of course the love Jesus was talking about when He asked us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. We can’t FEEL love (i.e. emote) about our enemies but we can still act in a Christlike way towards them (i.e. reason).
      So to me, the relationship between emotion and reason and the times when we feel the former and use the later is an extremely complex one but I would say that both are essential to being fully human and fully alive. Probably, I think that at the end of the day emotion may even be more important than reason and I am thinking here of those great souls I have known with faith in abundance who I have loved, especially in my childhood who, without putting to fine a point on it were as thick as two short planks.
      I wouldn’t like to loose my reasoning powers but I think that possibly without my emotion I may have lost my faith.

  7. Hi David. Very well put if I may say so and, of course I agree that there are those moments when ones heart sings. For me most of the time that is quite literally so as it is very often a musical moment!
    However that wasn’t what I meant. What I was adverted to was the distinction between faith in God and the church underpinned by reason as against faith which relies purely or mostly on emotion. You have mentioned that you are sure you have felt the workings of the Holy Spirit. I don’t deny that may well be so but how do you know? To play Devils advocate how is your belief in that based on your emotional response different to the Mormons ( of course there is zero archaeological evidence for their beliefs and little if no coherent logic) but who apparently say it’s the most important thing to ” feel it burn in the bosom” . Or the Shakers and Mother Ann Lee. Or the followers of Joanna Southcott and her box? Or any of the many and various examples of the same thing which dot history.
    The ” thick as two short planks” souls who have faith in abundance of course have faith not just based on their own personal experience/ revelation but in the Church :so that’s not really an accurate comparison.?

    1. Mary,

      I’m not quite sure how to respond. I was brought up to believe in God, say my prayers and taken to church. I have always believed and I have always had a relationship with God. Throughout my whole life I have had the gift of faith. I spent some time in a seminary in my teens and I married at twenty a girl who had spent three years in a convent.
      Neither of us has ever questioned our Catholic faith( apart from the bits you know about!) or our belief in God.
      During my life I have been blessed with several wonderful experiences of the presence of God, closeness to Our Lady and the workings of the Spirit but these were not limited to charismatic events. I cannot prove these experiences because like my faith these were gifts from God and totally undeserved.
      Later in life of course my faith was underpinned by reason and education but that was not how I received it or indeed why I retain it. It just is. There is probably something in the saying ‘give me a child until it is seven and I will show you the man’,
      I do not think my faith exists in my intellect or through reason, rather it exists in my soul/heart through the undeserved gift of faith.
      I don’t know about other faiths but for Catholics involved in the charismatic scene I assume that like me they already had their faith and it was enhanced by their experiences as charismatics. I have met people who have come to faith purely from emotional or faith experience.
      I am not saying that in the whole area of emotional religious experience there are not situations which may be delusional or even demonic. That has always been the case long before the charismatic renewal.
      I am sure that a lot will depend on the individual. Some people live almost entirely in their heads, others in their hearts but I suppose most people are somewhere in between. However a faith underpinned purely by reason sounds a bit boring to me.
      I must say however that your query has certainly given me food fo thought although I am not sure that
      I have answered it!

      1. Very interesting and very honest David. Do have a look at “Enthusiasm” if the whim takes you; very learned but also very readable! I maintain my position about hand-waving though!

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