Monday, May 19, 2014

There But for the Grace of God

As we witness more and more of a resurgence in today’s Church of the goofy and often heretical lingo and practices of the 1960s and 1970s—a season of confusion, chasing after the world, and aberration that so many of us had hoped and prayed was gone or at least going away fast—it can be a challenge to find the right way to think about and deal with the situation. We obviously want to practice charity in all and towards all, without yielding an inch on orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We want to win over to Tradition the disillusioned, the undecided, and the good-willed, while finding legitimate ways to obstruct or undermine the efforts of those who would pull us back into the quagmire of the immediate post-conciliar period.

It is always a healthy spiritual practice to attempt to figure out why someone might end up where they have: what is it they are seeing or wishing to protect, where is the issue that they are getting stuck on? And couldn’t I have ended up in the same place, if only Divine Providence had willed or allowed a few variables of life to have been different? Any of us could have been caught up in the false rapture and seductive ideologies of the Sixties and Seventies. I recall reading once that, when an acquaintance of his was carrying on indignantly about a criminal whose execution was reported in the newspaper, Goethe remarked: “Friend, you do not know yourself if you cannot see that criminal on the scaffold as you.”

Those who today adhere lovingly and gratefully to Catholic Tradition are fortunate to have been born not during the earthquake but in the aftermath, in a time when much of the dust had settled and it has become possible to rebuild intelligently. Those who are young today (interpreting “young” in the very broad sense of having been born after the Second Vatican Council) have the immense advantage of seeing, without any distorting goggles on, the total disaster and wreckage that has resulted from the “Spirit of Vatican II” and of asking the very precise and painful questions about the Missal of Paul VI that need to be asked but were, for so long, treated as if forbidden.

There is divine providence in the fall of every sparrow. It was easier in days of yore to take for granted the traditional form of the Holy Mass, since it was the only Eucharistic liturgy most Catholics had—and it was surely a temptation to celebrate it with unbecoming haste or inadequate music and ceremonial. Today, wherever the old Mass has been rediscovered, there is a fresh joy about the beauty of its prayers and ceremonies, and a youthful zeal for celebrating it worthily, down to the last bow and bell. Proportionate to the number of Masses being celebrated, it seems that Sung Masses and Solemn Masses are more frequent, in contrast with a time when the Low Mass, often featuring a “four-hymn sandwich,” predominated.

Many who were caught up in the euphoria (“let’s change everything!”) were believers with a genuine desire to spread the Gospel to modern people. Instead of relying on “the tried and true,” as the Saints have taught us to do, such Catholics confusedly experimented with novelties and innovations in a desperate attempt to reach their confused secular neighbors. They chose the wrong means to a good end. It’s like people today who want to use rock music in church because they think the youth will respond better to it. In reality, we know that the church can never compete with the world on the world’s own terms; it’s actually rather embarrassing to behold, and as a long-term strategy, it is doomed to failure. We need to be very patient with such people, and at the same time work very hard to defeat their misguided efforts and put something better in place—as the Church, our Mother, has asked us to do in so many magisterial documents.

Modernity is a terribly confused time, and the Church, in her human members, will not escape at least some of that confusion. It is one of the crosses we are asked to bear in our lives: the cross of a confused world that is careening out of control. We don’t know when the end of time will come, but we do know that it will be like purgatory on earth. As our Lord prophesies, it will be a time of momentous upheavals, massive apostasy, vast deception, horrible crime: “Will the Son of Man find faith left on earth?” The barque of the Church will be tossed on the waves of this storm, and some of the raging sea will come overboard, not to mention plenty of shot and cannonballs. To play our part well, we need to be full of faith, equipped and ready for anything, gritty, determined, ever obedient to high command and not overwhelmed by the casualties or the confusion. And to do that, we need, more than ever, a serious interior life.

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said: “Short of a miracle, a man who does not practice mental prayer will end up in mortal sin.” Even fifteen minutes of quiet prayer each day, abiding in the presence of our Lord, will make the difference between sanity and insanity. According to the saints, daily mental prayer, jealously guarded, makes the difference between a frantic activism that terminates in despair and a peaceful reliance on God’s grace that renders our activities fruitful, even when humanly unsuccessful. The deeper our interior life, the more we can handle adversity of any kind. The shallower it is, the harder life seems for us—indeed, the harder it really becomes. It is a truth taught quite clearly by our Lord: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these other things shall be given unto you.” “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

The ultimate book on this subject, a classic that I cannot recommend highly enough, is Fr. Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate. I hope someday to post more about Chautard, but for now, I will simply say that few books could be more timely, even life-saving, for our contemporary world of activists without roots.

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