Monday, July 17, 2023

A Brazilian Catholic Discovers Tradition

One of the true blessings of my line of work (so to speak) is the number of “conversion stories” I receive, in which fellow Catholics from all over the world tell me how they discovered tradition and the difference it has made for them. Sometimes these accounts are quite detailed and thought-provoking, such as the one from Brazil that I will be sharing today. Naturally, I have had to modify certain names and details to protect the author and his circle, but otherwise the account is true to the original Portuguese text.—PAK

Dear Dr. Kwasniewski,

I would like to tell you my story, if you have time to read it. I was born in April 1971, so we are almost exactly the same age. The earliest memory I have is how much I loved resting in my mother’s arms. It distressed me to be away from her, as when my grandfather took me for a ride in a neighbor’s truck. The memory of those hours of anguish I have not forgotten, even though I could not have been more than a couple of years old.

As I grew up, I also felt somehow the same way when I was taken to church—as if something was wrong, missing. Time passed, I grew up, but going to Mass was an obligation. I liked Bible stories, the lives of the saints, but that was about it; and today I see that my friends from that time period were the same way: going to church did not appeal to us, it was like a burden. It was not uncommon for me to nod off during the celebration, even during charismatic Masses that were supposed to be peppy. I was indifferent.

The years of being in school did not help with my faith. It was not uncommon for certain teachers to speak of the Church as if it were synonymous with obscurantism, gullibility, violence, and backwardness.

It was like that until 2014, when I learned about Catholic tradition through videos on the internet. I came into awareness of people who talked about the Church in a way I had never heard any priest talk about, and began to discover that what I had been taught in school was wrong. A friend lent me Tom Woods’ book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, where I discovered that far from being dark and ignorant, the Middle Ages were a period of light, and our civilization would not exist without the Church.

The next step happened partly when a teacher of one of my children loaned me another book: Professor Roberto De Mattei’s The Second Vatican Council—An Unwritten History. Through this book I discovered that the Council, so celebrated by the Church, has little worthy celebrating; on the contrary, it was the start of the demolition of the sacred that we see until today, and that Pope Francis faithfully follows to its bitter end. The teacher also told us about the Tridentine Mass. Until then, I had heard only that “no one understood the Latin Mass” and that “the Council had improved the Mass,” and I remember thinking: “Gee, if Mass is so boring nowadays, imagine how bad it must have been before!” The sermons of priests in the 70s and 80s were not helpful at all, they were full of liberation theology, which made many Catholics leave the church (I saw it happen).
Well, this friend of ours invited us to become acquainted with Mass in the Ukrainian rite, since there is no Tridentine Mass in our region, so we drove to the city of N. Arriving there, I was surprised at the importance that the Eastern Catholic priests give to confession, because where I’m from, you can obtain confession only by asking for it, by making an appointment; and when you go, the priest doesn’t even listen to you, he goes quickly on to absolution. But what about the Ukrainian Mass? It was wonderful. I didn’t care that the language used was Ukrainian. I saw it, I felt it. The priest bowed to the iconostatis, blessed the altar; the Mass was centered on Christ, on the Eucharist. I didn’t find it strange at all that he “had his back to the people”; in fact, I found it quite natural. It was there, in fact, that I felt as if I were returning to my mother’s arms: I was safe, no doubt about it. I understood the liturgy on a deeper level than words; everything made sense. I had been to the edge of heaven and didn’t want to go back. When the Mass ended, I felt tears flowing, and our friend, knowing what I felt, said to me: “Here is a Catholic recognizing his Mass.”

At last, in 2016, I finally got to know the Tridentine Mass on a trip to a monastery far away. My reaction was, if I had known the Tridentine Mass in my youth, I might very well have worn the cassock and pursued the priesthood! What can I say about the Tridentine Mass? It is like going to heaven—those songs in Latin touch me deeply, and, as I said before, I feel like I am in my mother’s arms again. I wish the Holy Spirit had given me the gift of eloquence, like the great preachers, because I have tried to talk to our priests about this experience, and they just look at me as if I am mentally handicapped—even the bishop does!—and recently one of them got mad at me because I tried to introduce him to the tradition Latin liturgy, simply to make him aware of it.

What a beautiful thing the Tridentine Mass is! I saw that little church full of young people, thirsty for Christ and well aware of the doctrine they profess. Here in my town, most of the people who go to church are old people who don’t even know what it is to be Catholic anymore; they have become Protestants in their mentality and don’t even realize it. I know this, because I hear them denying parts of the creed and even the commandments. There are those who leave Mass and then go on to evangelical services, to spiritist centers, or Candomblé houses (imagine!). And if you say something to them about it? They get angry, they say that is where they feel good. And what of our priests, why do they not confront these things?

Dom N.N., the first bishop of our new diocese (broken off of an old one), had the tabernacles and crosses removed from the altars. The tabernacles were placed in side chapels, which resemble broom closets. In the church of Santa N., amazingly, the tabernacle is next to the entrance at the back of the church—that is, when people are kneeling in church, they have their backs to the tabernacle. The second bishop wanted to restore things to a better state but was opposed by those who had given money for the “renovation” of the churches; and so it has barely changed. The third and current bishop seems to have brought us straight back to the Liberation Theology of the 70s and 80s: he and his clergy talk all the time about “oppressed peoples,” the “preferential option for the poor,” “social justice.” Whatever happened to “seek first the kingdom of God”? It seems to have been hidden along with the tabernacles!
One Lent I overheard a young man ask a priest if he could become a Catholic, because he was an evangelical and wanted to convert. To my astonishment, the priest said: “Stay where you are, this is good for you.” In spite of the directives of the Council, telling us we should seek unity in the Catholic Church, it seems churchmen no longer want to convert anyone; they say that “all religions save the sincere.”

Thanks to the encounter with Eastern liturgy and the Tridentine Mass, I made up my mind to read only sources that predate the Council—and behold, I have found treasures. The encyclicals of the popes prior to John XXIII; the catechism of the Council of Trent; the writings of the Church Fathers; the books of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. I have found substantial nourishment, the “words of eternal life,” and I ask myself: Why don’t priests (outside of the traditional enclaves) talk like this anymore? When I read about modernism, I come to see how it has pervaded so much. But I also see in serious Catholics a thirst for something different, something deeper and higher. People like you assure me that I am not alone in seeing the storm that is darkening the horizon, as well as the source of the light that will overcome it.

Sincerely yours,

A Brazilian Catholic

Photo of TLM in Brazil

Read more by Dr. Kwasniewski at his Substack, “Tradition & Sanity.”

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