‘In giving us his Son, his only definitive Word, God has spoke everything to us at once in his sole Word, and has no more to say’. (St John of the Cross 1542-1593)
In recent times, there has been much discussion in The Irish Catholic around the topics of the tragic shootings in Christchurch, NZ to the views of Dr Oliver Rafferty SJ, of Boston College, concerning the continual demise of priestly vocations and the latest novelty to arrest that decline. These apparently are divided but, the degrees of separation have a funny way of coming together.
The tragic events at Christchurch
What happened at Christchurch has been rightly described as cold-blooded murder, wherein over fifty men, women and children of the Muslim faith were targeted by a ‘white supremacist’ after Friday prayers. There is no excuse for this and despite the perpetrators rant in a near 100 page apologia, where reference to Christian identity was reportedly made, no one from a traditionalist background would or could identify with such vileness. So it comes quite a shock that the Bishop of Elphin states, in the March 21st edition of The Irish Catholic, that some classified as ‘traditional Catholics’ are guilty of fear mongering amongst migrants who are Muslims. This is both a sad and disturbing conclusion to reach and for this to come from the lips of a bishop about other Catholics makes it all the sadder.
So if we are to take these reported utterances from the Bishop of Elphin as factual, what does he make of the words uttered by his brother bishop, the auxiliary of Astana, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who raised concern over the recent agreement between the Vatican and the Grand Iman of the al-Azhar Mosque. Bishop Schneider stated:
‘That Christianity (Catholicism) is the only God-willed religion; therefore it cannot be placed complementarily side by side with other religions. Those would violate the truth of Divine Revelation, as it is affirmed in the First Commandment, who would assert that the diversity of religions is the will of God are wrong..’
These point to the fact that many see in Jesus only a guru or a good guy who did good things rather than seeing in Him as the sole and only way to Heaven. When one looks at the great commission in Matthew 28:16-20, Christ states that ALL authority has been given to me and that all are to come to know Him as Saviour and that baptism is to be administered in the name of the Triune God. Jesus Christ is the WAY the TRUTH and the LIFE and that all men, women and children are desired by Him to come and acknowledge Him as Truth and thus be saved ( 1 Tim 2:4) through the ministrations of His Bride, the Catholic Church. In the name of Jesus we gain all knowledge and means for our peace and salvation:
‘Jesus! A sweet name, a delightful name! A name that comforts sinners and offers blessed hope. A name that is a joyful cry from the heart that is music to the ears and honey in the mouth…’ ( Sermon of St Anthony of Padua)
The islamification of an apostate Catholic
The case of an Irish Muslim convert, whose allegiance to Islamic State caused much reflection over the St Patrick’s weekend, where The Irish Independent named her as an ex Irish Air Corp Captain, whose previous duties were that of manning the governmental jet. Lisa Smith (37) from Dundalk, Co Louth was pictured not only in Islamic dress, but the obligatory inclusion of the First Holy Communion picture (which rapidly becomes the last Holy Communion in most cases!). From this story we find that the adaption of the hedonistic dream actually fails in this experimentation, with her experiencing of emptiness and lack of meaning. Smith finally comes to the realisation that in Islam you actually come to see that a reliance that is experienced in an Islamic culture brings its ‘truth’ home to rest! For her, it seems a non-reliance upon her baptismal faith, showed her never even giving Catholicism a try!
It is quite obvious that such views come about by a fact that there is a clear lack of spiritual nurturing and development. Every year, the drop outs continue to gather pace at an alarming rate, in contrast with fifty years ago. There was a means than that despite the seismic ruptures of post conciliar introspection, faith understanding and catechetical knowledge remained strong. That is no longer the case, and what this example from Dundalk shows to us, is that the Islamic lifestyle is attractive; a point that Bishop Doran did not make in his Irish Catholic article. In her opinion piece for the St Patrick Day weekend edition of The Irish Times, Breda O’ Brien stated that Smith’s testimony must cause Catholicism a lot of soul searching and in that she is correct. She, nevertheless stated that Smith’s views show a lack of even a rudimentary understanding of the many examples of incidents in church history, where figures and movements came about by the Holy Spirit’s prompting that did give spiritual nourishment and set many souls on the path to heaven and sainthood.
The elephant in the room solution
That Lisa Smith’s spiritual development showed the critical signs of a non-reflective mind set to Catholicism which in near one hundred per cent manifests as a complete disengagement and thus the phenomenon of the seasonal, marital and funeral Catholic attendee is born! This continues into a snowball effect that by the time where the majority are cohabiting and the first children are born, the rudimentary residue of Alive-o is remembered as a bad experience with equally bad music and witches in bakeries! From this, we see that the death of the Catholic priesthood and religious life are the bitter fruits that are borne. Yes, there are those who do have an encounter that causes inner introspection and from that vocations come, but at a trickle and not sufficient to even begin to stem the priestly haemorrhaging which death and frustration enacts with an increasing vigour.
In yet another ideal, which sees Dr Oliver Rafferty SJ, emeritus Professor of Church History at Maynooth, state that the national seminary should be sold and the resulting finances put into a training loosely based on the pre-Tridentine seminary model of priestly apprenticeships. There is some merit in this proposal, but there is the danger that it also has the hall mark of yet another tactical withdrawal; as Churchill remarked at the end of the Dunkirk evacuation (May-June 1940: Operation Dynamo) that evacuations never win wars!
And the Churchillian reference also pointed to his desire that America come in on the side of the allies; likewise the model for success for our situation can viewed by the model set by the Traditional Catholic movement in Europe, but more especially in the United States. Here, like in Ireland and in Europe, the sex abuse scandals have carved deep cuts which manifested into the all too familiar pattern of downward spiral of vocational and spiritual demise. Yet there is hope as manifested in the Mass of the Ages, where in America the counter cultural witnessing of various traditional groupings are seeing seminaries adding extensions on to accommodate the young men who wish to test their vocations. Even in the country that used to be the Elder daughter of the Church from the time of Clovis, in the Fifth Century, the vast majority of clerics are priests that celebrate the Mass according to the rubrics of the 1962 Missal!
But, it is the American experience, which has seen that the model of the Extraordinary Rite is literally having a miraculous transformation. There is strong evidence that dioceses who have traditionally minded and orthodox pastors, combined with altars facing east that attendance at the sacraments grows, as seen in the Diocese of Charlotte, where attendance is up 48%. Equally impressive, is the fact that the Fraternity of St. Peter has links with over 48 American dioceses and 7 Canadian dioceses. As mentioned earlier, both the SSPX and the FSSP are in the midst of what can be attentively viewed as a renaissance. This is highlighted in the case of St Mary’s Parish, Rhode Island where this ordinary rite parish was on the verge of closure, when it was offered to the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter and in what many are seeing is a miracle, the aisles are full, revenue is up and the sense of purpose as Catholics is rejuvenated. Equally impressive is their seminary at Denton, where in 30 years, there have been over 300 ordinations and which has nearly 150 seminarians. Likewise the SSPX, St Thomas Aquinas seminary in February this year saw 34 young men raised to various orders.
But the continual rise of traditional Catholicism has seen encouraging growth with the firm examples of The Institute of Christ the King in Limerick with gradual expanse into the West. In the Diocese of Meath, the blossoming of Benedictine renewal is witnessed with Silverstream Priory at Stamullen, whose international community bodes well for the future.
So, what is going on here that seems to have escaped the attention of those at Maynooth and indeed in the Irish Episcopacy? With just a briefest of views to the scenarios painted above, there is a strong argument that many feel that the order and above all, the reverence with which the Extraordinary Rite gives is conducive to personal sanctity. Too often there is a feeling of tiredness and a clear desire for an anchor which has not been found over the past fifty years since the promulgation of The Mass of Paul VI. This constant reduction of the role of the priest to becoming nothing more than a compère; where the need to perform, rather than to offer sacrifice, especially ad orientum reveals a lot. As the editor of The Remnant, Michael Matt stated with some merit, many feel that the experiment of the past fifty years regarding the Mass has failed quite spectacularly and that it is time to go back to the future, so to speak and rediscover what was the means by which the world was won for Christ and that saints were made and peace was restored in a true unity to the mind and identity of the Catholic. (My emphasis)
So, it can be shown that orthodoxy, based upon knowing that you are stating a concrete fact, that only through Christ will this decline be reversed; a focus upon whom our hope is in and through. The traditional orders have grasped that most basic of Christian thinking and have put it to work, but most of all have had the confidence to do so. It is in that confidence with which the cathedrals were erected and deep faith exhibited that raised men and women of integrity, to listen to the silent whisper of God that led to great orders to be founded. History teaches us that these events and persons do come about; it may that the sharp correction of apparent sterility be experienced in order for a new springtime, envisioned by Pope St John Paul II, be experienced. The darkness of Good Friday comes always before the brightness of Easter morning!