Listening to young Catholics of Scotland

In some of the discourse surrounding the synod, we have noted a trend of suggesting that difficult aspects of the Church’s teaching, in matters of morals and matters of faith, need to be downplayed, or even put aside, in order to be relevant to people’s lives and sensitive to their difficulties. Some even imply that priests who hold to orthodox teaching are out of touch with the lives of lay people, and of young people especially. However, it is in fact this line of thought that is utterly in contradiction to our lived experience. What made us become and/or remain Catholic, against ever increasing cultural pressure, are those aspects of the faith that are uniquely Catholic, not things that can be found in social clubs, in NGOs, or in political parties. What matters is precisely the Church’s claim to truth; Her liturgy and Sacraments; Her transcendent doctrine, communicated in teaching but also through beauty and goodness; Her understanding of the human person, laid out so powerfully for the modern world by St John Paul II; and Her moral teaching, that while so very challenging, also offers the only path to true joy and human flourishing as we see in the lives of the saints. These are the things that convince us that here is something worth the sacrifice, something good for us and for every human being.

Young Catholics are inspired by the heroic virtue espoused by the Church, in opposition to the cynicism and pessimism of postmodern culture. A faith that merely legitimises the habits we would otherwise have anyway is simply not worth it. Far from being “out of touch”, it is those priests who proclaim orthodox teaching in its fullness with joy and courage who have brought the light of Christ into our lives, and really offered us His Mercy – the remedy for a broken world, which does not pretend human brokenness is irremediable, but truly heals and gives the grace we need to live new lives of virtue. To those priests, we are unendingly grateful.

Much more here.

Listening to Young People: Same-Sex Attraction Edition

Like Christ remembered me from the cross, I pray that you would remember me, and my brothers and sisters like me, dear Bishops, as you pray about and discuss how to help young people in matters of faith and vocation, especially in regards to the topic of homosexuality.

Please remember that, as St. Therese the Little Flower, a dear patron of mine, so greatly put it, “My vocation is to love.”

Much more here.

Listening to Young People–Indian Subcontinent Edition

A young Catholic writes:

Unfortunate as it may be, the hierarchy simply does not have the trust of a significant portion of the laity. This trust must be regained, and it certainly won’t be regained by speaking as though they have something to hide. People are already familiar with this type of evasive language with built-in loopholes, having heard it from con men in the form of politicians and businessmen.

Much more here.

Are we listening to young people?

The young person in the final panel is of course referring to the beautiful and heartfelt letter that Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote in 1966 to the Benedictine abbots of the world, pleading, begging them to maintain their tradition of Gregorian chant.

The Holy Father’s plea was specifically that of heritage. This is not only a linguistic heritage, he writes, but of prayers and chants that have grace, beauty, and inherent strength. Who but Benedictine monks would keep these prayers alive?

In his autobiography, Rembert Weakland explains candidly how he and his colleagues carefully avoided obeying the Holy Father’s instructions. They justified their disobedience by an expedient proposed by one of the English bishops, who said that as abbots, they would want to listen to their monks, and so the Holy Father would want to listen to them. They ignored Pope Paul, because he should not ignore them.  This method of obedience is probably not entirely true to the spirit of the Rule.

That was the 60s, and everything was a little confused back then. The media was eager to help everyone divest themselves of whatever shackles they had. Dr. Elvis Presley fell in love with Sr. Mary Tyler Moore, while Sr. Julie Andrews fell into the arms of a stern widower. I’ve spoken to folks who went through these times: a Norbertine priest who became a diocesan priest, because, as he said, when the Norbertine liturgy was no longer allowed, why bother? An active sister I know decided to leave the convent on the very night The Sound of Music was screened for free for all of the women Religious in DC.

Thankfully we are less confused now. Above all, from the example of liberal Protestantism, it is clear that playing Neville Chamberlain to the secular world’s sense of manifest destiny is a fast way to lose our identity, our mission, and our credibility.

Part two of the procession for the Global Climate Action Summit Multi-Faith Service. The cathedral was nearly silent. #GCASfaith #GCAS2018 Episcopal Diocese of California #GraceSF

Posted by Grace Cathedral, San Francisco on Wednesday, September 12, 2018


In my experience, the young people of today would be more likely to heed Blessed Pope Paul VI than Rembert Weakland and his colleagues. They are more formal than I am. As likely as any young people of any era to be fun-loving and exuberant, they do not seem to want to carry that casualness into Mass.

This was the first thing I noticed as a parish Music Director: the religious seriousness of the young people. The altar servers stood tall and seemed to pray at the Mass. Young families went to confession–a lot. Children wore scapulars. While I certainly wanted to provide them with solid hymnody and proper texts, what drew me to introduce chant and polyphony to them was my desire to respond to their own prayerfulness, with music that could feed their souls and lead them forward in their prayers.

The flourishing religious communities of today, those that attract the young, are truly religious. They are doctrinally solid, communal in practice, reverent in liturgy.

In parish life, the young are more reverent than the old. Young people are more likely to receive Communion kneeling and young women are more likely to wear veils.

Some would say that these young people are “rigid”–but that is not the perception of those who are truly listening to them. They have found the pearl of great price and they are responding enthusiastically in great numbers throughout the world. It is up to pastors of souls to hear the joy of the Holy Spirit ringing in their hearts and elevating their lives, to minister to their holy desires, and to safeguard the good things the Lord has in store for them.

The Triumph of the Cross

Today’s Feast is especially meaningful because of the Church’s current excruciation. We are, at this moment, sharing in our Lord’s suffering in an intense, collective, and universal way.

Looking forward, it seems to me that we can even now see some of the elements of our resurrection triumph which the sharing in this cross makes possible.

1. A deep love for the Church’s perennial teaching on the Christian call to holiness through chastity, in every state of life. St. Paul called this obedience of faith, the offering of our bodies, “rational worship.” To people who are subject to concupiscence, often very badly formed, and swimming in a culture virtually devoid of good example, the Church’s teachings seem much more like a series of “thou shalt nots” than a joyfully exuberant path of life. A scandal of this proportion tends to simplify matters into the easy choice of Deuteronomy: life, or death. Choose life for you and your children. Choose life.

2. A renewal of the servant-leader approach to episcopal service. In every profession there comes a point of seniority after which it becomes very hard to be fired: tenure in academia and partnership in law, for example. Redress of complaints made by juniors to seniors after this point is limited. For me, and perhaps for others, the apparent assumption of this privileged status by our bishops in their 2002 agreement constitutes one of the major betrayals leading to the current outcry. Combined with this is a perception that at times some bishops may have used the power of the charter as a weapon against priests who have not committed crimes of this nature, but who are troublesome in some other way. In so many ways, this particular time is a purification for bishops as a group, for their relationships with their priests and seminarians, as well as for their care of their people. This is a moment when all of these things could be rethought and moved forward on an excellent footing.

3. The historical possibility of clearing an enormous worldwide organization of sexual abuse of minors and subordinates. Sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem. It is a human problem. For various reasons, including such practical reasons as deep pockets and such spiritual reasons as hatred of the faith, the Catholic Church is nearly alone in being called out in public regarding abuse. As an example, the Washington Post once ran an article about a school teacher who had sexually abused students. This article was not, as would have been the case for a priest, a major headline above the fold on the front page. It was instead in the local section, several pages back, with a one-inch photo. Every organization that works with young people has this problem of sexual predation, not to mention the many people who abuse the young on a personal level. The Church’s time in the spotlight is not fair, in a sense. But it is much more important to note that the terror and pain of victims are entirely unfair, and our crises give us an opportunity to make a safe place for all people. This is a world full of abuse and human trafficking and sorrow inflicted by the strong upon the vulnerable. If that one safe place–an entirely safe place–happened to be uniquely the Catholic Church, that would go a long way towards fulfilling the prayer of Jesus, that the Father’s will be done on earth as in heaven, in the place where such goodness should in fact happen, in the Catholic Church.

4. The removal of a problematic group from Church leadership. Ascending on high, Christ gave gifts to the human race. These gifts are peopleprophets, teachers, etc. If these gifts, these gifted gifts from the Giver of all good gifts, are to have scope for their exercise and fruition, this would be easier if they were not excluded for the wrong reasons. Probably everyone who has worked in the Church knows about exclusion for the wrong reasons, such as faithful and healthy seminarians who were dismissed for alleged “rigidity.” Over and above these sometimes facile condemnations, there is also a problem of falling outside the network of preferment. When, as now, one of the most powerful current networks of preferment exists because of sin, acts to support sin, and self-perpetuates by introducing others to sin, then this situation acts contrary to the gifts that Christ, ascending, gave. If the Church is a ship, this group grounds us at shoals. If the Church is a net, they tangle our exercise. If the Church is a body, we are thwarted in health. Instead of committing itself to strong and healthy forward motion, the Church is weakened and depressed–introspective. We have tangled nets. They must be loosened from those whose dispositions and ambition have made them capable of stranglehold.

5. A time of grace for repentance. If in the past there have been clergymen and even bishops who have live a twisted double life including predation and other crimes, they may have died without ever coming face to face with their sins, and sincerely repenting. This is a horrifying thought. Once someone is conceived, born, and baptized, their eternal destiny is of infinite importance. This is true even if their power was once such that no one dared to confront them until they were gravely incapacitated–like the incapacity that seems to have started the current redress. “In his riches, man lacks wisdom. He is like the beasts that are destroyed.” The eternal weight of a human soul, potentially glorious forever, potentially agonized forever, whose destiny is determined not by thought and choice but by almost unconsidered yet wildly destructive malice–this is an unendurable thought. Accountability, among its many other benefits, gives the guilty an opportunity to think seriously about important matters, to make amends, and to plead for pardon.

Working with Young People

His induction into the NBA Hall of Fame yesterday has brought to mind again Maurice Cheeks’ most perfect assist.

It was a playoff game in 2003, and a young singer sang the wrong words to the National Anthem before the game, and got off track. Her confidence failed, and in spite of the audience’s support, the song was in danger of implosion.

Cheeks was head coach of a competing team. One might think that he had more on his mind than supporting a middle schooler who was suffering a temporary setback. But that was not his attitude.

This brief video is a snapshot of how billions of adults support young people all over the world. The young lady was doing something very difficult, and the adult helped her to complete her action, not by lessening its difficulty, but by providing structure and time, accompanying her so that she could do the difficult task well.

Charles Cole of the London Oratory and The New Liturgical Movement has published this year’s list of Children’s Choirs, in which adults likewise support young people in doing something very difficult, not by lessening the activities’ inherent challenges but by providing the training necessary to help them grow.

Some Helpful Fiction

For those who would like a fruitful way to both think about the recent Church news and at the same time distract themselves from it a bit, I’d like to recommend one of C.S. Lewis’ lesser-known works, his Space Trilogy.

The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is an enjoyable read and serves as an introduction to the rest.

The second book, Perelandra, is Lewis’ masterpiece. He thought it was worth “twenty Screwtapes.” I agree. Imagine a virgin world, a planetary paradise, with its Eve all alone with two Englishmen: one a tempter, and the other a Christian. The book is a long and lavish parable about the choice between obedience and prideful lawlessness.

The third book, That Hideous Strength, is much different and very dark, and engages themes of marriage and the use and misuse of sexuality, professional loyalty and its abuse, propaganda, coercion, and Christian community.  In particular it engages some ideas about professional life that are also found in Lewis’ lecture entitled The Inner Ring.

I offer these suggestions in case they are helpful. There are audio versions which are excellent.

Bad advice

Recent events have prompted the following personal reflections of a non-musical character.

A bad advisor is one of the worst things that can happen to a leader. Some people with an agenda get close to him or her and help him strategize, not according to what will benefit the organization or even the leader, but according to the needs of the hidden agenda.

In a complex world that is almost unnavigable, advisors are definitely necessary. But when they are “yes men” with hidden agendas, they must be excluded, no matter how comforting they are. This is a mental and emotional asceticism required of leaders.

On the other hand, there is no need to give these yes men any legitimate cause for complaint. Some would say that the news outlets most responsible for inquiring into the Holy Father’s response to sexual abuse are partisan or ideological. To the extent that this is true, it seems to me that this element should be excluded as well. This is an ascesis too: focus on the truth. Focus on the faith.

Regarding partisanship, the U.S. situation is unusual in the world, because of its perpetual division into exactly two major political parties. This admittedly has the effect of demonization of the “other.” It also lends itself to an unconscious responsiveness to the other. If the left goes farther left, the right goes farther right, and vice-versa. We’ve been this polarized before, in 1800 for example. But what makes the national-ecclesial situation particularly tense now is the decision of one of the parties to insist on cooperation with evil on non-prudential, non-negotiable matters such as abortion.

Catholics actually can have a say in this aspect of the polarization. Once in a Q and A, I heard EJ Dionne say that there were districts in Pennsylvania–Pennsylvania–in which the Democrats were forced to promote pro-life candidates, opposed to abortion, because Catholics in Pennsylvania would not vote for a pro-abortion candidate. In order to win elections, the party eased its usual obligatory policy of 100% abortion support.

What I have found most heartening over the last week is the number of times I have heard people say they are praying and fasting. What a beautiful and biblical response to a situation that is in many ways frightening.