Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mass Tourism III

Mass Tourism III

(see Mass Tourism for an explanation of this series)

A few weekends back my wife and I were retreating at White Lotus near Standardsville, a very interesting AirBNB she discovered for a few nights’ getaway. The options of Roman Catholic churches in the Shenandoah Valley are few but there was one Shepherd of the Hill a few miles away in Quinque (L. Five) with a Sunday Mass at 8:30 AM. So I arose and left around 8 AM.

On the road there, I was hailed down by a late 20’s early 30’s African American male. Normally I’d not want to pick up hitchhikers but this is a hard one to avoid when one is going to Church; the parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. I rolled down my window and asked what he needed—a ride toward Charlottesville. I told him I wasn’t going very far but he could come along for the one mile I had left. He hopped in, glued to a smartphone talking with a woman (I think it was his wife) using an earbud to listen so that I only heard his side of the conversation. He seemed lost and maybe a little disoriented. Although he did not seem soused I did smell an odor distinctly “Eau de all night bender”.

Before I blinked, the Church appeared and I rolled into the parking lot—not a lot of mileage for the man on his way to Charlottesville. I looked at the time, about 8:10, and another verse of Scripture from the Beatitudes—something about going the extra mile for a Roman soldier—came to mind. I said I would take him as far as I could go in 10 minutes toward Route 29, providing just enough time to return for Mass. So I got him to Route 29 at the Exxon, got gas for myself and made it to Mass with a minute to spare. And, yeah, I wasn’t murdered after all!

Now the fun part.

The Church was sort of the sparse architecture of a modern church a la IKEA with a skylight down the center aisle and a “rainbow” color arrangement of banners hanging down. My orthodoxy sensor is not exactly registering in the “safe zone” at this point but I ignored the reading.  There was no red lamp burning nor anything that looked like a tabernacle—not even one of an IKEA make and model. Looking around I saw a side room, probably the Eucharistic chapel where some churches like to cordon that sort of thing off—not a good policy in my opinion but no wonder either.

I sat on the right wing (no pun intended) toward the top to be as isolated as possible but it was no good. A middle age couple, the man hooked up to a portable ventilator, sat in front of me.

The first thing I noticed that I found discouraging was the total lack of kneelers—one of the few remaining distinctions of the Catholic Church. Now my orthodoxy meter is jittering unsteadily. The service started with a “turn and greet your neighbor” ice-breaker which caught me flat-footed. I gave “meaningful glances” to those around me feeling like the odd man out trying to shed his attitude. Things went more or less according to liturgy with no art to the conduct. The prayer of the faithful was supplemented by random callouts for prayers related to people in the community—not a bad thing but would never happen at St. Catherine’s.  No way.

Sure enough, during the Eucharistic prayer everyone stayed standing. No one knelt. I did not kneel either even though I thought we should, but I was a visitor. Besides, much of the popular response are left open to “local custom” and maybe this was one of those areas—mental note.

Before any ite missa est, announcements were made and so-and-so’s birthday was that day and… (please no, No, NO!)  “we all” sang Happy Birthday to “Bob”, “Hank” or whoever it was.

I sorted of bolted out of the Church through a side door following another guy who wanted to beat the social congestion too. I love going to Mass but I am not a fan of the modernized approach which aids in the destruction of the relevance of Catholicism in history and her cultural distinction. Still, I understand that out there the community is a little tighter, the distances longer and the Church is a bit of the town square for exchanges—so I’ll take it in stride.



Supporting the idea that only white, male, landowners should vote would outrage women, minorities and apartment renters. Disenfranchising people due to race, gender or anything (which oddly includes people that can’t even prove they are American citizens) would probably enrage many Americans, especially progressives. And yet—I am wagering that most people—particularly progressives–believe that certain adults should be disenfranchised.

When I hear people announce they will not live in America if (Bush, Obama, Trump, Clinton) gets elected they are basically saying:

  • I agree with democratic principles but only as long as my candidate wins.
  • Not every adult should be allowed to vote. Not everyone should be enfranchised.
  • Only people with my race, gender, beliefs, ideology, should vote.

If you believe in full democracy, one should never threaten to live somewhere else when a bad candidate gets elected. Unless, of course, you think only white, male, landowners should be the only ones that vote in our elections. For whether it is white or black, male or female, owner or renter—if you disenfranchise someone aren’t you essentially saying the same thing?

Paradigm Shift – Sin

Most Christians are familiar with the concept of sin which I basically define as mankind’s inclination to be his own authority and to do what is wrong by natural or divine revelation. The first sin was representative of this definition since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in an act of disobedience so that they could have their eyes open, be like God, and discern good and evil for themselves.

Protestant traditions teach that sin is Boolean—we are sinners saved by grace or sinners not saved by grace and one merits heaven the other merits a place not-heaven. The corollary to “grace alone” salvation spawns the idea that sin after a salvation experience is inconsequential to our eternal destination. Holiness is optional and bequeaths a proportional reward in paradise. We don’t know what that reward is, but whatever it is we want it. And so holiness is something we may strive for anyway, perhaps out of gratitude—but then again, maybe not.

The Catholic Church teaches that there are two types of sin: venial sin and mortal sin both of which we need to avoid but the latter being worse than the former. From the CCC: “1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience. 1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.” Indeed, we are sinners saved by grace, yes, but it does not stop there. We must continue to participate in our salvation by staying in grace. Venial sin can be purged simply by going to Mass. But mortal sin “necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy” and one must go to confession to be rid of it.


First of all, there is a natural tendency to grade sin in terms of severity. If a preacher gets mad at his wife and says unkind things we may not be as outraged as if he cheated on his wife using a paid prostitute (as televangelist Jimmy Swaggart did, twice, in the 1980’s and was defrocked). Truth is, there are some sins greater than others in their effect on people, society, as well as one’s relationship with God. So, intrinsically, we think of sin in levels of severity so why should people be surprised by the Catholic teaching on mortal and venial sin?

Alas the Scripture says so much too. 1 John 5:16 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a deadly sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not deadly. There is sin which is deadly; I do not say that one is to pray for that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not deadly.

By and large, the teaching on sin in the Catholic Church ties in better with the teaching on salvation and personal responsibility. Protestant teaching has us saved and then, quite possibly, live reprobate lives as usual. But this doesn’t seem to comport with our sense of holiness and a spirit born anew. In such case some Protestants go so far as to suggest that one must not have been saved initially—that their salvation was in question. But who is to say? How can we know?

On the other hand, Catholic teaching demands that we continue to leave our life of sin, that we comport with a life of holiness, otherwise, we DO lose our salvation. And that is a paradigm shift for another day: it is possible to lose one’s salvation.

Reaping the Whirlwind

This essay is not about Donald Trump but the environment we have created that makes Donald Trump possible. Donald Trump is the byproduct of American culture as much as politics. As it says in the Good Book: “Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind” and it is debatable as to whether we are still sowing or reaping.  So how did we create the fertile soil on which grows this cult of personality and tyranny in the making?

  • First, the current ruling establishment failed to build trust with their colleagues in order to get work done. All of us work with people we may not agree with or even like, but we develop a rapport and a trust so that the task at hand gets accomplished. The best analogy to this is war and soldiery. Be they Christian, Jew, Wiccan, atheist, gay or straight, soldiers learn to create trust when everyone’s life depends on it. If politicians realized that our country is in peril as if we were being shot at, this trust might be easier to cultivate. Instead they find time to vilify each other to the electorate and the media — a big no-no when building trust. Hence, no one trusts anyone and if we have to pick someone we can’t trust we’ll pick a man who’ll get things done. Enter Trump.
  • At a minimum, those that govern could solve the problems that affect everyone universally: the complexity of the tax code, the huge national debt, the ruinous entitlement programs that are cliff bound or just simply passing a budget each year. Alas, year after year they fail to do anything and no one is called to the carpet and no one is fired—or “foyered” as Trump would say. The issue is deflected by blaming the other side and we believe them when it corresponds to our ideology and don’t believe them when it doesn’t. So we let them get away with not building trust with each other as long as they appear to build trust with their likeminded constituents. Trump, portrayed as an ass-kicker and man of action starts to look real appealing.
  • Our culture has become one of shock value and spectacle. Reality shows, TMZ, Jerry Springer, Bruce Jenner, the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, self-absorbed celebrities, sound bites, ubiquitous and viral video, the Bachelor, the Bachelorette, MTV and the misfortune of others for our amusement. Those of us old enough a time when taste and good culture might have been expected know better but we failed to pass that on to the next generation. Trump is the logical candidate when politicians routinely appear on SNL, late night talk shows and Comedy Channel dailies. Our next guest—please welcome—Donald Trump.
  • The news media is supposed to inform and weigh with equal criticality the actions of our leaders. This is the freedom of the press. Instead, the media has become the vector of spectacle that has become the fabric of national discourse. They steer the news and opinion with constant inculcation of agenda and fact shaping. No one believes a word they say or print: Foxnews, MSNBC, Brian Williams—lying bastards all! Once upon a time, anything less than accurate and unbiased reporting of events was the death of a news outlet. These days we don’t get news but political entertainment that dramatically decreases the level of trust we need to move forward. When substance doesn’t matter, give us Donald Trump.
  • We do not value humility and welcome hubris and ego as the gold standard in character. Just watch any cooking show. Chefs, athletes, rock stars, celebrities and the super human self-confident egos are given center stage. I find it difficult to believe Mother Theresa’s, Albert Schweitzer’s and Nelson Mandela’s are so scarce in our world that Al Gore and Barack Obama should win the Nobel Peace Prizes instead. And we wonder about Donald Trump? He’s just the overt manifestation of our value system. Face it, we worship celebrities, winners and rich people. Donald Trump is all three.
  • The oath. What kind of political climate should we expect when husbands and wives break their vows to one another? So then, no one makes a commitment in their relationships whether it is to their spouse, to their children, to their aging parents or their constituency. Politicians seeking power swear an oath to protect and uphold the Constitution but who really believes them? What do they really know about the Constitution or Law, History, Economics and leadership? We are a nation of vow breakers, led by vow breakers. And we wonder why Donald Trump a business man with lots of money, lots of ambitious, no obligation, multiple wives (serial polygamy) and off the cuff remarks is seeking the office of the president? He’s dishonest, says one thing and does another—just like us.
  • Weak values. What would one expect in our culture which doesn’t care about knowledge as much as it cares about the college diploma? Cheating toward that end has become standard if not accepted outright. How many of us, when undercharged at a shop or restaurant, pay what we really owe? Are we fudging our tax return? Do we rip and share music CD or movie DVDs without paying the companies that produced them? We swindle people and businesses to give stuff for free or so cheap that slave labor was required to produce it. Who needs to make a decent living when we can find grounds to sue the pants off someone who has: doctors, businesses, churches, anyone that has a sack of money for us to take as ours. We are nation of lying, cheating, litigating and stealing reprobates that have rationalized everything we do as “victimless”, “harmless”, “consensual”, “individual rights” but fail to see our actions as equivalent as dumping toxic waste into the ocean or polluting the air we all breathe. Oh but what I do in private is no one’s business! Really? This weakening of morals and civility has made Donald Trump an option—because he is like us when it comes down to it—fast and loose.
  • The pornographic and lewd language of Donald Trump is simply a reflection of America. Explicit sexuality, foul language, disrespect and sacrilege are common course in cartoons, sitcoms, movies, network television, sesame street, romper room and every conduit of American life. Why would we expect our leaders not to be imbued with it? Are you imbued with it? Donald Trump says out loud what every politician says in the halls of the state house and Congress. And as long as their ideology agrees with ours we find it endearing, deserving or humorous. We defend it. Enter the Donald.

Donald Trump is simply anyone of us with lots of money, lots of influence and the center stage of celebrity. Nothing else matters. We have sowed the wind. And now, we reap the whirlwind.