Monthly Archives: July 2016


From the outside, the Catholic Church seems overtly judgmental, especially when you combine it with Hollywood’s skewed representation of its history and clergy. But from a policy point of view, the Catholic Church is far less judgmental than depicted—in fact far less judgmental than just about any institution, political or religious. The Church may, on rare occasion, excommunicate someone but the act is intended to bring the person back into the fold, and prevent a final judgment that leads to damnation. The vast majority of moral judgments are not made by the authority of the Church but by the individual. That’s right—we are to judge ourselves before God while the Church simply trusts that you will judge yourself thoroughly in the light of Church teaching and a carefully examined conscience.

When I go to Mass, no one stands at the door waiting with a spiritual body wand and interrogates me to determine if I am sufficiently pre-disposed to participate in the sacred ritual. When we begin Mass with the Penitent Rite it is I, not the priest or anyone else, who am to examine myself, recollect my sins, acknowledge them, and repent. When I receive communion, no one withholds the bread from me as a summary judgement. If I am in a state of unconfessed mortal sin and willingly received communion against church teaching, it’s my eternity on the line—not the priests, not the pope, not the guy behind me.

No one makes me go to confession or scour my mind to make sure I have confessed all my wrongdoing—confession is not tribunal. I am to examine my own conscience. I am to make the unilateral decision to go to confession and to continually amend my life in the process of salvation. The Church merely provides the sacrament of confession for me to use.

The Church may canonize saints and determine them to be in the beatific presence of God. But they will never canonize an individual to the depths of hell no matter how reprobate, heretical, or heinous their earthly life.  That judgment belongs to God. The Church body is to pray for the deceased regardless, not assuming they went to heaven nor assuming they went to hell. Compare that to the typical Protestant funeral where everyone makes the assumption they went straight to paradise or avoid the idea that the individual was never saved and ended up you-know-where. It’s all buttered over because the alternative is to renounce key doctrines of the Reformation—salvation through grace alone or the non-existence of purgatory. And sadly, praying for the dead—a source of solace for the bereaved—is discarded in those traditions.

I am often asked by Bible Christians why the Church doesn’t excommunicate or expel Catholic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Biden, Tim Kaine, or Mario Cuomo—politicians who support policies that protect the abortion industry knowing that abortion is a mortal sin in the teaching of the Church and those who facilitate it are also culpable.  For the reasons mentioned above, these politicians who know (or should know) Church teaching and go ahead and disobey it or circumvent it willingly and continue to participate in the sacramental life of the Church may be heaping judgment on themselves in the ultimately analysis. But that is not the prerogative of the Church even after such people pass into the next life. The Church mission is to continue to bring everyone to repentance through moral teaching and the ministry of the sacraments. The decision to excommunicate such politicians publicly would be counter-productive anyway: it would likely alienate the individual and be distorted by the media to vilify the “intolerant” Church.

As a final note, late last year, the daughter of an ENT doctor that has often cared for our family passed away. She was a young woman in her thirties and needless to say, her passing was a tragedy— no parent should have to bury their child. The same beloved doctor was also a patient of my parish priest who put the young woman in our bulletin and mentioned her by name at the Mass during the prayer of the faithful. When she passed away, the repose for her soul was also sought during the Sunday Mass—all par for the Catholic course.

Now once upon a time, the idea of praying for the dead would have seemed strange and non-Biblical. But even as a newly minted Catholic assenting to the teachings of the Church, praying for a woman who, as far as anyone knew, died an unbaptized Muslim, seemed wrong to me. Admittedly, a remnant of Bible Christianity was hanging onto my thinking which adhered to the old binary decision: trusted in Jesus? Heaven; did not trust in Jesus? Hell.  Ne-e-e-xt!

And this is the summary metric many Bible Christians use to judge themselves—“because I trusted in Jesus at some point in time, I KNOW that I am going to heaven!” I know? I know? I think it is more accurate to say “I presume” if you say anything, but only God KNOWS. Although we are to continually judge ourselves in the light of Church teaching, the final judgement is not ours—it is God’s.

In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Do you say “Lord, Lord” in the current life? Then this verse should terrify you. It does me, along with Luke 13:22-30 which talks about making every effort to enter through the narrow gate. You will notice that this comports with the doctrine of salvation through grace and works. It never really says to sit down and convince yourself that you are saved once and for all and repeat it over and over again until you and everyone around you are solidly convinced. From a Catholic perspective that’s extremely dangerous—and, oddly, many an American Catholic believes it [As one put it, many American Catholics are no more than Calvinists that go to Mass]. About the most one might deign to hope for is a slot in purgatory and making every effort to enter into that narrow gate as commanded by the Creator of the Universe. I pray that my friends, family and readers embrace this timeless, very Biblical, teaching of the Church. And it is good to know that when you pass on to the next life, the Church militant continues to pray for you.

Eventually I asked my parish priest about our prayers for the young Muslim woman. He reminded me that it was arrogant to assume that the only people in heaven are Catholic. Really! Was he repudiating the teaching of the one true holy, catholic and apostolic Church? On the contrary, he was upholding it. Now maybe heaven is populated with only Catholics—but it is not our place to presume or decide—it is the decision of the final Judge. And we are not to be judgmental about the souls in the hereafter, but faithful in our spiritual duty here on Earth—and making every effort ourselves to enter through the narrow gate.

Mass Tourism V

Visiting Our Lady of the Seas again in the Outer Banks, the place of the first Mass Tourism post. In terms of architecture, the building has a nice simplicity to it with a wooden interior and a beautiful view of the sound above the altar.  It’s stained glass and theme on things related to the beach is a bit much, almost as if it were a vacation rental—which in some ways it is.

The last time I came was on the Saturday vigil, probably during the off season. It was way less formal than that which I am accustomed but I was expecting it to be. This time was on a Sunday morning and I found the church to be packed with people, likely from out of town looking at the license plates in the parking lot. With black jeans and red collared oxford shirt, I was possibly over dressed given that the standard was shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes.

Two things made me cringe: the women in front of me taking flash photos of the front during the Mass—no shame, no reverence; I exhaled audibly in exasperation to get my subtle message across. The second was when the priest was preaching the homily using a telephone as a prop for his message on prayer. Not that I object to the visual except that he placed it on the altar as if it were his office desk.  For those who don’t know, the altar is suppose to be a sacred object consecrated and sometimes holding the relics of the patron saint of the church–(although this one had a crashing wave theme to it which made it hard to take too seriously–still.)

I was thinking of retaliating as an orthodox “troll”, and say all the responsorials in Latin really loud so that everyone around me could hear and be totally annoyed.

Ite Missa Est.

Deo Gratias

The Tale of a Tiny Ship


“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip… that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship”

Many of my generation will immediately recognize this timeless ballad introducing all connoisseurs of high culture to the asinine antics of Gilligan’s Island, a television show of the late 1960’s held in the highest esteem—America’s contribution to the mindless decline of Western civilization. I have watched every episode at least two hundred times.

But for the purposes of this essay, the ballad is the song of another fateful trip aboard another tiny ship. The trip I speak of is that fateful experiment of “government by the people” known loosely as democracy. The overarching premise is that people know what’s best for them and are rational to make good choices when it comes to policy and governance. The image is of an informed citizenry daily drinking from the fountains of knowledge, in pensive reflection, engaging in the marketplace of ideas, utilizing the Socratic method, logic, rhetoric, and wearing all-natural togas—activities vectoring to an objective and absolute truth of which we all agree. But the reality is more of a drunken public mob raving for gladiatorial games, more bread and more circuses.

And the tiny ship?

The British government, despite centuries of tradition to draw from, discovered once again why they remain one of the few monarchies left in Europe. A new 300 million (USD) sea-going research ship needed a name and, rather than draft one from Britain’s annals of human achievement, outsourced the task to the “wisdom of the crowd” also known as the Internet. The result was a name so august, so laudatory, so appropriate for a vessel venturing into the deep waters of scientific progress—a name so breathtaking, we christen and proclaim….

[Enter with Pomp and Circumstance, heraldry, cavalcade, prancing men in tights, pointy hats, pageantry]

“We christen thee in the name of the queen, St. George and St. Michael: the Royal Research Ship (RRS) Boaty McBoatface!”

That’s right, the elected name by a large margin was Boaty McBoatface. Boaty McBoatface! Fortunately, the organizers said no to the choice and have subsequently named the vessel RSS Sir David Attenborough for better or worse.  Of course in the “spirit of democracy” the mob petitioned the organizers to change it back—in the spirit of democracy. I don’t think they quite grasp the spirit of democracy.

If this were not enough to speak to the fact that democracy by an uninformed, pornographic mob is an unmitigated disaster we now bring you to the Republican and Democrat nominations of this election cycle. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the major party nominees. Is this the best we can do? Seriously? Can we have that monarchy back please?

Now there is always the write-in candidate and of course my choice will be none other than the valiant and stout Boaty McBoatface. 124,109 people can’t be wrong.

Or can they?

Mass Tourism IV

See introduction to Mass Tourism here.

Not on vacation or a week away, I decided to “tour” a few local parishes. In the first case, the time slot of my usual novus ordo Solemn Latin Mass was being used for first Holy Communion in English. Since it was mostly going to be a family affair, I decided to go to St. John the Beloved in McLean to participate in the Traditional Latin Mass—the “extraordinary form” that had been celebrated for four centuries between the Council of Trent and Vatican II, after which it was relegated to seldom use in a season of “renewal”. Ironically, these liturgical changes were enacted November 29 1964—the start of the liturgical year that I was born. After studying the TLM in my Latin class, I am prone to believe that “promoting” the TLM was a big mistake. Fortunately, there are a number of priest and parishes in Northern Virginia that are authorized to celebrate it and I am increasingly prone to take advantage of it.

You can imagine the paucity of people attending the service marked by many women wearing mantillas.  In the two times I went to TLM before I was totally lost but this time I had with me my Kindle which this time had a copy of the pre Vatican II 1962 edition of the Roman Missal. Smug mode. I found the Pentecost Sunday pertaining and I was able to follow along—and now the secret is out. Also, the novus ordo had prepared me for many of the responses and I actually felt like I had participated when it was all done. Smug mode plus.

On the second occasion of tourism, I visited Holy Trinity in Gainesville after work late on Friday in which Mass is occasionally celebrated.  This is a new church with a very unusual architecture—not modern by any means but not the ornate gothic structures of central Europe. I recall reading somewhere that it was based on early English (I suppose before Henry VIII) influence. I recommend a look inside.

The Mass was like most abbreviated weekday versions. The opening verses and responses I could not identify (maybe Angelus). Some of the responses were sung in Latin, e.g. Sanctus, Agnus Dei, which I happen to know. Smug mode thrice. Two things stood out on this occasion: the communion host was provided intinctured which means the priest dips it in the wine before giving it to the communicant. This means I wasn’t going to take it by the hand as I am most comfortable doing.  Fortunately, I did not mess it up and all went well.

The other event involved a 3-year old boy writhing about so much that his mom carried him to a nearby fenestrated room likely designed for such occasions. At some point I heard/felt this massive thud wave-propagate through the stone floor. Was that? Yes, the lad had writhed about so much he landed on his large float-away head which, apparently, went over like a lead balloon. The wailing and screaming soon followed making a few people cringe—that must’ve hurt bad, really, really bad. My head hurt just thinking about it.

At any rate, I am likely to visit these two parishes again in the future. Both celebrate the TLM at some point in their week and I may want to check out Holy Trinity if occasion permits.

Ite Missa est.