It’s been a rough year for the Catholic Church, with traditional Catholic teaching under constant attack, so I want to share some positive things I experienced in 2017. I traveled to two different places outside the United States that have been working to restore the traditional Latin Mass.
In April of 2017, I was privileged to go to Mexico for the Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) spring mission trip. It is an up and coming mission based in Guadalajara, run by Fr. Daniel Heenan and a couple of the local families. The mission was twelve days long, and I think it changed a lot of people’s lives for the better. It definitely did mine.
The people of Mexico are open to the traditional Latin Mass, although for the most part, they aren’t even aware of it. This was the mission’s goal: to let people know about the Mass and bring people over to it.
We went door to door in a small town called Juchipila. We invited people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to experience the allure and beauty of the Latin Mass. Every night, we had a Solemn High Mass, and it felt so good to see the angry anti-Catholics with whom we just argued for hours sitting in the front pew with tears in their eyes. Most of these people were at one point or another Catholic, and many had left the church because of Vatican II.
Many Catholics in Mexico no longer go to Mass, yet they still pray the daily rosary and walk in the Good Friday processions. We would knock on their doors, and they would see that we were the “misioneros.” They would gladly invite us into their homes, whether they were rich or poor, and we would talk to each other. One particular man I remember told me he lived through the Cristero War, and he recalled always wanting to be a Cristero even at his young age. This man also told me he remembers the old rite of the Mass, but in this town and in this day and age, they hadn’t had a priest who would say it in a long time. I personally invited him to attend that night’s Solemn High Mass, and he was there, praying the responses in Latin and everything!
Another example of our work was when we knocked on a door and were greeted by people who called themselves Satanists. Our group spent hours arguing and debating with them, but the stubbornness of these individuals was beginning to wear on us. They wouldn’t go to church. However, when we challenged them one last time to go to Mass that night, just to prove that what we were saying was wrong, they eventually consented. We saw them at Mass.
It was beautiful to see all these people, who just hours before were denying Jesus and the Eucharist, coming again and again to these Masses. The day I arrived, we missionaries attended the first Mass. However, by the end of our stay, the church was full to capacity, and I had to stand outside.
It was amazing how most of the Mexican people had never actually lost their belief in the One True Church. If I brought back anything from this experience, it’s that the Catholic Church is a flame in your heart that you cannot extinguish. You may be able to hide or cover the flame, but you will never ever extinguish it.
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Another interesting experience I had in 2017 was to travel to Italy and help the Monks of Norcia rebuild their Monastery. In August 2016, a earthquake hit central Italy, in the region of Umbria. One of the towns hit was Norcia, the ancient birthplace of the twin saints Benedict and Scholastica. A 6.6-magnitude tremor hit shortly thereafter, causing massive damage to the town and the Benedictine monastery within the walls. The Basilica of St. Benedict was completely destroyed and the town rendered unsafe to inhabit. The traditional order living there was left homeless.
With no place to live, the Benedictine monks decided to move over a mile away in the mountains surrounding Norcia. They lived in tents for a while, going back and forth from the encampment and the town to brew beer. The brewery was not touched by the earthquake and remains intact. I worked in the brewery while I was there, which was a great experience.
The Monks’ life is rooted in the traditional praying of the Divine Office eight times a day. They chant the entire office in Latin and offer the traditional Latin Mass daily. During the day, everyone in the community works on building a new dwelling and chapel. They are truly living up to the order’s motto, “Ora et Labora” (pray and work).
I went and lived with these amazing men for a month and helped them work on their new monastery. My friend and I did some roofing and tiling and worked in the kitchen and the brewery. It was inspiring to be around those holy men. They set an example for the rest of the world and their community, always cheerful in the midst of what our world would call a tragedy. Those young men are the future of the church, always working and praying, rebuilding their community. They have proven that faith can carry you through challenges.
While it’s easy to become despondent from the daily news from Rome, in 2017, I was able to witness firsthand hope for traditional Catholicism in troubled places. I learned that when people are exposed to beauty through the liturgy, they can realize that in darkness there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.