Above: a blessing service as part of a day of action in defiance to the Vatican’s ruling on same-sex unions in the Youth Church in Wurzburg, Germany, on Monday, May 10th.
I am picturing a small French-speaking Saskatchewan village in the 1930s. It is perhaps disingenuous to shrug one’s shoulders and simply declare that times are tough. When dust bowls replace food and water, and roots and berries are standard fare on a large family’s table, suffering abounds. Living in the shadow of death is a reality. No government bailouts will reach such a village. No mysterious $600 checks. The only people to stand side-by-side with the farmers are the priests and religious.
Yet the Catholic faith remains strong. On Sunday mornings the farmers are up early to tend the livestock. A quick wash up, and the families travel by horse and wagon to a small country church. The church is a sturdy structure, decorative, and well-maintained. In fact, it is the most beautiful building for miles. First a low Mass is heard. Some receive Holy Communion. Others, wearied by the need for sustenance while tending their animals, do not. Afterwards the priest invites the families into the rectory. He feeds them breakfast, and reads from an old catechism. Both young and old are grilled on the Faith. Everyone then returns to the church for a sung high Mass. The farmers take pride in the strong choir. The chants are always possible, for there is a will to do them. Finally, the families hitch up and go home for the day, though some will return for evening Vespers. Despite the hard times, there is comfort and strength in the presence of the Catholic faith. It is more than a faith; it is a way of life.
I know the above account to be true, for my 96-year-old grandma has told me such. She has recalled such days with a gleam in her eye and a deep longing; an ache-filled yearning for what was. That she can wake up in the night and hear a Latin chant in her mind from 85 years prior speaks volumes. By the grace of God she will die Catholic. And I imagine her vision of heaven involves segments from her childhood, where simplicity met strength; where devotion met le bon Dieu.
Those days did not fade away. They were shattered with malice and deceit. What followed in the small village were guitars, miniskirts, and even a criminal priest. Soon a new church was built. My uncle once quipped that the new building would make a great storage Quonset for his combine. Maybe someday it will become just that. For now the new church building hosts little more than the funerals of the few remaining Catholics.
I do not reminisce about the past for the sake of avoiding what is present. Rather, I do so by way of contrast. To demonstrate that modern Catholicism deliberately severs itself from its own being. With the rigidity of anti-traditionalism comes the slavery to originality. An invented originality void of its Catholic origins.
Consider what a young child in our present-day will experience of the Faith. It will not be of community, sacrifice, beauty, and peace. First and foremost, such a child will remember how his church was shut down during the time when everyone was scared to breathe in public. He will remember staying home, and only going out months (or years) later, in sectioned-off pews, with masks, sanitizer, and continued fear.
But looking beyond COVID, such a child will know Sundays as a chore. Churches half-empty with old people. Few, if any, of his friends will be at Mass. The building will have stained carpets, last replaced in the 1990s and now showing age, pews worn from constant cleaning, and banners more faded, more gaudy, than usual. The child may be carted away for “children’s liturgy” during the Mass (if there are enough children present). Crafts involving popsicle sticks, glue, and glitter will suffice over the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At least the child will be spared a long homily and a sentimental hymn or two, if he can survive not hearing that friends are like flowers, beautiful flowers. The child might return later to Mass to catch the usual sight of few genuflections, fewer moments suitable for prayer, and, of course, Communion in the hand. The Mass will end with some chit chat, maybe a sung happy birthday, and loads of relief. Another Sunday endured.
What I say is common enough. But it is much more than this. This type of Catholicism must continue to evolve as it flees Tradition. In short, it must continue to be ever-new, ever-jarring.
I will give an example. I am holding the latest copy of Canada’s Living with Christ Sunday missal. As much as we talk about saving trees in the modern Church, we love even more to generate yearly and monthly sales on missals. In this instance, I will join the tree-huggers of the world in mournful lamentation of the trees sacrificed for this endeavor.
I flip past the usual Sunday readings set to a grade four reading level, and come to the section with suggested prayers. The Way of the Cross is first to catch my eye. Each of the fourteen stations has been re-imagined. The first station is the Last Supper. The second is of Gethsemane. And onwards to the thirteenth and fourteenth, the New Sepulchre and the Resurrection. The reflections are on friendship, materialism, and being nonviolent towards humankind.
Why do this? Why recreate the Way of the Cross? Why replace fruitful meditation with social justice commentary? Because it must not remind one of what was, of how the Faith used to be lived and prayed. We cannot attach the past to the present. Deep down, it is a loathing self-hatred.
This is everywhere. Our parish paid big money for the latest diocesan-promoted catechism. I think it was published by the Jesuits. I made the mistake of flipping through these expensive books. There was hardly any teaching untouched. The Creed was re-stated in more “understandable” terms. The Ten Commandments were presented to be less severe and more inclusive. Less… sin-ish, if you know what I mean. Overall it was not a catechism of Catholicism, but of social justice. It was, in a word, Jesuitical. It was a literal to-hell-with our children.
Ninety-years removed from the simple faith of our ancestors, we can safely say that children are being raised in a new Catholicism. Shall a child of our age know what a Corpus Christi procession is? Or a crowning of Mary? Has he ever experienced incense at Mass? Does he have any clue what Sunday Vespers at a parish looks like? Or know the sound of Latin? Has he ever seen a nun in full habit, or a priest in a cassock? Will he recognize the Ten Commandments, the comforting repetition of the Rosary, or the solemnity of dressing in one’s best clothing for Mass? I imagine he will not for any of these, nor a thousand other Catholic realities. It is out with the embarrassing old, in with the enlightened new. It is the ceaseless ravening for originality, all while severing the Faith from its origins. An originality sin.
Perhaps a day will come in the future when we look to the past for wisdom. Perhaps prayers will come from heaven of those who lived the Catholic faith of a 1930s small Saskatchewan village. With benevolence and charity, they will ask God to bring little ones to the true Faith. But we are living in the present. An age where Catholics are abandoning the Faith in record numbers. Real souls of real children are being endangered. My heart bleeds for such children raised in our times. They know not what has been done to them, and their road to exiting Catholicism is made wide and easy. I pray they do not abandon the Catholic Faith.
But in reality, the Catholic Faith abandoned them first.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.