Figuring out where I belong

One of the exhausting aspects of the COVID/Wuhan/CCP virus panic is trying to figure out where I belong on the spectrum of beliefs about it. I remember when the news first broke about the virus and a travel ban between the U.S. and China was put in place. Interesting but no big deal, I thought. Yeah, there were reports of some spotty outbreaks in the U.S., but I remembered the bird flu, the swine flu, SARS, Zika, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the rest, not to mention all of the scares that “Science” and the media like to inflict on us with regularity.

Then one evening, my wife (a/k/a “The Blond Bombshell”) and I stopped into our local Jason’s Deli where we were informed that by order of our mayor, it was the final day the restaurant could be open for dining-in to protect us from the Wuhan Flu. I was shocked. Is this America? What kind of weak minded man was our mayor? I avoid taking the local paper or watching any T.V. news at all, so I was unaware that such actions were being considered. I found out soon enough that the entire USA was locking down, including stores (except those deemed “essential”) and all worship services.

When the mayor’s mask mandate was instituted, my gut reaction was that it was ridiculous. I had not read any of the studies of the effectiveness of masks, but I knew there had been some fairly bad disease outbreaks and it was rare to see anyone wearing a mask. Occasionally a coworker would wear a mask if they were ill to prevent infecting others, but no healthy people wore masks. At first my wife and I complied with the mask mandates, but then I started reading opinions, bloggers, articles by doctors, even studies on the CDC’s website, most of which pointed to the futility of wearing masks. In my first post I wrote about the decision to stop wearing masks and then the decision to start wearing them again.

I guess like most people, I try to find news sites, bloggers and columnists with whom I generally find agreement (almost exclusively on the right/far right/dissident part of the spectrum.) But even among those, there has been a lot of disagreement over wearing masks. There is even more disagreement in opinion about the COVID “vaccines” among the those sources I read.

There are those that praise President Trump over the rapid development and distribution of the vaccine and encourage everyone to be vaccinated. There are others who see the entire COVID panic planned and executed by Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci and the others who engaged in an uncanny simulation of a pandemic prior to COVID’s sudden eruption. They see the vaccines as part of a nefarious plan, a means to distribute some weakening biological component to an unsuspecting public, perhaps to reduce the population of the earth.

Yet others see less of a physical threat to the public, but see it more as a means of control, eventually requiring vaccine passports to travel, buy groceries and otherwise participate in our economy. They also see it as a way of pitting Americans against each other. That, to me, is one of the most insidious aspects of masks mandates and vaccinations. Within families or social groups, it’s common to find differences between liberal and conservative members, but with the COVID issues, even die-hard conservatives are split between the masked/vaccinated and the unmasked/unvaccinated. I’ve had conservative friends ask if we’ve been vaccinated and when hearing that we’ve not, assure us that that’s okay, it’s our choice. Except they usually go on to explain why everyone should be vaccinated. (“It’s to protect other people” is a common rejoinder.)

In case you’re wondering why we haven’t been vaccinated, here are my reasons in no particular order: (1) The vaccines utilize a technology (mRNA) that has not been in widespread use in humans prior to COVID; (2) There was relatively little testing done with the vaccines and they are not approved by the FDA but have only an emergency use authorization. Long term testing is being done real-time with the population; (3) 50% of doctors and health care workers refuse to get vaccinated; (4) Fauci is an admitted liar and his recommendations and pronouncements contradict each other; (5) I don’t trust the CDC or any government agency any longer (thanks Comey, Clapper, Brennan, et al); (6) The vaccines were either tested on aborted fetus cell lines or produced with aborted fetus cell lines; (7) Bill Gates was involved.

Moving away from the COVID issue, there are a few issues where I have little to no ambivalence. Gun ownership is one of those (no restrictions except on violent felons.) Abortion is another (never permitted.) But my Catholic faith in general is an area where I struggle to figure out where I belong. I’m old enough to have experienced a few years of attending Latin Mass prior to Vatican II. I recall following along with my St. Joseph Missal, reading the English translation, and singing the traditional Catholic hymns. When the Novus Ordo Mass was introduced, the Missals were discarded for paperback missalettes and the hymns were replaced with “modern” worship songs led by an attractive mom who actually roamed in front of the altar as she waved her arms leading us in song. It was quite lively.

“Folk Masses” eventually became a thing, usually led by nerdy looking young people and I thought some of the songs were good, even emotionally moving. When raising my family in Plano, TX, we attended a church that had folk Masses and traditional music Masses, though the choir director wasn’t Catholic and neither was his traditional music. Before Mass, he would rehearse songs with those in the congregation already present. One day he wasn’t getting the participation he wanted so he chastised us saying “You are the congregation. The hymns are the congregation’s. You are supposed to sing. Now sing!” My thought was “those hymns aren’t mine and I’m not going to sing, A-hole!”

By the time my kids were in high school, Life Teen was a thing, which meant we attended the rock band Mass. At first I liked it. The band was good and both of my sons participated in it. Eventually, it seemed like the band was the focus of the Mass with the choir area with the band being in front of the church near the altar. And I could see some band members joking around during Mass and it seemed like it was more of a performance for them. It seemed like it was all about getting the kids filled with emotion, feeling good during Mass.

My kids went off to college and we settled into floating around to different parishes and tried to tolerate whatever music was played and the off-the-wall homilies delivered by priests and deacons. By then, my view of the Catholic Church (at least in America) was that it didn’t really believe in anything. You could just choose what you wanted to believe in. Oh, there was a Catechism and something called a Magesterium, and “Rome”. Our parish was quite progressive, even having parish “mission” where some guy taught everyone how to be a “clown for the Lord”.

One evening I attended Mass at another Plano parish. Talk about progressive. The church building was round with metal poles extending at angles to the ceiling and banners hanging down around the conical ceiling. It was intended to represent a large tent signifying we were on a journey or maybe we were just camping – I dunno. I remember the entrance procession had altar servers, an “altar woman”, a reader, a deacon carrying a football and a priest. Before Mass, the deacon spoke and tossed the football from one hand to another, giving some kind of pep talk about what we were about to experience in Mass. I distinctly remember the priest had a minor roll in Mass. Wherever possible, one of the laypersons or deacons would do the reading, and introduction to the homily, other prayers. Then when there was a part that the priest absolutely had to perform, he would do that part.

We eventually moved to a nearby state in 2006, to a much smaller city. It was a breath of fresh air. There was much more orthodoxy in our new parish, with no heresy from the pulpit. It was still Novus Ordo and there were still “guitar Masses” in addition to a traditional music Mass, but its choir was not very good and the director’s voice was past its expiration date. The church building had been remodeled, perhaps in the 60s or 70s, with abstract stained glass windows and “statuary” that was, ummm…procreative in nature? Think phallic, fallopian, ovum, birth canal — that kind of thing. We helped fund another renovation that turned it into a more beautiful, traditional setting.

My sons moved their families here shortly after we did, but they started attending the local cathedral that had an excellent choir which they joined. We started attending Mass at the cathedral and they convinced me to join the choir. The choir director was young, talented, and the choir was top notch. It was extremely moving to be part of it, looking out from the choir loft in the back of this historic cathedral, over the congregation, huge wooden beams arching over them in the ceiling above, traditional stained glass windows depicting the mysteries of the rosary.

The pastor at the cathedral had slowly reintroduced the abandoned Tridentine Mass (“Latin Mass”), offering monthly on Saturday mornings, then later weekly for one of the regularly scheduled Sunday Masses. When a new bishop was assigned, the Tridentine Mass was again restricted to Saturday mornings. I attended a few of the Tridentine Masses but spent a lot of the time lost in the missalette as the instructions for kneeling, standing and sitting for “High Mass” and “Low Mass” were hard to locate, and other congregants also seemed lost as they failed to perform the correct action. The trick was to try to watch someone who looked like they knew what they were doing and do whatever they did. The translation of the Latin prayers seemed more descriptive and less “dumbed down” than the English used in the Novus Ordo and I liked the tradition of the Tridentine Mass.

Over time, one of my sons moved back to Texas where his family joined a parish that only offered the Tridentine Mass. He went all in on the Latin Mass and started a Gregorian chant choir at the parish. Whenever we’d visit we would attend their Mass. I began to appreciate the solemness and reverence of it. One thing I noticed was that the personality of the celebrating priest had very little impact on the Mass. The only time his personality was obvious was during the homily, which he read directly from his papers. In Novus Ordo Masses, the priest seems to fill multiple roles – emcee, entertainer, and celebrant. Their personalities are front and center and affects the tone of the Mass. Occasionally a priest will embrace the emcee/entertainer roles, especially those visiting priests that are presenting a Mission the following week. They’re dramatic and funny and really trying to make a splash to get you to attend the Mission. It’s just too much for Mass.

I think that if a Tridentine Mass was available near me every Sunday, I would attend it instead of a Novus Ordo Mass. The difference I just spoke of regarding the impact of the personality of the priest is one of the factors in my preference. I think the personality should not impact the Mass – the Mass is not entertainment. But what has changed my thinking more is finding out that Vatican II did not dictate that the Novus Ordo Mass replace the Tridentine. The Novus Ordo was post Vatican II and was rather forced upon the Church by modernists. The Tridentine was not banned and was supposed to be allowed to be celebrated, but the modernists were successful in stamping it out. (It’s been awhile since I read about that and I’ll try to locate a source of this information and post it at a later time.). But the Mass changed from the priest offering the sacrifice for the congregation, to the priest leading the congregation in offering the sacrifice of the Mass together. The Novus Ordo reflects the Vatican II emphasis on the laity’s role in the Church. But to me it feels more like the hippie trends of the 60s (“I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony – Coke! It’s the Real Thing!”). We’re all hippies, holding hands at the Our Father, Kumbaya, we feel good, the priest is good, the Mass is good…sorry, got carried away there.

The problem is, most people don’t feel good after Mass. After decades, the Mass responses are rote – they are so familiar you can hardly think about the words your are saying. If they’re sung, it’s even worse, like hearing the same song over and over again, year after year. People say they just don’t get anything out of Mass. The Church has tried to become Protestant in having an interactive liturgy, but they are suffering the same fate as Protestants, which is dwindling attendance. Even if the music is terrific, emotional experience is still cheap and will eventually leave you empty. One thing our pastor has said a few times – we don’t come to Mass to get something out of it. We come to Mass to offer the sacrifice to God. I feel like the Tridentine Mass reflects that sacrificial offering better than Novus Ordo.

A word about Latin Mass parishes. I find they can be a little (or a lot!) off-putting. Their mere existence is going against decades of post-Vatican II practices and teachings. As such, the parishioners can be hard core traditionalists, sometimes legalistic and heavy handed. They are basically starting from scratch in building a parish around the Tridentine Mass. Most of them are younger people and have few older people to guide them. Their priests are on new ground, too, so the going can be rough. Even within the small parishes there can be “trad” vs. “rad-trad” conflicts (that’s “traditional” vs. “radical traditional”.). I don’t know enough about those differences to expound any more. As for me, I’ve long thought many issues are not black and white, that there’s a lot of gray. Does that make me a “trad”? Probably, if I’m even that.

So that leaves me still figuring out where I belong…

COVID’s Catholic Martyrs?

Opinions vary regarding the Roman Catholic Church’s response to the COVID-19 panic. Our pastor revealed as much the first Sunday after the prohibition against Mass was first lifted in our state. He had heard from parishioners who said they would not attend Mass unless everyone wore a mask and from parishioners who said they would not attend Mass as long as masks were required.

I sympathize with our pastors and their assistants. When they are ordained, they take a vow of obedience to their bishop. If the bishop agrees to obey civil authorities and closes churches, what choice do the priests have? If the bishop demands compliance with mask mandates, can a priest refuse to enforce that?

On the other hand, it’s common to hear in homilies the importance of attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist. We’re told the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” It’s a source of grace, a help to achieve holiness, to overcome sin in our lives. As a lifelong Catholic, I’ve taken the Sunday obligation to attend Mass very seriously, only once skipping Mass as a matter of misguided principle. I found it appalling during the recent panic that no Catholic in the entire world could attend Mass in person. (I’m sure there must have been some private or underground Masses being celebrated.)

Although the government’s restrictions on businesses and the mask requirements are keenly felt, the local parishes’ enforcement has had the most oppressive effect on me. I find it difficult to breathe while wearing a mask. Several months ago, waiting for daily Mass to start, it was a little stuffy in church and I was feeling a little faint. I noticed that four people sitting in nearby pews had their masks pulled down below their noses, a practice I had seen at every Mass. At first I just pulled my mask down, too, but then the absurdity of that action struck me.

For several people, wearing a mask was just for show, something they put up with to be allowed to attend. The priests had not been asking people to pull their masks up over their noses, or to make sure the masks were properly sealed around their mouths and noses. If they had truly thought the masks protected people, they would have demanded that people would wear their masks properly. The priests were apparently satisfied that everyone was wearing a mask in some manner. So, I said enough of this theater. I removed my mask (gasp!) and breathed freely. One woman seated near me stood up and moved to the other side of the church. I presume if I had merely kept it pulled below my nose, she would not have moved.

For several weeks, my wife and I did not wear masks to Mass. Thankfully no parishioners said anything to us, but it was difficult to concentrate on the proceedings when all I could do was think of what I would say if someone confronted us. Then one Sunday, the pastor asked that everyone wear masks. Since we were the only people not wearing masks, I felt singled out and from then on, bowed to the pressure to wear a mask. (Being 6’4″, it’s difficult not to stand out in a crowd.)

Contrast the Church’s response to COVID with the response of Catholic clergy in 1873, when our city was hit by the third largest yellow fever epidemic in U.S. history. During that time, five priests and a number of nuns died of the fever while attending the sick and providing the sacraments to the faithful. Some of the priests voluntarily came here to replace those priests that had died or were near death, knowing that yellow fever had killed a quarter of the population. Our diocese has begun the process to have the five priests canonized as saints. The diocese’s news release said “Each priest made the free and voluntary offer of life and heroic acceptance of a premature and horrific yellow fever death, in the act of charity.” It also said the cause for sainthood “is proceeding during a time of pandemic is a noteworthy historic parallel.”

What is the “noteworthy historic parallel?” I don’t see any heroic actions being taken by any clergy during the current panic. The continual harping about “this time of pandemic”, praying for those sick with COVID, the front-line health care workers and those who have died from COVID stokes the panic. (I’m not callous to those who are sick and die of COVID, but I object to the singling out COVID as somehow being more tragic than other forms of death.) The only parallel I see is that a bunch of people in both eras were sick. In the first era, contracting the disease almost guaranteed death, and men and women gave their lives in service of the diseased. In the second era, the disease has a survival rate in excess of 99% and the clergy ran for the hills.

At daily Mass today, the first reading was Acts 14:19-28, which recounts the story of St. Paul being stoned by the crowds, then picking himself up and continuing to Derbe to proclaim the good news. The celebrant was rather moved by St. Paul’s example and in his homily recounted the reading, adding a bit more detail to make the story more vivid. He told of St. Paul being struck by stones and falling to the ground, then getting up, dusting himself off and going to the next town. He encouraged us to follow the example of St. Paul, but to me his words rang hollow.

A couple of weeks ago, a different priest said it wasn’t enough to just sit in the pew every day, but that we needed to evangelize the world as called for by St. Pope John Paul II. He asked how many of us understood the book of Revelations or could explain Genesis to someone. Yes, I know – we Catholics in general have a low Biblical IQ. The point is the priest is calling us to evangelize the world when most of us consider ourselves lucky to even be able to attend Mass during this “pandemic”.

In fact, over the last few months, both priests have been belittling people or demeaning the efforts of people who attend daily Mass. Most recently one of them said “it’s easy to sit in the pew every day…” and once triggered, my irritation kept me from paying attention to his actual point. My thought was: “Hey Father, most of the people here are senior citizens with arthritis, bad backs, foot pain, insomnia and other assorted ailments that are just trying to get through this half hour struggling to stay awake. And the worst part of it is having to listen to your homilies!” Easy to sit in the pew – indeed!

One of the priests likes to accuse everyone of being experts and knowing better than anyone else. One of those accusations was related to our bishop’s “call for unity”, echoing the cry of one Joe Biden, rumored to be President. Father said Pope Francis was the pope and the one true symbol of Jesus Christ on earth. He said we Catholics needed to put our differences aside and that our unity as Christians would be a witness to the rest of the world (I get stomach cramps just typing that sentence.). Never mind that many of those Catholics aligned with Biden stand firmly opposed to Catholic teaching and opposed to our country and its flawed heritage. As with most calls for unity or compromise, it’s the conservative or traditional side that has to do all the compromising. Nevertheless, Father said the bishop had called on all parishes in the diocese to pray a novena to St. Joseph for unity and for Joe Biden (rumored to be President). Where was this call when Donald Trump was president? My response to be accused of thinking we’re all experts: “Speak for yourself, Father. I’m no expert but I’m pretty good at spotting liars, charlatans and those acting in self interest.”

Look, I know we all need to improve in virtue, in holiness, in knowledge, in our dedication to God. But the priests can encourage these things without also berating us. How about prefacing their encouragement with the positive acknowledgment that daily Mass attendance is a good thing and commending us for our effort?

So what’s my point? It is this: The priests are encouraging us to engage the world, be brave, speak the truth, gain knowledge, be more like the martyrs, while at the same time belittling us. Yet these brave priests participated in the shutdown of the Church, denying the sacraments to their flock. Yes, they were obeying their bishop, but did they or any of their brother priests ask the bishop for permission to violate the lockdown orders and hold Mass for those people willing to take the risk? I for one would greatly admire any priest who had offered to celebrate Mass and I would have risked arrest to attend, not because I’m a hero but because I think the Eucharist and religious freedom is that important. Once they’ve shown that kind of bravery, then they’ve truly earned the right to talk about the sacrifices of martyrdom. Otherwise, their talk is cheap.