A Kind Of Important Post
Dear friends, it's about time I was completely honest with you. I've been less than forthcoming about a certain catastrophic change in my life. Some of you already know about it; others of you might have guessed the fact (or else hit very close to the mark) merely by the tone of some of my most recent comments either here or on the Book of Faces. I've been putting off this announcement because I have been unclear as to how to phrase it, in addition to which I was, to put it mildly and bluntly, scared to confess it at all, knowing how it would affect my friendships, my views on life, the general situation of where I am right now. But now, seeing that the second Lent since this event has finally come around, and recognizing that enough is enough, I've decided it is time to spill the proverbial beans.
I have turned Recusant. In other words, I have converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Reverted, rather. Most of you know I was baptized Catholic, but was raised a Methodist. Well, I've come to find out that baptismal regeneration's a doozy of a thing. Ever since I was of a mind to critically consider religious matters, I have always had the inclination towards the Catholic viewpoint, if not Catholicism itself. You see, I still hated the Baal which was set up in its place by my protestant forbearers. As Bishop Sheen (God bless his soul) one wrote, "there aren't five people alive in the world today who hate the Catholic Church for what She truly is."
So, why, Tim? What made you take the plunge (into the Tiber)? Of course, there are a hundred reasons at least behind my decision, as I am sure there are behind any major undertaking. Some of them are intensely personal, so I politely ask that you mind your own damn business (unless of course I feel led to tell you anyways); a lot of them are fairly common knowledge. All entailed a great deal of introspection and prayer. A paraphrase of the multitude of reasons could best be summed up under an entymological understanding of the words 'holy' and 'sacred', and what they mean.
Holiness is a concept many of us struggle with on a daily basis, that is, those who are bothered enough to struggle with it. A helpful consideration to make might be comparing it to holism, to a point. (I am Catholic, after all, not a Pantheist.) What I mean is that the sum of a system must be considered without having to divide it neatly up into little parts. In terms of religious ethics, this might be best expressed in understanding that none of the theological virtues can stand alone. Expanding the context even further, we could even say that the virtues in toto are dependent upon the contemplation and worship of the divine. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not mutually exclusive practices. Some of these may come easier for us as believers, but we are not allowed to neglect any of them. To be holy good means to be wholly good.
Realizing this, I knew I had to look somewhere for that Church which provided completeness. A lot of churches will lay claim to it, but were there any that had the credentials for believing it? The Church of Rome certainly had a lot of evidence towards holism in this regard, in that it was fully represented in many social factors:
1. Age: Most churches have a peculiarity when it comes to age brackets. They tend to dominate at either end of the age curve - either very old or very young. Mainline (traditional protestant) tends to attract the older and Pretending-Not-To-Be-Mainline ('contemporary') attracts the younger. Most often, a church will have two types of these services, in order to attract both, but more often than not the two are not wont to intermingle. Roman Catholicism manages to attract both without altering her services. (On the objection of guitar masses, I will speak in a moment.) A charming story demonstrates this easy familiarity between age groups. As he was filming a production of 'Father Brown' set in France, Alec Guinness was approached by a young French boy, who conversed so intimately with the bewildered and French-illiterate actor that he was left speechless, and could only reply in nods and smiles. The boy's parents having located him, he left with a simple "bon soir, mon pere!" From that point on, the former Anglican Guinness began to reconsider his opinions about a church where a child could be right at home around a priest, let alone their elder. My general reception in the Catholic Church has not belied this experience.
2. Gender: Males are more fully represented in the Catholic Church. While there is always the necessity of promoting the feminine aspect of Creation as having received its determined form of the Heavenly Father, the unfortunate tendency of late has been to overemphasize the female at the expense of the male. Services focus on the emotional and the subjective side of worship ('feel-good'), without having the counteracting influence of the objective. In a lot of churches, this has led to the phenomenon that Cardinal Heenan referred to as "the boys and the men smoking outside the Church." The result has been so powerful that even the Roman churches have felt it to some extent; still, of all the churches facing the crisis nowadays, the Roman seems best equipped to fight it without compromise.
3. Education: Protestant circles mightn't let in on a dirty little secret of theirs: there is a caste system within most mainline denominations. While the division between the two is never exact, there are roughly two groups one can ascertain in any church - the Intellegensia and the Populists. The Populists are constituted of laymen and the general public. These are the 'simple folk', those ostensibly Osteen, who tend to be orthodox because heresy, or rather the process of working through it, is time-consuming, and Populists are nothing if not practical. On the other hand, there are the Intellegensia, those who had enough free time to go to seminary and lose their faith, only to reimagine it in terms much more abstract, since the abstract is infinitely more accessible and adaptible. They constitute the clergy and hierarchy. Their idol is Herr Bultmann, the German theologian who felt it perfectly acceptable to drop all of the old Biblical imagery (since it was wrapped up in out-dated Palestinian myth, anyhow) and redefine it for the modern day. Hence, though they more than likely have abandoned faith in a personal, gender-defined Deity who takes sides on certain issues, they will bestow the title on "God' on the vague, impersonal Zeitgeist which seems to be nothing more than the collective will of the people (with the optional addition of 'Nature' for those of a more ecological leaning).
Needless to say these two groups don't usually have very nice things to say about the other. Having been raised up in the Populist camp from my youth, the Intellegensia (upon my decision to enter the ministry) took upon themselves my re-education from a 'believing' to a 'feeling' mindset. Their efforts failed, save in teaching me one thing: that as much as the fatuousness of the Populist mindset irritated me, the propositions which the Intellegensia submitted for my intellectual assent were outright insanity. When one is presented with the assertion that Jesus's body was devoured by dogs in the tomb and never rose from the dead, but that a mental, spritual resurrection could still be expected from the illusion that He did, one wonders why one would bother putting on one's Sunday Best for Sunday School Agnosticism.
Please don't get me wrong - I am not denying that there is a caste in society. There are inequalities in our world and anyone who tries to promote a vision of pure democracy is selling you something. However, one is faced with the fact that there are virtuous hierarchies and not-so-virtuous hierarchies in the world. At the heart of the virtuous hierarchies of this world is one thing: submission. As that great forgotten intellectual of the twentieth century Nicolas Gomez Davila so aptly expressed it, "The supreme aristocrat is not the feudal lord in his castle but the contemplative monk in his cell." Those who have the greatest estimation of their proper position in life are those who express the greatest humility and are therefore, the most suited to the prestige and leadership of their fellow men.
And this is reflected in the relations of her different classes. In the Catholic Church there are the Populists and the Intellegensia, yet nowhere else, save in Her fold, is the relation between the two so cordial, nor the theology so interchangeable. This is because the hierarchy does not make it a point of rejecting (or at the very least, affirming in some back-handed way) the orthodoxy of her creed. The faith of the simple Breton peasant is the same as that of Dr. Pasteur. For them, science is not a negation of the truths of the Christianity, only lovingly extended commentary. They know that the teachings of Holy Scripture and Tradition are indeed, "hard sayings"; yet through love and obedience towards their Author, and following His example of bearing the hardest fact of all - the Cross - they come not only to know, but love, the fundamental truths of the Faith.
Thus far are the basic reasons for my reversion. I understand some of you will have comments on my joining an "imaginary Church" - that is, a Church which is the bastion of Tradition and Antiquity. I will have more to say in response to that in a further post, but as the matter lies now, I have carried on much too long and must return to work.