I Went to Church with Judge Scalia

{2016 update: Yesterday, Justice Scalia died. He may in retrospect be seen as the Cicero of our time. I visited his parish in 2006 and wrote about it.}

Since we are in between churches as we prepare to move, I used today to do something I’ve wanted to do since we arrived in Virginia: I visited St. Catherine of Sienna, a Catholic parish in Great Falls. St. Catherine has a Solemn High Latin Mass on Sunday, which I had never experienced. And Justices Thomas and Scalia attend there. Louis Freeh (former FBI head) either goes there now or used to, and the FBI spy for Russia, Robert Hanssen I think used to go there 1)So does Rick Santorum. It is a parish that supposedly is heavily Opus Dei, although I have no way of knowing.

So I shot over on the Dulles Toll Road and into Reston, then over to Great Falls and St. Catherine. The area is heavily wooded with large older homes that reek of money in this inflated area of the nation. St. Catherine (which also houses a school) is the kind of semi-secluded stone parish that I have come to expect here in Virginia. The parking lot was full of Mercedes so I could tell that this was something of an elite crowd, but of course it would be given that it is where it is. I think that elites don’t realize that they ARE elites, they are just living their life like everyone else, just in a much more expensive location.

We got there as Mass was underway. The place was full, but not packed. This was one of 3 or 4 Masses that occur from Saturday night to Sunday morning. The sanctuary was full of incense. My only previous exposure to incense has been at Eastern Orthodox parishes, so this was the first time on a big scale. There were clouds of it floating around which was very otherworldly – as I reflect on it I think of the book of Revelation. Anyway, many of the ladies had their heads covered reflecting the ancient piety of the church. Far more were uncovered however (including Mrs. Scalia). The service itself was very beautiful. St. Catherine’s has a choir and an organ, and there was no modern fluff in this liturgy.

I was scanning the crowd the entire time trying to see Scalia or Thomas. I never did see Thomas, so either he wasn’t there or he goes to another service. I had just about given up on Scalia too when I spotted him 7 rows up to my left. His silhouette was unmistakable. ‘Mission accomplished’ I thought.

The liturgy was majestic, particularly the reading of the Gospel and the procession to do so. I was close to tears during some of the hymns. The majesty of God was transparent. Certainly I believe he is grieved by the un-Biblical stances of the RC on many issues, however, I also believe he is grieved with the pride, division, and lack of love that characterize most Protestant churches. All of these systems are dead limbs on a tree. Calvinism is a dead limb too. The limbs are dead, but the tree still has life.

Anyway, the music was gorgeous. The homily was pretty good, about pride and humility, and the power of sin. I’ve been to Mass about 4 times and most of the homilies I’ve heard have been terrible. This one was actually decent. It still seemed to just use the Scripture as a launching pad for the guy’s thoughts, but oh well. I would think these guys could dig into Patristics more for a really cool sermon, but they don’t.

As we left I was right behind Judge Scalia. The door to the Narthex was not staying open so he fumbled with it to try and keep it open. I slowed down out front to see him. His wife was talking to another lady about a sick relative. Scalia looks bad to me, he is overweight and kind of shuffles. I wouldn’t call it a limp. I was thinking crud, he better stay alive for the sake of the unborn. It was funny because they prayed for the unborn and also mentioned some marriage amendment in the service. There were right wing bumper stickers all over the place. This is ground zero for the Catholic right and the intellectual center of the Conservative movement. A very cool moment for me.

Random observations: Catholics don’t seem to ever have cry rooms or nurseries, all the babies and kids are in the service. The worship wars and youth church junk that infects Prots doesn’t seem to have touched them as much…a lot of their kids are unruly and noisy the whole time, which reflects the total breakdown of parental discipline in our culture, but I guess in Prot churches the noisy kids are in a class, so we don’t see the bad affects as much…the women were almost all dressed modestly, nothing provocative going on which is more than I can say for most Prot churches I’ve been to…the kids in the choir were very well behaved…Scalia has nine kids, one of whom is a hardcore orthodox priest in Arlington.

References   [ + ]

1. So does Rick Santorum

Africa Functions as an Orthodox Bulwark in Roman Catholic Affairs

Chiesa reports on how African Cardinals are functioning in a role very similar to that of GAFCON within the Anglican Communion:

They were five cardinals and forty-five bishops from as many African countries who met in Accra, the capital of Ghana, from June 8-11. All in the clear light of day, not almost in secret like some of their colleagues from Germany, France, and Switzerland, who had gathered a few days before at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
But while at the Gregorian the objective was changing the Church’s stance on divorce and homosexuality, in Accra the push was in the other direction.
The marching route was indicated from the very first remarks by Guinean cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the congregation for divine worship:
– “not to be afraid of reiterating the teaching of Christ on marriage”;
– “to speak at the synod with clarity and with just one voice, in filial love of the Church.”
– “to protect the family from all the ideologies that want to destroy it, and therefore also from the national and international policies that impede the promotion of positive values.”
On this marching route there has been complete consensus. In addition to Sarah, the other African cardinals present were Christian Tumi of Cameroon, John Njue of Kenya, Polycarp Pengo of Tanzania, and Berhaneyesus D. Souraphiel of Ethiopia, this last created by Pope Francis at the last consistory.

The big difference I see between Anglicans and Catholics in Africa is that the Catholic churches are generally more vocal when it comes to governmental wickedness. This is my impression and is a generalization, so I’m not sure if it is true, but I have seen examples of Catholics speaking up in the DRC and Burundi while I am not aware of Anglican leaders doing the same.

The Next Pope?

Cardinal Robert Sarah
Cardinal Robert Sarah

Sandro Magister writes about Cardinal Robert Sarah, who has a chance at being the next Pope. I have also kept my eye on Cardinal Sarah for the last couple years. Magister provides a brief biography of the Cardinal, who is from Guinea. An excerpt:

He was born in a remote village in the savanna, into a freshly converted family. At the age of 12 he was circumcised and initiated into manhood in the forest. He studied to be a priest and became one, while his Guinea was under the bloody regime of the Marxist Sekou Touré, with the bishop of Conakry, the capital, imprisoned and tortured.

He studied theology in Rome, at the Gregorian and especially at the Biblicum, with rector Carlo Maria Martini and professors like Lyonnet, Vanhoye, de la Potterie. He spent a year at the prestigious École Biblique in Jerusalem.

And then he returned as a humble pastor to his Guinea, going on foot into the savanna to reach the very last of the faithful, amid a majority Muslim population. Until Paul VI made him a bishop in 1978, the youngest in the world at the age of 33. And he entrusted him with Conakry, as Sekou Touré became ever more infuriated with this new pastor and undaunted defender of the faith. After the tyrant’s sudden death in 1984, they would discover that Sarah was the first on the list of enemies to be eliminated.

Theologically, Cardinal Sarah aligns with Pope Benedict:

Sarah has boundless admiration for Pope Joseph Ratzinger. He shares his idea that for the Church of today, the absolute priority is to bring God into the heart of civilizations, both those of ancient Christian tradition that has been obfuscated or denied, and those that are still pagan.

Excerpts are quoted from his book, including:

The Church cannot go forward as if reality did not exist: it can no longer content itself with ephemeral enthusiasms, which last for the duration of great gatherings or liturgical assemblies, as beautiful and rich as they may be. It can no longer hold back from a practical reflection on subjectivism as the root of most of the current errors. What use is it that the pope’s Twitter account is followed by hundreds of thousands of persons if men do not concretely change their lives? What use is it to tally up the figures of the crowds that throng before the popes if we are not sure that the conversions are real and profound? […]

Keep your eyes on Cardinal Sarah when the next Conclave rolls around.

Evangelii Gaudium a “source of grief and pain for the faithful”

Fr. Franz Schmidberger, Rector of the Society of St. Pius X seminary in Germany has reviewed Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium here. Here are some choice excerpts from his review:

This double objective, together with the loquacious nature of the pontiff, makes for writing that is not clearly structured; it lacks precision, succinctness, and clarity.

Also:

The Pope speaks of the Church as if up until now little has been done in the Church regarding the preaching of the Gospel or it has been done in an incomplete way. He complains about an easy, lethargic, and isolated attitude. These constant reprimands are embarrassing. One gets the impression that up until now little was done for the transmission of the Faith and the Gospel. These comments are accompanied with a constant reference to his own person. The personal pronoun “I” is used no less than 184 times, and we are not taking into account the use of “my,” “mine,” and “for me.”  

Later:

The Pope then speaks of a sound pluralism. How can we reconcile such pluralism with the knowledge that the second person of the Holy Trinity came into this world in order to save it, with the Truth that Jesus Christ is the source of all graces and that in Him alone is there salvation?

On Islam:

In the next paragraph the Pope reaches a concrete conclusion: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition.” This number closes with a scandalous false statement: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence”. Did the Holy Father ever read the Koran? 

 Father Schmidberger concludes:

The papal document Evangelii Gaudium may, like dispersed seeds, contain some good aspects. As a whole, however, the document is nothing but a development of the Second Vatican Council in its most unacceptable statements. We cannot find in it any “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (#1), but another fatal step towards the downfall of the Church, the decomposition of its doctrine, the breakdown of its structure, and even the extinction of its missionary spirit which ironically is evoked over and over again. In this way Evangelii gaudium becomes the Dolor Fidelium, a source of grief and pain for the faithful.

As an outsider looking in on the Catholic Church, my sense is that it is becoming “mainline Protestant” at the top, which is what it probably has been for some time at the bottom in the West. As the history of the Church in Quebec and other areas shows, this type of doctrinal drift can eviscerate the numbers of people who hold onto the faith in short order. It will be fascinating to see the long-term impact of this Papacy on the health of the Catholic Church globally. 

What to Make of Pope Francis, Part II

The colossal changes sweeping through culture completely upended what is expected in worship services, in both Protestant and Catholic churches. Onto the Post-Christian stage steps Pope Francis. The reaction to his elevation was puzzling, because oddballs like Hans Kung seemed gleeful to see him become Pope. Stories circulated of his friendship with Protestants, but also of his apparent lackluster feelings for Benedict’s revived Latin Mass.  
Much has been made of his humility, but at some point I start to wonder if all of your humility is on display for the world to see, is it really humble? And is it a slap in the face to your predecessor? Do you need to refuse the Papal apartment and riding in the Popemobile? They are paid for, you aren’t buying them, so why make such a stir about these things? The priesthood in the Bible was robed in glory, and our services should be glorious, not drab and barren. So are we witnessing a return to the worst of the insane revolution that produced bad buildings and horrible liturgies (akin to the 79 BCP), or is this something else? 
There are almost no bastions of tradition, beauty and ceremony left in the world. All has become ugly and commonplace. Monarchies and liturgical churches are a couple of the last redoubts holding out against complete annihilation by the jeans, tee shirts and flip flops crowd. So is Pope Francis going to finish the job that Vatican II started and utterly destroy the sacredness of the liturgical ceremony in his quest for ‘simplicity’? Will he clean out corruption over the sexual abuse scandals? If so, will he also usher in doctrinal innovations that are heretical? From a Protestant point of view, I’d love to see him restore church discipline and excommunicate the Biden’s and Pelosi’s of the world. I see his use of the title “Bishop of Rome” and his moves towards equality with the Cardinals as potentially positive. But if they come hand in hand with a radical agenda of deconstructing the mystery of the liturgy and letting the quasi Liberal Protestants loose on the Church in America, this cannot be good. 
The Traditionalist blog, Rorate Caeli, has been all over the new Pope. For example, when he washed feet in the prison yesterday for Maundy Thursday, commenters wrote: 

In mediaeval times, the Pope originally did in fact wash the feet of twelve paupers (all male, of course). If memory serves, local bishops who practised the custom would either wash the feet of paupers or of their clergy. The original monastic custom was for the abbot to wash the feet of *all* the community. 

However, the present Pope’s behaviour is nothing so much as archaeologism tainted with feminism, and one might wish to argue that his proclaimed “humility” is more likely self-will. 

They pointed out, correctly, that Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve Disciples, not of unbelievers, and not of women, which raises issues of propriety. They also point this bit of history out: 

In the latter half of the twelfth century the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner. The “Caeremoniale episcoporum” directs that the bishop is to wash the feet either of thirteen poor men or of thirteen of his canons.  

Another post points to the Pope’s total disregard for his titles. Further adding to Trad unease, Friar Raniero Cantalamessa preached a sermon today which could be read as a call for taking a wrecking ball to the liturgy: 

We know what the impediments are that can restrain the messenger: dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris.ᅠ 

In Revelation, Jesus says that He stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3:20). Sometimes, as noted by our Pope Francis, he does not knock to enter, but knocks from within to go out. To reach out to the “existential suburbs of sin, suffering, injustice, religious ignorance and indifference, and of all forms of misery.” As happens with certain old buildings. Over the centuries, to adapt to the needs of the moment, they become filled with partitions, staircases, rooms and closets. The time comes when we realize that all these adjustments no longer meet the current needs, but rather are an obstacle, so we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins.” 

On the positive side, Francis continued to attack relativism, saying: 

It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism’, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.” 

The things that I would really like Rome to reconsider are probably not going to change: Scriptural fidelity, policy on icons, Purgatory, indulgences and Mary’s position. If the “reforms” of Francis are an attack on ceremony and terrible innovations that liberal theologians are pining for, then it is not favorable for any of us who take fidelity to Christ seriously. A reform that made the Roman Catholic Church into a Magisterial Protestant Church would be great, a reform that makes it into the present Church of England would be a disaster.  

What to Make of Pope Francis

Pope Francis has made many headlines in his brief time in the Papacy. While it may be early to evaluate him, some trends have emerged that make analysis possible. My knowledge of the parties and factions of the Roman Church is sketchy and I am by no means an expert in the field, but I am a curious Protestant bystander.
To reflect on Francis, I believe we have to examine the central conflict of the Catholic Church over the past 50 or so years – that of Vatican II. I have read some of the Vatican II documents, but not all of them. As a Protestant, I believe Vatican II could have done some beneficial things, such as:
1. Implementing a more collegial model of governance as opposed to the Pope being God’s vicegerent on Earth, as it were. My understanding of Vatican II is that this type of collegiality was proposed, but not really implemented.
2. Bring church services to the people in their own language without destroying the beauty of the liturgy. One of these aims was achieved, as Mass began to be celebrated in the vernacular, however, this went hand in hand with a massive attack on the forms of the liturgy by a leftist wave that was also sweeping over the Mainline Protestant denominations.
The tidal wave of change that swept over Western culture during the late Sixties culminated in the Sexual Revolution as well as revolutionary changes to “how we do church.” The thing about this that I don’t think has been adequately explored yet is how changes which seemed positive at the time (the rise of Calvary Chapel type groups and more heartfelt worship as opposed to dead formalism) went hand in hand with entirely ruinous changes pushed by leftist heretics. So you had something of a worldwide invigoration of some churches via the charismatic movement, while at the same time you had the unorthodox ruining the Catholic Church and the Protestant Mainline Churches.
Both the heretics and the charismatics shared some outer trappings, such as guitar driven worship and informal dress. In liturgical churches, this wave of change resulted in an attack on beauty. Ugly churches were built, sanctuaries were stripped of beauty and Catholics ditched the musical heritage of the West for guitar at Mass. Again, similar forces were scraping away Protestant history, but many of the guitar music folks in Protestant circles were very orthodox doctrinally. What you saw in Catholic circles was a simultaneous push for an end to the ban on birth control, opposition to abortion, a desire to ordain women, as well as ugly liturgy, a collapse in those seeking ordination and bad doctrinal innovations, all in the name of Vatican II – at least that is my read on it. So many of the folks who wanted what I as a Protestant would want: married priests, vernacular liturgy, collegiality and so forth, were the same people who wanted abortion, divorce, the pill and that whole package.
You can imagine the utter revolution and disruption that these changes caused for faithful Catholics. Tolkien is a good example:

“Toronto broadcaster and author Michael Coren (J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man Who Created The Lord of the Rings) says that in the 1960s, the author “expressed displeasure at Vatican II” and its sweeping reforms of Catholic life and liturgy. Tolkien, who had had his hero Aragorn declare that “good and ill have not changed since yesteryear” felt that “suddenly the Truth had changed. And he found it vulgar.” 

A counter-revolution against what Vatican II unleashed was led by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. They stood firm on moral issues and began to push the liturgical celebration back towards beauty. This points to my dilemma as a Protestant looking in on Catholic struggles: the people who I would most agree with on birth control, morality, beauty in architecture and liturgy, are the same people that would most vehemently defend the supposed Petrine office, priestly celibacy, bowing to images, praying to the dead, Purgatory and all the other things that legitimately need reform. And even John Paul II was marked with a weird ecumenism that seemed to be universalistic and too open to errors like Islam.
This is getting too long for a single post, so I will break it in two… 

Pope Francis

Adam Brickley’s prediction of a long Conclave was totally wrong, showing once again that all attempts at predicting the future are futile (h/t to Nicholas Taleb). Brickley’s latest post says:

His mandate is to use his short papacy to smash the corruption in the curial establishment, then leave. He’s expected to make a mess of the place, leaving it to a more steady-handed successor to put the pieces back together (a la Paul VI). At least that’s how I read it. Whether that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

As for the Francis I papacy itself, I think we could be in for quite a ride. He clearly wanted to make a statement, both with his choice of a new name and by appearing in a simple white cassock rather than the usual finery. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have been given a divine mandate to “rebuild my church” – so the name explicitly implies that the church needs some serious TLC. He’s clearly a warm and pastoral spirit, but I have to say his remarks from the balcony were a bit rambling and disjointed. This is a polar opposite personality to Benedict XVI, who was a towering intellect and skilled theologian, but not terribly pastoral. Benedict was elected to teach and strengthen the faith, Francis is there to govern and renew the church.
Obviously, the jury is out, but at the very least I expect him to be popular. He brings to mind John XXIII, and that sort of leadership wins a lot of admirers. The big question, other than curia reform, will be what path he charts on doctrine. Obviously he’s not a huge move ideologically, but he does have a more Jesuit social justice focus. A lot of traditionalists are worried about his stance on the availability of Latin Mass to those who want it, as he apparently did not implement Benedict’s “liberation” of said mass in his diocese. Another iquestion for me will be his choice of curial officials and cardinals – will he be the one to finally kibosh the European majority in the Sacred College?  

From a Protestant point of view, I hope this new Pope adheres to Scripture and reforms the doctrinal corruptions of Rome – prayer to saints, bowing to objects, indulgences, Purgatory and the like – but I know the chances of this barring a Damascus Road experience are none. I think that Benedict had a greater fidelity to Scripture in many areas, but not enough, and I hope that trend continues. A re-examination of every belief that the Church holds in light of Scripture would do us all good. 

Conclave Day I

I have been totally drawn into the drama of the Conclave, only the second of my adult lifetime. The pageantry and the method of election itself is very intriguing, in contrast to the bland failure that is the selection of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anyway, as part of this fascination, I found the blog of Adam Brickley to be very insightful. Brickley wrote a paper called “Cracking the Conclave” in 2008, and we’ll see how prescient it turns out to be. Brickley is predicting a long Conclave this time:

According to Brickley, over the last century, the shorter conclaves have averaged between three and four voting rounds. For the relatively brief conclaves that would mean a successor is usually named on either day two or day three. That won’t be the case this year, he predicts. “The best analogy for this year’s papal vote is 1922, the one that elected [Pope] Pius XI. That went 14 ballots,” he says. “The cardinals then were looking for a steady hand as they were deeply divided.”

 Today, Brickley wrote:

Most of the insiders seem to agree that Angelo Scola will get the early lead with between 35 and 40 votes. Behind him will be Odilo Scherer with about 25, followed by Marc Ouellet with around 12…I personally am keeping a close eye on Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka, as he is the only second tier candidate listed by Allen who also made my top 28. I’m also looking for the emergence of an African candidate, as the conspicuous lack of known African papabili makes me wonder if the Vaticanisti simply lack sources with the less-accessible African cardinals.

How it Should Be Done

The National Catholic Reporter carries a story on one possible future Pope, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea.

The article says:

Sarah became an outspoken critic of authoritarian and corrupt regimes. When Pope John Paul II visited Guinea in 1992, Sarah publicly asked the pope to push African leaders to clean up their act.

“Tell the African governments that reforms will be meaningless if they are tainted in blood, provoking considerable human and economic catastrophes,” Sarah told the pope.

When the ruling regime in Guinea tossed opposition leader Alpha Conde into jail in 1999 after a disputed election, Sarah publicly demanded his release.

Let’s hope GAFCON/FCA bishops are every bit as outspoken as this brave man going forward.