Even the Devil Must Bear Witness

Fall of LuciferI was born and raised in a liberal Catholic environment.  I attended twelve years of Catholic school, went to Sunday Mass with my family, was an altar boy, went to monthly confession with my class, and was educated by nuns and priests as well as Catholic laymen.  My father was the school physician and cared for the parish priests, and my mother was the parish organist.  To state the obvious, my upbringing was Catholic, Catholic, Catholic.  But the key word in all of this is not the term “Catholic,” but the term “liberal.”  To say we were Catholics is simply misleading; rather, we were liberal Catholics, and this little qualifier changes everything.  It means that, although ostensibly my daily life was surrounded by the appearances of Catholicism, in fact, the Catholicism generally went no deeper than the appearances.  And to make brief what could be a very long story, let me summarize the rest by saying that my intellect during those twelve years was far from Catholic.

We did not study the Bible; we did not study the Catechism; we did not study the history of the Church; we did not learn how to understand, explain, or defend the Church’s teachings; we did not read the lives of the Saints; we did not pray the Rosary, say grace before meals, attend the Stations of the Cross or Eucharistic Benediction, or practice penances.  The ostensibly Catholic environment in which I was raised expected only that we would remain in an ostensibly Catholic environment, never taking our religion too seriously, never inquiring too deeply into its teachings, and never practicing too literally its morality.  The Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist?  Frequent confession?  Heaven, hell, and purgatory?  Grace, free will, and merit?  Atonement and Redemption?  Apostolic succession?  Papal infallibility?  The Purpose of life?  Heresy, apostasy, and schism?  Divorce, adultery, cohabitation, contraception, and homosexuality?  Whatever.  I was vaguely familiar with these terms and presumed they were Catholic issues of some type, but I couldn’t possibly understand or explain them, nor did I feel obligated to believe or respect them, nor did I.  It was merely the stuff that liberal Catholics could expect to hear about once in a while – usually from the old men in Rome – but that shouldn’t cause them any fear or concern.  For none of it – we lazily presumed – was actually true or even important.  And if it was…whatever.

What was the outcome of this liberal Catholic upbringing?  With a heavy heart I can say – like so many of you – the outcome has been that most of my siblings have left the Church.  And during my twenties, when I began to ask all the big questions in life and found that my religious formation offered me no answers, I left as well and became a virulent anti-Catholic.  For I thought the problem was Catholicism itself.

Shouldn’t this have been expected?  After all, if our priests and bishops have preached for decades that one Church, denomination, or religion is basically as good as any other, then isn’t it only natural and logical that those who have absorbed such ecumenical cheerleading should never again come back?  Yes, if everyone and their pet is going to heaven, regardless of their religion, personal beliefs, or actual sins, then why should we stay for even one more Kyrie?  If there is no substantial difference between St. Mary’s Catholic Parish and Duck River Baptist Church, then let’s skip the whole religious thing and sleep in on Sunday mornings.

It is the countless Catholics who have fallen away that have actually acted on the sermons of the past fifty years.  They are the ones who have taken it all seriously.  And those who have remained in the Church – they are the ones who have, thanks be to God Almighty, not taken seriously the preaching of the liberals and ecumaniacs.  Our pastors should be thankful that many of us simply ignore their homilies and remain in spite of them.  And if ever we take them seriously, they’ll know it when they see our empty pews.

For at least six years I despised the Catholic Church and every trace or shadow of Catholicism.  During that time, I trained myself in the black craft of anti-Catholic argumentation.  I formed my intellect with the writings of the Protestant so-called “Reformers;” I studied the King James Version Bible, supplemented by Protestant commentaries; I read Church history from a Protestant perspective; I attended countless worship services of both denominations and cults, prayed fervently for the purest Gospel faith, and believed I was born again and saved; and I often discussed and debated Christian belief with both Protestant ministers and lay people, constantly enforcing my own positions with anti-Catholic arguments.

In spite of this monumental intellectual effort, in spite of studying religion for hours each day, the cracks in my anti-Catholicsm began to appear.  They struck its foundation from every direction, from studying more carefully the Bible, from reading the Apostolic Fathers, from reflecting on Church history, and from considering the catastrophic state of Christendom in light of the private interpretation of Holy Scripture.  All of these noble pursuits revealed the flaws in my arguments and the errors in Protestantism itself.  Their combined effect increasingly pointed back to the last place on earth I was willing to go.  I told myself over and over, “God forbid; I will never again be a Catholic.”  In a panic, I begged God in prayer to save me from Catholicism and to help me remain Protestant.  I asked Him to lead me to anyone or anything that would help me maintain a Protestant faith.   A hundred times I prayed, “Lord, save me from this!  Don’t ever ask me to be Catholic again!”  And then God answered my prayers with another type of fracture: He forced the devil to bear witness to the truth.

I had always been fascinated with the New Age Movement – fascinated in that I recognized the grave threat this neo-pagan revival posed to the Christian faith and world.  As a result, I had studied about it for years and gained a sound understanding of its fundamental beliefs and practices.  One topic that frequently came up in these studies was Satanism – the beliefs and practices of Satanists.  But I recognized over and over again one aspect of Satanic practice that increasingly bothered me: the Black Mass.  When the foremost opponents of the Kingdom of God – the Christ-loathing Satanists – gathered to offer their most formal and solemn blasphemous praises to the devil, they performed a mockery of the Catholic Mass said backwards in Latin and on the back of a naked woman!  They did not perform a mockery of a Protestant service.  They did not sing multiple hymn verses to Satan, or listen to forty-five minute sermons on hatred and blasphemy, or answer an evil altar call, or read backwards the KJV Bible, or even preach their own Satanic Bible on street corners.  No.  When Satanists wanted to perform the wickedest act of blasphemy, they turned to a mockery of the Holy Mass.  And when they wanted to perform the lowest act of sacrilege, they sought to desecrate a Host.  No, not a piece of communion bread from a Protestant service, but only a Host consecrated at Holy Mass by a Catholic priest.

These unwelcome realizations caused me great pain as I reflected on their meaning.  Why, I wondered, would the Satanists not mock Protestantism – almost as a favor to me?  Then I could have a desperately needed reason to remain Protestant!

Three more giant cracks soon appeared.  I learned, first, that one of the most significant symptoms of demonic possession was the inability of the possessed to tolerate the moment of consecration at Holy Mass, and second, that they could not bear to consume a consecrated Host.  And then I learned from a former Satanic priestess (turned Catholic) that such a person could identify a single consecrated Host in a bowl of unconsecrated hosts.  Why?  Because the demons, the possessed, and those who have received certain powers from the devil, are painfully sensitive to the presence of their enemy, Jesus Christ.  CRACK!

The Church teaches that – mystery of mysteries – the devil and his fallen angelic companions can do nothing except what they are allowed to do by God.  They are not free; rather, they are like chained junkyard dogs – vicious as can preternaturally be, but hopelessly chained by Divine Providence.  And in spite of all their wicked stratagems and desires, the demons cannot prevent one iota of the establishment of God’s Kingdom, and they even contribute to its establishment with their resistance to it.

In hating, the demons only bear witness to divine love; in killing, they only bear witness to divine life; and in despising the Gospel, they only bear witness to the truth that sets us free.  For every act of demonic evil is answered with infinitely superior acts of divine goodness – in Christ’s Incarnation and atoning death, in the establishment of His Church, in her edifying teachings and grace-bearing sacraments, and in God’s promises of a blessed eternal life for the just in the presence of the beautiful Thrice-Holy God.  No matter what he does or where he goes, even the devil must bear witness.

In the Gospels, the demons, speaking through the possessed, repeatedly bore witness to Christ.  In His presence they would pitiably cry out,

“We know who you are, the Holy One of God!  Have you come to torment us before the time?”

They feared Christ; they dreaded His holy presence and divine power.  They wanted to run from Him, but couldn’t.  As our Lord drove them out of the possessed, they would fall to the ground in their last moments, flailing about and screaming in the agony of exorcism, bearing witness over and over again to Christ our Lord.  And to this day, nothing has changed.  Exorcisms continue to bear witness to the spiritual powers given to the Church by Christ, while the inability of the possessed to endure the Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist bears witness to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of sacraments.

Several years before she died, my mother heard me tell on The Fullness of Truth radio program the story of the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano.  My own beloved mother, a life-long Catholic who had secretly prayed daily for my return to the Church, had never heard of this remarkable story in which the findings of modern science demonstrated the assertions of faith in the Eucharistic Real Presence.  She could only shake her head afterwards and ask one question that I will never forget: “Why?  Why did they never tell us such things?”

Indeed, why hadn’t they told us such things?  Why did the Church miserably fail to testify to herself, to her own magnificent teachings, and to her precious divine Savior and His saving Gospel?  Would it have caused a breach in the truth-loathing liberal and ecumenical mission to do so?  Must everything be thrown overboard in order to save and serve the New-Church euphoria, including immortal souls?

I guess my parents could only give us what they had been given.

How I wish all of these astounding and life-transforming truths had been persuasively taught to us so many years ago in that liberal Catholic environment.  If they had, that godless liberalism, alas exorcised by Gospel truth, would have instantly fled back to the fiery hell from which it had come.

“At Jesus’ name
every knee must bend
In the heavens, on the earth,
and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim
to the glory of God the Father:
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”

– Phil. 2:10-11

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Bored Out of the Church

 

I recently found myself out of state for an afternoon. I happened to be near my old childhood parish, so, since there were a few hours to kill, I stopped at the church to pray the divine office. The interior was exactly as I remembered it thirty years ago – contemporary, cold, barren, and distractingly ugly. No altar rails of any kind, tabernacle to the side and priest’s chair elevated in the center, no confessionals within the nave (probably a “reconciliation room” down a hallway), and rather than a crucifix, a massive risen Christ on a painfully stark sanctuary wall. It was truly a “worship space” for the “parish family” sharing in the “celebration” of the “Eucharistic banquet” around the “holy table”. A brochure in the vestibule proclaimed that this was a “Vatican II parish.”  I would strongly disagree, but that’s another topic.

After praying the office, I went for a meandering drive through the old schoolyards and neighborhoods of my childhood – always a dangerous thing for a middle-aged man. Needless to say, it was a depressing day, and I was glad to get back home that evening to western Massachusetts.

I’ve always felt sadness at recalling the past, remembering the struggles of growing up, and most especially, the religious emptiness, confusion, and anger of my youth. I was raised in a liberal Catholic environment from top to bottom – from home, to church, to school. Liberalism, liberalism, and more liberalism. Interpreted, this means sex education, folk Masses, nuns without religious habits, gay priests and teachers, clay sacred vessels, the absence of grace before meals, catechism and Bible studies, Eucharistic Benediction, Stations of the Cross, and the Rosary, and an attitude that those pompous old men in Rome loved to impose on us ordinary folk a thousand burdensome rules and regulations about pre-marital sex, contraception, abortion, and so on. Even Sunday Mass was regarded as an obligation to be fulfilled; it was that boring forty-five minute recitation of memorized words and perfunctorily performed gestures, a sermon full of platitudes, and a little something to eat just before the dismissal.

After a full twelve years of Catholic schooling, and perhaps six of serving as an altar boy, I lacked even a rudimentary understanding of the faith.  And I dare say, I lacked also an experience of genuine Catholicism.

Ignorance is the key to boredom. So, after finally graduating from Catholic high school, I left the Church. I was bored out of the Church. And hardly a soul on earth cared about the departure…except my mother, God bless her soul.

Three days after my trip out of state, I received an unexpected email from an old friend who had been searching for me online. He was once my best friend, but we had lost contact with each other for perhaps twenty-five years. We had attended school and played in bands together and used to dream out loud about the gorgeous girlfriends or wives we would one day have. To get immediately to my point – he’s no longer a Catholic, but is now a Baptist. He said that when he was Catholic, he found himself not wanting to go the Church most of the time. Surprise, surprise. He had been dragged through the same liberal machine that I had been. And he, too, was another casualty of liberal Catholicism, of false Catholicism. He left a Church he never knew, a faith he never heard fully, convincingly, and courageously proclaimed. I can’t blame him for initially leaving, because the so-called Catholicism that we had both experienced was a load of rubbish. It was anything but authentically Catholic. It was painfully boring.

In the perennial battle between orthodox and heterodox Catholicism, between authentic and fraudulent Catholicism, I’d like to make one observation.  Liberal Catholcism is allegedly the peoples’ version of the faith. It’s supposedly relevant to real daily life and the issues that concern real ordinary people. It doesn’t brow beat or offend, but comforts and consoles; it’s non-judgmental and tolerant of diverse beliefs and life styles. In other words, it has been designed specifically to please the masses and is free and able at any moment to make the next requested adaptation to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.

Why, then, have so many Catholics left the Church in the heyday of liberalism? Because liberalism fails to provide humanity with what it most needs: namely, the supernatural gifts of absolute truth and divine grace. And this failure in the supernatural domain results in utter boredom, as it should.

Liberalism places before man an over-sized image of his own fallen self. This image is not for reflection, but for admiration. Liberalism does not invite man to recognize either this tragic human condition or the divinely provided remedy to it. Instead, it intoxicates man with self-love and produces self-adulation – the very antithesis of true religion. He falls in love with an image that is actually grotesque beyond comprehension; only, modern man has become blind to this type of grotesqueness, to moral and spiritual ugliness. He believes, not the hard revealed truth about himself, but only the lie that he is beautiful just as he is, just as he comes into this world bereft of sanctifying – and therefore, beautifying – grace. And He believes also that nothing in his personal behavior could increase this moral and spiritual ugliness. Hence the liberal mantra, “God loves and accepts us just the way we are.” I dare say that if this were the case, Christ would never have died on Calvary, for there would have been no need to die, no need to redeem humanity. And now that our Lord has objectively redeemed us, we must subjectively respond to His salvific plea.

The Catholic religion is the fullness of this salvific plea. It is the masterful divine scheme which no human being or society could have invented. It speaks to us the truth about God, man, the world, and the catastrophic human condition. And it offers to us the only solution to this catastrophe – absolute truth and divine grace, without which there is no salvation.

Liberalism cannot see or will not admit the existence of this preternatural catastrophe. As a result, it denies the substance of the divine scheme and the reasons behind it. It presumes everything to be optional and fully subject to its editing. Whatever is difficult or mysterious, it simply disregards without a concern that it might be necessary. “You don’t like this particular dogma? Fine, ignore it. You don’t like that particular moral precept? Fine, violate it. You don’t like the transcendence of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Fine, turn up the guitars and sing about yourself. Celebrate the community. Sing, not about man’s desperate need for God, but about God’s groveling love and admiration for man just as he is.”

There is nothing in this navel-gazing brand of anti-religion that the human soul needs or that cannot already be found in this world. We already have the self-help industry, human potential movement, and New Age spirituality. The world already offers a thousand ways to spoil, flatter, massage, and adore the self.  The Gospel is meant to be the remedy to this obsessive self-infatuation.

The Church is at her all-time worst whenever she tries to imitate this self-infatuated worldliness, because she was designed to be other-worldy and was given an other-worldly commission to “go out” to the world with the Gospel and bring in to the Kingdom of God all who have responded to it.  And ironically, whenever she is most this-worldly, it is then that she most neglects the world by withholding from it the divine scheme for salvation that is the Gospel. Such a treasure was given in order to be given.

In a morbid sort of way, I would like to know exactly how many of my old Catholic classmates have survived their liberal formation and retained any amount of belief, and how many regularly attend Mass, confess their sins, study the faith, and live a holy Catholic life. Based on the many studies on the state of the modern Church, I believe the number would be quite small. And this is the mathematical indictment of liberal Catholicism, of that “religion” that has abandoned man’s inherent religious nature, leaving him utterly bored.