Burning Faith

Why We Must Not Fiddle While Rome Burns

June 1, 2010

By Philip D. Ropp

     On July 15, 1979, then President of the United States Jimmy Carter addressed the American people concerning what his administration had identified as a "crisis of confidence" within the country's population.  This was perceived as a general uneasiness and uncertainty brought on by a continuing energy crisis, and the ensuing economic woes of the day.  In an attempt to get a feel for the pulse of the nation, Carter's pollsters had determined that the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster had brought the nation into a state of ongoing malaise.  In fact, though the word never appears in Carter's text, this address has been known ever after as the "malaise" speech.

     One line in this address to the nation was as follows: "In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption."  More than 30 years after this speech, in a time and context far different than the America of the Carter years, it is interesting to note that if the word "church" is substituted for "nation," we have a fair statement concerning the current state of Catholicism in the United States.  Over the past 50 years, the radical ecclesial and liturgical changes that followed the Vatican II Council; the tumultuous social and moral changes of the 1960's and 70's; the strange death of Pope John Paul I, and the near assassination of John Paul II; the clergy sexual abuse, Banco Ambrosiano
, and Marxist political scandals have brought the Church into a similar and parallel state of malaise as that observed by President Carter in the America of the late 1970's.  Indeed: both evolved from the same mid 20th century cultural ooze.

     The malaise that we face today as American Catholics was not precipitated by the unholy changes wrought by Vatican II, as the Traditionalists would like us to believe.  To be sure, much of the change envisioned,
including renewal of the Church, a constructive ecumenical dialog, a deeper understanding of the modern world, and a tighter definition of the role of the hierarchy were all healthy goals and long past due.  If carried out within the established Magisterium or "Teaching Authority" of the Church, as defined by Sacred Scripture and as refined by nearly 2000 years of Sacred Tradition, there was no reason to believe that the future of the Church emerging from Vatican II would be anything but holy, boundless and exciting.  As Pope Paul VI said in 1972, "We believed that after the Council would come a day of sunshine in the history of the Church."

     But the "if" turned out to be bigger than anticipated.  Seizing the day of opportunity that Vatican II represented, the leftist faction of the
Nouvelle Theologie ("New Theology") movement, as inspired by the previously Vatican condemned theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and as represented by radical leftist theologians such as Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, and Edward Schillebeeckx inspired an increasingly left leaning hierarchy to impose an agenda of change that represented nothing less than a coup d'etat against accepted Catholic Teaching and Tradition.  This lead Pope Paul to lament that instead of the forecast day of sunshine, "...there has come a day of clouds and storms, and of darkness..."

     At the heart of Teilhard's new theology was a scientifically enlightened world view that interpreted Scripture in the unsupernatural terms of the Protestant German school of Biblical history, as represented most prominently by Julius Wellhausen.  From the Wellhausian perspective that the early Genesis Eden stories are nothing more than the mythological literature of a pre-Jewish Palestinian culture, it is easy to make the backward leap of faith that original sin is ahistorical and, therefore by implication, this releases humanity from the need of salvation - and the need for a savior.  Teilhard opted for a sweeping and somewhat fanciful view of the cosmos that called into question Catholic theology all the way back to St. Augustine, and this resulted in his major work, The Phenomenon of Man, being condemned by the Church.  Pope Pius XII published his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis
in refutation of Nouvelle Theologie in general, and the theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in particular.

     Original sin is the foundation upon which Catholic belief is built.  According to this doctrine, man began his existence as an eternal being, and is fallen from grace as evidenced by the very fact that each human being born into life on earth is also cursed to die.  This is the result of the temptation to disobedience extended by the serpent to Adam and Eve, and because they succumbed to this temptation, we bear their curse, and live under what is called the "stain" of original sin.  Like the other life forms we share the planet with, we live and we die, but because this original sin was committed within the historical context of this life on earth, no matter how accurate or inaccurate the details of the Eden story might be, the reality of our potential to be rescued from this original sin, and so gain back the eternal life we have lost, is contingent upon these historical core truths of the Genesis account.  In short, if original sin is not an historical fact, we have no hope of salvation.  From dust we have come and to dust we shall return.  Period.

     Evolutionary theory teaches just the opposite: that humanity arose from lesser life forms through the process of natural selection, and that man is a mortal being ascended to the pinnacle of life on earth.  Human beings exist only in the physical realm, and while intelligent and highly conscious of the world around them, they are, none the less, mortal, animal beings only, and a part of the same earthly schema that all life on this planet belongs to.  Whatever man aspires to, he does so on his own, and when his days are over, he returns to the earth from which he came, and that is the end of the story.  Progress takes place, but it is a gradual process that occurs with no intelligent control other than that which humanity injects through its own devices, and the goal of life is the survival of the species in the temporal realm and this alone.  It is this world view that is at the heart Teilhard's theology, and it is the perspective that is embraced by the leftist proponents of Nouvelle Theolgie.  Not only is this view of reality incompatible with Catholic Teaching, it is, moreover, the antithesis of it.  And while a theology built from this viewpoint may seek to answer certain spiritual questions, it must necessarily do so in a way that is anything but Catholic.  The inherent danger in this is both obvious and sobering.     

     At the heart of the Catholic Faith is the ancient belief that because humanity's fall from grace was the result of sin, it is possible to overcome death through the sacrifice of a perfect and sinless man.  It is the witness of the Catholic Church, as taught by the apostles, who saw this accomplished in person, that Jesus of Nazareth was, and is, this perfect man:  That He was perfect because He was God Incarnate, and that through His Precious Blood, shed for us at the cross, we have the potential to be rescued from death so as to live with Him in heaven forever.  And it is the further witness of the apostles that the evidence that this is so is found in the historical fact of the Resurrection:  That after Jesus suffered, died and was buried, He rose again from the dead and testified to the truth of this teaching, and is alive forevermore.  And because He is alive forevermore, He will return at the culmination of human history, so as to take those who belong to Him and remain on earth to be with Him in heaven.  At this time, the devil and his minions are subjugated to eternal torment in a lake of fire, salvation history is complete, and original sin ceases to exist forever.

     In ancient Israel, the Temple sacrifice, in which an unblemished yet still imperfect lamb was offered up for the sins of the people, only had the power to remove the curse of personal sin.  Since man's nature is inherently sinful, this sacrifice had to be repeated periodically so that the accumulation of sin since the previous rite could be expunged from the soul.  Only Jesus Christ, as the perfect sacrifice, has the power to remove the stain of original sin, and because this original sin was a one time only event, and because the sacrifice is perfect, the cross is a one time only event.  Therefore, the Sacrifice of the Mass is in no way a repetition of the crucifixion, but a mystical visitation to the original, once and for always event, so that we may have the benefit of the unblemished and perfect Lamb of God, who continues to reenter into our realm of time and space in this miraculous way, so as to remove the periodic accumulation of our personal sins. 

     When the concept of original sin is removed from Christian belief, the whole of this traditional theology comes tumbling down like a house of cards.  If there is no original sin to atone for, then there is no need for an atoning sacrifice.  If there is no need for an atoning sacrifice, then the holy worship of the Mass is no longer a sacrifice at all, but merely a gathering to celebrate whatever it is we perceive our relationship to God to be.  And this relationship becomes totally relative to our own self perception and identity as each of us decides to define it.  This explains the balloons, clowns, dancing and other blasphemies that have come to characterize the post-conciliar Mass.  Keep in mind that it was the goal of Vatican II that the changes to the liturgy that would inspire the Novus Ordo Mass would result in a form more accessible and understandable to the faithful:  It was not intended to transform the Mass into a pagan circus or Feast of Fools, and the rapidity and the depth to which this was accomplished is testimony to the both the organizational skills of the left, and the extent to which the hierarchy and the educational apparatus of the Church had been influenced by this kind of counter-Catholic theology prior to the Council itself.  And it gives one a new appreciation for the difficult life and times of Pope Pius XII.

     In the world of Teilhard and those who have followed in these footsteps,
Jesus ceases to be God Incarnate and becomes merely a teacher of Jewish platitudes, elevated to the Christhood through the overly zealous actions of the apostles, and defined in His role as Savior through the theologizing of the early fathers of the Church.  Seizing on the works of the various quests for the historical Jesus that have come and gone over the past three centuries; works which seek to separate the "historical real person" of Jesus from the contrived figure of the "Christ," the leftist fringe has recast Him in any number of roles suitable to their agenda.  Since the historical Jesus scholars all eventually come to the same conclusion; that the Church has made such an historical mess that the true human person of Jesus has been lost forever, then the door is open to recreate Him in any way that furthers the goals that any particular leftist faction is promoting.  Therefore, to the Marxist proponents of Liberation Theology, he becomes a type of martyred revolutionary hero after the order of Che Guevara.  To those promoting the Catholic feminist and homosexual agenda within the Church, He becomes the itinerant and liberal sage of the Jesus Seminar; an effeminate peasant preaching an all inclusive social gospel, and someone who the gay community can enthusiastically embrace as one of their own.  And in the leftist dominated parishes, the new "modern" image of Jesus is a "demythologized" blow dry icon to self indulgence, whose resemblance to the satirical "Buddy Christ" of the 1999 movie Dogma is too close for comfort.

     In retrospect it becomes obvious that the revolution in the Catholic Church that we have experienced over the past five decades was already well under way before the Vatican II Council convened in 1962.  The Nouvelle Theologie movement that inspired the Council envisioned a modern Church in dialog with the world, but with the traditional core beliefs and values of the ancient Church retained and considered unassailable.  Indeed, the original movement was not envisioned as a "new theology" at all, but as a return to a more faithful interpretation of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.  The name those within the movement chose for it was "Ressourcement," a French term meaning "return to the sources."  Nouvelle Theologie itself was a pejorative term hung on the movement by Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and indicating not a return to the sources, but a new and dangerous theology that deviated and departed from the long standing theology of the Church.  The debate that emerged during the Council between the leftist camp (as outlined above), espousing this new and dangerous theology, and those on the right, as represented by Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar,
and Joseph Ratzinger  (now Pope Benedict XVI), who attempted to hold to the stated goals of the movement, would result in a post-conciliar split of Nouvelle Theologie into two different and bitterly opposed camps - a split that exists to this day. 

     The effect of this theological debate has been to splinter the Church into essentially three opposing factions: Tradionalists, who believe the Council itself moved the Church away from the legitimate foundational beliefs and true practice of the faith, as last expressed during the reign of Pope Pius XII; Conservatives, who hold that the Council opened the door to abuses by those who purposely interpreted the documents generated in such a radical way so as to violate canon law, denigrate Catholic belief, and deviate from traditional Church Teaching; and Liberals, who claimed that the "Spirit of Vatican II" provided license to move beyond the changes as mandated by the Council documents, and into a brave new world in which the Church was the problem, and the solution was to radically overhaul and change Her priorities and practices, under the guise that this was somehow a return to a more historically grounded expression of the faith.

     It was not Vatican II that allowed the camel of sin and apostasy to put his nose under the tent, it was, instead, the event that allowed him to push his way fully into our midst.  The various agendas of the left came into play so quickly and fully during the years after the Council closed in 1965, that even from our current historical perspective, the blitzkrieg of change appears breathtaking.  Long before the Novus Ordo Missae became the Ordinary Mass of the Church in 1969, the guitars and maracas of the so called "Folk Mass" drifted forth from the sanctuaries of churches across the land.  And when we look back from our time now, at the close of the first decade of the 21st century, and realize that it was during the mid 1960's that the clergy sexual abuse of Catholic youth was reaching its peak, then it is also clear that the "homosexualization" of the priesthood had also been accomplished in some large measure prior to the Council.  The most disrurbing aspect of all of this change has been a turning away from the traditional Catholic belief in salvation through the shed Blood of Christ, to a belief that, in the absence of original sin, the new faith of the Church must embrace not only the sinner but also the sin.  And the reason why this has occurred was, again, stated in the most direct and frightening of terms by Pope Paul VI:  For a " of sunshine for the church..." did not dawn; a " of clouds and storms..." appeared instead, and the reason why this occurred was because "...the smoke of satan [had] entered the temple of God."   

     Clearly, the malaise that grips the American Church of the 21st century is not unwarranted.  The general uneasiness and the tension that exists within the Church are the result of this very real conflict that goes on just below the surface of the Catholic facade:  Exists below the surface because of a hierarchy and clergy that was, at one point in time, so thoroughly infiltrated by the exponents of this un-Catholic form of Catholicism that it held a majority position within the Church, and fostered such nationwide leftist organizations as Call to Action and the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the ChurchOrganizations like so many others that claim to represent this "renewal" of the Church as inspired by Vatican II, yet do so by the preaching of "...another Jesus ...a different spirit ...[and] a different gospel" that St. Paul warned the Church at Corinth of in the 11th chapter of his second letter to them.  And we would do well, as the Church in this postmodern age, to heed the warning of Paul to the Corinthian Church in his day, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, who masquerade as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.  So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness.  Their end will correspond to their deeds."

     On the level of the local parish, this has translated into a horrid and misplaced formation of the faithful that has taught that the vast changes taking place in the Catholic Church were, and in some cases still are, the result of the implementation of this "spirit of renewal" as mandated by Vatican II - a lie of vast and staggering proportion.  The infighting and dissent that this has caused within so many of the affected parishes has resulted in a dwindling participation in the life of the Church, and has finally stabilized in the form of an uneasy truce in which those who favor the new ways, and those who cling to the remnant of the more faithful traditions of the past, seek to co-exist and somehow find unity in the midst of this leftist induced diversity.       

     How did such a situation come about?  From 1973 until 1980, the man entrusted with assigning bishops in the United States, Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Jean Jadot,
  methodically replaced retiring bishops with hand picked proponents of this far left agenda.  During his tenure, Jadot was responsible for naming 103 new bishops and 13 archbishops.  So profound was his impact that Pope John Paul II made the comment that Jadot was guilty of "...destroying the Catholic Church in the United States" when he fired him in 1980.  And if Jadot was responsible for destroying the hierarchy, then the homosexualization of the seminaries, as reported by Michael S. Rose in his blockbuster book on the subject Good Bye! Good Men, gave us a compromised priesthood, and this combination has resulted in the ongoing horror of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. 

     The malaise that we feel is the result of a Church that is today split between the more traditional expression of the faith that has returned slowly but surely during the reigns of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the generation of bishops, priests and laity who remain in positions of authority from the earlier days of the Jadot apostasy.  The present strategy for each faction is to entrench itself and wait out the other.  If the papacy continues to promote the faithful expression of the gospel as experienced so far in the reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI,
then the liberal abuses and abominations will eventually die out, and the faith will come back to a healthy, orthodox center point.  Conversely, the left hopes to wait out the reign of the octogenarian Benedict, and hopefully manipulate the next conclave towards a pontiff more sympathetic to the cause of their neo-modernism:  A pontiff who, if he follows the left's plan for this new incarnation of the church of the future, will surrender the centralized authority of the papacy into the radical hands of a coalition of Marxists, feminists, homosexuals and other secularist reformers, bent on transforming the Church of Jesus Christ into a new and more worldly organization created in their own image.

     In the middle of this stand off, and sometimes caught unwittingly in the crossfire, are we, the Catholic faithful who seek to practice and live our faith and realize the goal of eternal salvation as God would have us do.  Considering the tensions and emotions that have characterized this struggle, and which have served in some cases to erupt into angry and ugly confrontations between these factions, the bishops and clergy of both sides tend to seek the path of least resistance:  To steer the faithful away from confrontations over these vast differences in theology and policy by focusing on virtually any other issue.  And so the war for the very heart and soul of the Catholic Faith that goes on in our midst has become the elephant that sits with us in the sanctuary that we dare not mention.  Even faithful bishops and sincere, well meaning priests who are tired of the destructive and unsettled nature of this dissent try to treat this situation as merely a difference of varying opinions, and pose the same weary question asked by Rodney King, "Can we all get along?"

     It is the attitude of the Church that such issues as this are the responsibility of the hierarchy, and that the role of the laity is to observe the time honored admonition to merely "pray and pay," and hopefully do this in an atmosphere of goodwill.  While this may present a tempting alternative to that of actually getting actively involved in what the hierarchy and clergy consider the "private" affairs of the Church, there are several reasons - and good ones - as to why this is not the course of action (or inaction) that the Lord would have us pursue.  These are the reasons why we must speak up:

     First of all, the strident and militant approach of those on the left seeks to enforce this un-Catholic agenda at all costs, and in particular does so by insisting that those who practice the orthodox expression of the faith are somehow the ones who are morally and spiritually defective.  In this scenario, anyone who practices such traditionally Catholic devotions as the Holy Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is assumed to be so focused on heaven that any real concern for humanity is impossible.  Given the opportunity, those who cry the loudest about issues such as the perceived  "marginalization" of women and homosexuals by the Church, will jump at the chance to marginalize the faithful Catholic.  Marginalization of the believing faithful leads to parishes that cater to an agenda of heterodoxy rather than representing the true expression of the faith.  It is our right as Catholics to serve Jesus in a parish community that expresses the true faith, and it is our responsibility to insist that our bishops, priests and religious encourage this and make it happen according to Catholic Teaching.     

     Secondly, as Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility to evangelize this true faith of Jesus Christ to the world.  For God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him would not perish but be blessed with eternal life.  If God so loves the world, how much must His heart ache for those in the midst of his Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church who have, through unfaithful catechesis and unholy leadership, suffered the death of true faith and lost the knowledge of salvation at the cross.  Like charity, evangelization begins at home, and it is our duty and obligation to our lost brothers and sisters to do what we are able to reconvert them to the true faith of Jesus Christ, as taught by the Magisterium, and as witnessed to by His Church since the days when the apostles walked the earth.

    The third reason why we must speak up for the true practice of the faith is because it is our obligation to do so under the Code of Canon LawCanon 212 reads as follows:

In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, all with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.

     It is, therefore, our duty to Holy Mother Church to be educated as to what is the right and proper practice of the faith, to share this expression of the faith with our brothers and sisters in the Church, and to share our opinions pertaining to the good of the Church with the hierarchy and clergy.  And, of course, to do this with all due respect and with the love of Christ in our hearts.

     The fourth and most important reason why we must not sit back and do nothing at this crucial time in Church history is because the events going on around us are representative of the war in heaven that rages between God and the devil.  If we are to take the words of Pope Paul VI at face value, that "
...the smoke of satan has entered the temple of God," then we must be forever mindful that the struggle that we face in our parishes, dioceses, archdioceses and all the way to the Vatican itself, is not a mere human debate concerning the modernization of ancient doctrines and dogmas, but the primordial spiritual battle that originated in heaven, culminated at the cross, and concludes with the victorious descent of the New Jerusalem.  And we should again take heed of the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 6, verse 12, which echo down to us from the first century of the Church with an eerie and prophetic accuracy, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

     We must remember that the Catholic Faith does not center around the theological debates and the differences that exist within the Church:  It is centered in Christ.  While it is easy to become angry at those who practice abuses within the Church, and tempting to fall into the trap that satan has set for us and choose sides and battle one another as he intends, the futility of this approach merely fuels the spirit of destruction that he has been able to plant in our midst.  I have written about this in an earlier essay, Day of the Dove Revisited: Making Peace in the Catholic Church
.  To succumb to this temptation towards violence, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual is to become blinded by the smoke of satan. 

     The solution is now, and will always be, what it has always been: salvation at the cross through Jesus Christ and by Him crucified.  And when one reaches that saddest of all points, and no longer trusts in this ancient revelation that the Church was founded upon and has preserved for us, then perhaps the time has come to cease being Catholic.  This would seem more logical and certainly less damaging to the soul than to persist in the attempt to sway those who yet do believe away from the the faith:  "Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!
"  If the conclusion has been reached that the ultimate and ongoing witness to the truth of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is not so, then it would seem expedient for all that one who holds such an un-Catholic belief would cease to be a minister of Holy Communion.  Yet those who no longer believe, and those who no longer know Jesus in this intimate and uniquely Catholic way, do persist in serving in the Church, and in doing so prove to be a source of ongoing frustration, as they attempt to lead astray those who do believe and do know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  Would they not be more content in a Protestant denomination that believes as they do?

     The reasons why Catholics stay in the Church when they no longer believe are many and varied.  Some may remain within the Church because they have been hurt or abused in the past and want to assist in the destruction and rebirth of what they perceive to be a defective institution - even if this means leaving behind all that is right and good.  Some may truly and sincerely accept this modernist theology that no longer believes in sin, or that Jesus has any more power to save us than Buddha, Mohammed, or Confucius.  They may believe they are doing right by evangelizing this to others in the form of a New Age Christian Syncretism that poses as Catholicism, and seeks to unite the world in human brotherhood.  Many remain because at some deep and profound spiritual level, they know that they are lost, and they stay involved in the Church because they know that the ultimate truth is here, and they are desperate to find their way home and back into the light of Christ.  Regardless of the reason, it is the responsibility of the faithful Catholic to hold the door of truth open, and live the faith as a witness to those who have, for whatever reason, lost it.  For what human plight could be more tragic than this, or explain any better Jesus' teaching on the seeking out the one lost sheep who belongs to Him?

     Clearly, the one thing that we cannot do as believing and practicing Catholics is to sit on our hands and merely trust in the hierarchy to solve our problems.  The ongoing horror of the clergy sexual abuse crisis is evidence enough to the truth that this has not worked.  While there are those that claim that a complete revision of the Church system is in order, the reality is merely that we need a hierarchy that operates faithfully within the structure that has served us well for two millennia.  And contrary to the claims of the left, Vatican II in no way authorized or even suggested that the ancient structures of the Church should be altered or done away with.  The Council was intended as a tune-up for the Church - not an overhaul.  Most of all, we need a faithful and informed laity that is united in the cause of evangelizing the true gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than in the earthly politics and gossip of the Church.  And should we place our focus here, we shall discover that the most powerful person in the Church is neither bishop, cardinal, nor pope, but the educated layman who knows his faith and practices it as Christ would have him do. 

     In the end, the smoke of satan is indicative of a Church that has become inflamed by the passion of the world and in so doing has, in no small measure, compromised the Passion of the Christ.  One of the outcomes of Vatican II that has not been fully realized is that it did give the faithful the voice and the ability to hold the feet of the hierarchy to the fire, and insist that the Church of Jesus Christ be faithful to the gospel as preserved in the ancient and Holy Magisterium.  Contrary to the cries of the liberal left, this is the "Spirit of Vatican II," and it is the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who brings us home to Jesus where we belong. 

     Should we choose to be like Nero and fiddle while Rome burns, we must do so knowing that the outcome will not be the same for us; Nero got away with this.  If we choose to allow the devil and his minions to fan the smoke of satan into such an all consuming conflagration as that which burned the ancient city, then we will have much more than an ongoing malaise within our Church family to be concerned about.  Should we leave it to the Master to extinguish the flames that we ourselves have allowed to rage out of control, then we will bear the chastisement that is rightfully ours:  For it is precisely this task that He has entrusted to us.