Monday, January 09, 2023

Sharing Catholicism in 1989: one old priest and five kids, under the radar

I've mentioned a holy Catholic priest from "the old church" who soldiered on faithfully in the "new," keeping a low profile, doing what he was told liturgically but teaching the old faith, logically the only faith; ministering to people. A living example of Benedict XVI's hermeneutic of continuity. Here's another true story like that.

It's 1989 at an American Catholic college, one of the many that fell faithwise in the Sixties social revolution including Vatican II, intentionally or not, blowing up the European immigrant (Irish, Italian, Polish, and others) Catholic community in that country. The bishops were no great shakes, participating in that self-destruction, but anyway these colleges essentially disowned the church in 1967 in order to get government funding; not really Catholic colleges anymore, fortresses to defend the true faith, a different worldview and script from the rest of the country even though the rest was still mostly Christian, but colleges that only said they were Catholic.

This sports, frats, and business-school-minded place had really adopted the faith of "arriving" in Protestant American society, like the Kennedys: you can have it all including heaven as long as you're nice and PC, a get-along guy or girl, er, woman, with a nice beige accessory religion if you like as long as you don't make waves and it doesn't interfere with your real life... including making lots of money so you can give back to your alma mater! Basically, at the time this place, the recent winner of one sportsball championship, wanted to emulate America's powerhouse model of such schools (not really "universities"?), Noter Dayme in Indiana. I hear that now it wants to be more like the bigger, secular schools.

The school, started by a now-dying European religious order, as so many others, offered two in-house prayer and worship options that worked together, the theological Modernism (talking about truth is icky and prideful; just play nice - don't make waves, remember?) and unliturgical gimmickry of the school Masses ("THE church here at ABC U.," a perhaps well-meant but misguided notion of dumping traditional liturgics - a Catholic or Orthodox church is a temple as well as a fellowship gathering place - for a skit of the congregants ministering to each other) and wannabe evangelicalism, charismatics.

So you get the picture: not really interested in the Catholic faith anymore except, sort of, as a tribal/ethnic identity so the alumni keep giving and sending their kids and grandkids there.

In the midst of this were a few good souls like the parish priest I wrote about, not trying to have the banned traditional Latin Mass - being banned again as I type, the Catholic community now further breaking up, with a heretical Pope - but trying their best with the worship they were told to do.

In the middle of campus was "the monastery," really an old-folks home, largely retired priest teachers taken care of and kept out of view.

Thanks to one of these good souls, actually a sharp physics teacher who still had a course or two, trying to start a branch of the Irish 1920s lay apostolate the Legion of Mary at the school, another priest, born in 1899 (the only person born in the 1800s I know I've met), a retired sociologist (one of my favorite subjects by the way), and five kids, in their late teens and early 20s, met and started having weekly meetings in the parlor of "the monastery" so he could teach them the true faith in Jesus, true God and true man, right out of the old Roman catechisms and Radio Replies.

He even taught one of them to play a piece by Liszt on the piano. Christian civilization.

Also in "the monastery," in its little chapel not open to the public, these blessed five boys and girls and I got to see this priest make the best he could of the only worship he was allowed, the Novus Ordo in the bad English paraphrase a Pope would correct about 20 years later ("and with your spirit," not "and also with you"; important, "for you and for many," not "for you and for all" - fudging scripture was, to say the least, not cool), and "facing the people." He even got away with wearing a fine silk brocade Gothic chasuble with gold-threaded orphreys forming a cross, maybe something left over from before Vatican II (again, a Catholic church is a temple of sacrifice)... because it wasn't a public Mass. So it wasn't introibo ad altare Dei (the traditional Mass) or ad orientem ("his back to the people"), but the first time I'd seen any Catholic try to do high-church, "reverent" Novus Ordo. Something that I later saw you could find in England if you were looking for it (even though the country is very irreligious, much more than America - lots of little centuries-old reminders of Christian, even Catholic tradition in the culture). But here, the true faith was literally hidden behind a locked door out of shame.

I'm not saying worship services don't matter - the history of Catholic practice says they do - but rather that limitations on them need not stop you.

As I write it seems the authentic Catholic Church, which actually follows its teachings, is heading back into a shadowy, underground-like existence.

Good can come of it.

Thanks, Fr. Richard M. Plunkett. RIP.

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