Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Keeping your balance in the 21st century Church

When you are standing up in a rocking boat, I suppose it is easy to lose your balance. The photo is of a lady in Canada who was invalidly and illicitly ordained (off-shore) as a "Catholic priest". But I am not so much concerned with her (Lord, love her) as with some other examples of theological and spiritual vertigo. I lately became interested in Michael Voris of Real Catholic TV. He has been presenting the case for orthodox Catholicism at WYD in Spain - or so I was led to believe. To be honest, I don't know enough about him, but he is being criticized by some fairly balanced (in my view) people for being OTT and not quite honest in his criticisms of others. This led me to think about the Corapi debacle and other "mistakes" of the contemporary Catholic scene.

I have been celebrating the 1962 Latin Rite now for about two years. I like it very much, but I am only able to celebrate it about three times a month. I tend to wear my cassock most days when in church (and have been doing, more or less, since I was ordained in 1975). I bought a biretta some years ago and wore it for funerals (because I was fed up of wearing a beret and a raincoat over my shoulders at the graveside when it was raining - and looking like something out of a French film). I was quietly criticized (by a fellow priest) for wearing it. I even have a cincture and sash! I am noted (I think) for being what some call "traditionalist", but I am not. I prefer to be called orthodox (as opposed to heretical or even, perhaps, liberal). I try to be balanced in my approach to present difficulties in the Church. It is not easy. If I say one thing, I am a traditionalist; if I say another I am - so it was said - a "modernist" (even). People do like labels and pigeonholes. I suppose it makes life easier for some.

I have become concerned at the behaviour of some priests who have now taken to wearing not only full soutaines (nothing wrong with that) but capes and those round brimmed "flat" hats (perhaps even with tassels in some places). It's not just the apparel, but sometimes ( I say sometimes) the affectation and attitude that goes with it. I remember the "black sheepdog" (Corapi) going on about polyester vestments, and I have heard others getting upset about the same thing. Alright for them - they have the money. In all of the parishes where I have been PP there has been a lack of funds for decent, expensive vestments and so, I have had to use, most of the time, polyester ones. These points may seem like so much drivel to the man on the Clapham omnibus (or the Heckmondwike to Leeds double-decker) but I am trying to indicate a danger without doing what I think others are doing - attacking fellow Catholics too much and from a narrow position. I don't mind a fellow priest wearing a flat hat. There is a well-known American priest who wears a cowboy hat and boots to match (I wish he wouldn't). What I am trying to say in all this is, please let's keep our balance and not go around knee-jerking all the time or swanning around as though we have suddenly discovered what being a priest means or just woken up to the beauty of the pre-Vatican II Church (it was not all beautiful you know). I am just getting a bit worried again that too many good things and sacred truths are being voiced by people who are certainly grinding axes and wielding swords. In other words, there are too many self-appointed Elijahs out there. Perhaps I am even one of them, but hopefully with enough of a sense of humour to stop myself turning into a boring old nuisance.


  1. Very well said Fr John.
    My parish priest, who died very recently ( may The Lord have mercy on him)was as saintly a priest as I have ever met, and he celebrated the liturgy with a dignity and solemnity that often moved me to awe.
    I was hurt when a traddy friend came to mass with me and found fault with some small detail.
    Sometimes it is as though certain catholics are forever scanning for clues as to which side of the fence one sits on.

  2. Thank you Father, I agree that a sense of humour is vital and the ability to laugh at oneself. Too many people take themselves far too seriously! Of course we must also be sensible and sensitive to certain situations. St Teresa said she wished to be preserved from gloomy people!When I was nursing it was important to impart some cheer into the most sad situations, not in an inappropriate way--one of my patients once winked and gave me the thumbs up even when he was gravely ill, and a smile often works "magic,"though it is vital that the patient has confidence in you and trusts you, needless to say!

    Who said souls are saved by the holy not the busy--that has just come into my mind.

    We call it common sense round here, and it can sometimes be in short supply, and indeed should be applied to our Church situation as you have ably explained.St Teresa was a great mystic with lots of common sense and a great sense of humour!I am not sure if we have any like her any more.
    I find all this crying and carrying-on on TV particularly tiresome, these "celebrities" often who I have never heard of are all at it these days, often --though not always--for very
    trivial reasons and oh! the swearing and worse. I seem to have strayed a little from your original point.......and after all I don't have to watch these things, far better to stick to my books!



  3. I trust you because you have the humility, ability to self reflect and don't mind speaking to us as you might to your own conscience, on matters suitable that is.

    I think I am trying to say, what we see is what we get. Whereas with (for example)the black sheep dog, this was obviously not always the case.
    I remember listening to his CD on addiction and at the end he says to the listener about the battle with addiction not being over until it is over and to pray for him, not to be suprised if we hear he is dead in a dumpster. i was unwell myself at the time, but knelt down immediately after I heard the words, as a cold shiver went through me (or whatever it is people mean when they sense that)and I also liked him for saying this, it was humble, in what had been, a very grandiose testimony.
    I think I heard the real John at that moment, in that sentence, I did pray for him. Maybe I ought to continue.

    Certain priests, when they speak of changing habits (pardon any pun) do so, I believe, to genuinely be a better witness to Jesus, for others.

    I know this, whenevr I see a priest or nun outside, it has a very reassuring effect on me, like a reminder of God's abiding presence.

  4. Dear Fr John

    A post that I appreciated reading. Thank you.


  5. "...looking like something out of a French film"

    Awesome! Keep up the sense of humour. These "extremists" can be embarrassment.

    Reluctant Sinner gives a reasonable report on Voris but I'm still withholding judgement, and on the Ordinariate gentleman whose deferrment continues.

  6. Jackie Parkes brought up 10 practising Catholics- a massive achievement. Would that have been possible pre Vatican II? I doubt it.
    The Catholic blogosphere is dominated by "extremists"
    It would be easy to think this is real life. It is not.
    I am glad you encouraged the more balanced blogger to continue when he felt despair at this situation some months ago.
    I'm sure you could say more about the old times but would risk a full-scale attack.
    Perhaps I should do it but I suppose my comment would not see the light of day on any blog that needed to be reminded.

  7. Well, just as a response to this let me say that I know a VERY orthodox theologian who specializes in medical morals who said, some years ago, that one thing that definitely needed reforming was the way in which moral theology was taught. This is not about content, but presentation, but then if the presentation is bad (or slightly mad) people will not understand the content properly will they? Please note I am not arguing against the basic moral teachings (which remain) but the way they were presented. I might say the same for catechesis. Nowadays, we have poor content (or lack of it), then, we often had bad presentation, even causing nightmares to some kids. What we needed was the same content presented in a more humane and compassionate manner, what we ended up with (until now) was sentimentalism (or better, emotionalism), an overemphasis on experience (thank very much Rousseau) and an obsession with telling everyone how wonderful they are to the point of making them think they could not sin. It's a mixed bag really, but certainly the old stick across the knuckles routine for not knowing your French declension or for missing Mass (when it was probably not your fault) was also overdone.

  8. An uber-traddie southerner priest DINING with Voris!

    A frail, very elderly, blogging southern priest receiving comments that used obscenities.

    You couldn't make it up!

    Quite frankly, when you hear this I'm glad I'm a long way north of Watford.

    This week toasted and feted, next week down the tubes as the American would say.

  9. Common-sense here Father John. Thanks.
    Why do the ones trying to turn the clock back ignore what the people prefer AND the Holy Father.

    From Abbey Roads:
    "I'm no expert to be sure, but it seems to me that the Holy Father is just fine with the Ordinary Form of Mass. It is my understanding that he celebrates the so called Novus Ordo every day. We know he celebrates all of his public Masses using the Ordinary Form with great reverence and solemnity. Obviously the Holy Father loves the Mass, which explains in part why he issued the Summorum Pontificum. Nevertheless, I think it noteworthy that the Holy Father always celebrates Mass according to the Ordinary Form - the Novus Ordo of Paul VI.
    I don't think it is ever a good idea for anyone to try and think for the Pope, or to put words into his mouth, or to interpret what he is really saying and doing to suit one's agenda.

    (I've sent this elsewhere also, and let Abbey Roads know)

  10. Copy of my complaint to A Reluctant Sinner:

    I have reason to believe that the comment concerning Father John Abberton in relation to Vassula Ryden is from a bogus source, and I would be grateful if such unjustifiable, defamatory remarks were not published, out of consideration for those who value his orthodoxy and enquiring, open-minded Catholicism.
    Thank you.

    Cc. Fr John Abberton

  11. Thank you Jocelyn. It is often a sign that someone like Vassula is authentic when this sort of thing happens. It is those who are never attacked, misunderstood or vilified that we have to worry about.