Have you ever met someone who loves Our Lady, loves going to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, tries to get to Confession twice a month, and the Holy Mass daily, reads the Sacred Scripture often, and can quote popes, saints, and Church history as if he were talking to his mother? Not to mention being fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew – not to mention a host of languges picked up from his ‘travels.’ Seems like a pretty good Catholic – wouldn’t you think? Oh, I forgot, working with Mother Teresa’s people and being in the St. Vincent de Society are also features of his life. If you ask him, however, is a he a Catholic he’d say: “I used to be, but now I’m no longer welcome.”
It’s a remarkable response. If you ask, “What did you say?” or “Pardon?” or simply, “Why?”, you’ll hear an answer that leaves one wondering: “Is this true?”
Here’s what I heard recently, delivered in a calm, almost sorrowful tone, but one at the same time with deep authority.
“I used to be a Catholic. When I was little I was an altar boy and wanted to be a priest. Then things happened.”
I started to fear the worse, “Oh no, not another child abuse story.”
“No, it’s not what your thinking. All the priests I knew when I was a boy were great men. They were mostly Irish. Fr. Murphy was my favourite – he was our Parish Priest. He used to be a boxer, and when he was a young priest some local lads spat on the then parish priest’s cassock. Fr. Murphy punched them back into Mass! No, the priests I knew were all faithful. None of them ever taught rubbish, and they would always be there to hear my confession. I couldn’t have asked for more. Especially when home on leave.”
I began to realise there was something else.
“It wasn’t the priests that changed. It was ‘the changes’ that changed them, and they in turn changed every around us. I don’t think they meant it – well not the ones I knew. I tried to remain faithful even when almost everybody else left. Maybe it was because I was away so much that I could step in an out of the chaos. I think I’m the only one from my old school class – there were about 30 of us – who still comes here. I loved the Mass. I loved Adoration. But I was eventually told by some other priests: ‘Your being selfish with your narrow minded ways.’ I probably was. War can make one very selfish. I kept coming. I kept listening and hoping they were right. I even became a big pope promoter since I had a strange, non-Catholic, idea with regards to him. When we were little we learned to sing hymns that honoured the Pope and the Faith. The new priests (and the new lay people – people I thought were like me since they stayed) told me that those hymns were wrong. ‘The theology is wrong’ is what they said. We got new hymns, or I should say, ‘songs’. I kept coming, even although any half-educated Catholic could tell you the ‘theology’ of the new hymns-songs was anything but Catholic.”
Then he stopped. Tears were now in his eyes, even although he was still calm and measured. What was this all about?
“Then they brought in the ladders, and the work men. ‘We’re just going to do a few alterations to update things.’ That’s what the new priest told us. ‘So we’ll have Mass in the hall for the next few weeks.’ I kept coming.”
“I kept coming even when they took us back to the Church for what they called ‘Mass’ – or rather ‘The Eucharist’. I kept coming, even although Our Lady’s statue was gone when I returned; and I heard people were told to leave their rosaries at home during the new mass. I kept coming when on leave even although the Tabernacle was gone, and even although the beautiful Crucifix was replaced by a figure of something unrecognizable. I kept coming. They told me the pope wanted it this way, but while on duty I couldn’t find it in the official texts that I would read in the original languages.”
When old people cry I don’t really know where to put myself. I’ve been with people in places of war. I’ve been with the soldiers who have told me of the atrocities they have committed. I have been with mothers’ whose babies have died. When old people cry, however, I feel a deep sense of hopelessness – as if their whole lives have been wasted; as if all wisdom is gone. When old soldiers cry I listen.
“Why do you still come?”
“I try to love God with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength; and my neighbour as myself for the love of God. That was the Catholicism I was given from my parents and grandparents; from good teachers and good priests – but now I’m not ‘catholic’. I don’t see anything here left from what they gave to me. Maybe it’s my ‘dark night’ of the senses. God knows. What I know is that someone decided to do the things that happened here. What ‘catholics’ believe today is not what I was taught: they call it ‘Catholic’ but I call it ‘catholic’. How it happened I don’t really know, but the Protestant friends I grew up with now say to me: ‘Ah John, it’s good that you Catholics have become like us. We’re all God’s children.’ And I wonder, ‘Have we really become Protestants.’ I think so. The ‘catholics’ I know are ‘protestants’ but they don’t know it because they don’t know what protestantism is, or it’s more recent name of ‘modernism’. Fr. Murphy wouldn’t recognize the parish he lived and died for, and neither do I. But why do I keep coming? Well, when I was small I learnt three prayers – besides the usual ones: an Act of Faith, an Act of Hope, and an Act of Charity. I’ve learnt lots of things since but most of it is ‘straw.’ No one ever told me not to remember them, so I simple think about them when the ‘catholics’ are doing their thing. I remember that God is Three Divine Persons, and that all the Truths the Church teaches are from Him because He ‘can neither decieve nor be deceived.’ God is the God of principles. If the priest, or any other ‘catholic’ speaks rubbish I simply hear those words that remind me that God cannot decieve or be deceived. In fact, when I tried at one time to be a ‘catholic’ – especially with my papolatry – I hit a brick wall. I couldn’t make myself believe new teachings as if they were true. Neither my reason nor my faith would sleep with a contradiction.”
“And hope – how do you hope?”
“When I hear falsehoods I don’t dispair because I say: ‘Oh my God, relying on your infinite goodness and all powerful mercy, I hope to obtain the gift of Heaven, the means to achieve it, and remission for all my sins through the merits of Jesus Christ.’ My hope is not in something men will do, it’s what God will do through His Church. I don’t presumme on His mercy, nor do I despair about His Justice. They stand together. I’ll be punished for my sins – that is just and right. Life in this fallen world is a penal time, but if I trust in His goodness then that punishment will be filled with Mercy. It will be His grace that saves me if I persevere to the end. I’m not a ‘catholic’: I tremble at the thought of having to stand before God, because I have rejected so great a love. ‘Lord, I am not worthy…’ I keep coming because I’m not a ‘catholic’. God doesn’t change, even when change it is all the fashion. It is contrary to His nature.”
I was lost for words. “Does it make you sad, or angry? What do you feel about it all?”
“It’s not about my feelings. I have three obligations to fulfill. All my other ones are gone: my wife is long dead, the children are grown up, life is now in it’s winter years – I’m not expecting a phone call to go any more special operations. Yet, my obligations are what they always were – even when they more specified in marriage and fatherhood, and military service. I must know, love, and serve God. Those are the duties of every Catholic. It is the young ones I mourn for – they are no longer given principles from which to operate. Principles, those foundations for human actions, are being smothered in them. Nor are they given the divinely revealed principles on which to live lifes in accord with God’s law. He commanded me through the Church to live as I have lived. When I was a P.O.W. in the War – His principles were the same. It was the same in the Gulag, and later in Korea. When I was caught and held by the Viet Cong – I had His principles. All through my life I have had His principles from which to operate. When I acted against them I knew: my conscience passed judgement and, by His grace, I confessed my sins. When I saw others acting against them I confessed my sins, and heard my grandmother’s lesson: ‘Remember, John: there but by the grace of God go I.’ She had no modern theological ‘linguistic event’ contradicting her reason. My job was to work with men in battles, and not to leave them behind. I kept going because of His principles. Sadness? Anger? My feelings? They are not the measure of winning a war. It is God’s Church – they can’t destroy it. Souls are being lost because few are dying for them; few have the ‘perfect love of God and contempt for self’, as St. John of the Cross says.
“St. John of the Cross? Do you read him much?”
Again he smiled.
“Do you know what he said is the ‘exercise’ that is ‘the sum and root of all virtue’? He said that, ‘…the way of God consisteth…in one necessary thing only, in knowing how to deny [oneslf] in earnest, inwardly and outwardly, giving [oneself] up to suffer for Christ’s sake, and annihilating [oneself] utterly.’ As the iconoclasts destroyed the parish church I was given the grace to suffer with Our Lord. When they came for the altars and statues He drew me deeper into His Passion. When they destroyed the Sacred Music, He allowed me to share in His suffering the sounds of derision and blasphemous sermons. Hearing men cursing and screaming obsenities in battle cuts deep into the soul. When they refused to fight for marriage and the family – standing by as the children were slaughtered, the marriage bond attacked, and the marital act defiled – I remember men in battle who froze at the sight of death. It gave me a compassion for those who look for glory in the wrong places, and are seduced by the world’s promises of peace. There is no peace in this life: only the peace of fighting for Our Lord against ones fallen human nature, and being faithful to one’s duty. When they taught eutopian and banal doctrines I remember the imbecile tactics and commands given by career leaders. Their folly cost many lives, and I prayed for the souls of the dead – especially those still living but living in mortal sin. God gave it all to me. Why? Well, it is all being given by His Providence to lead me to Him. Even the present debacle: more non-Catholic teaching and behaviour being sold as Catholic. I’ve seen it all before, but it is still painful to watch. I must need more purification for my sins; and if not Our Lord will use the suffering it brings for the salvation of souls. Even to save one soul – would that not be the greatest feat any soldier could do in battle?”
“Surely you’re a Catholic, John”, I insisted.
Again that lovely old smile from an old soldier who had fought, and still fights, based on principles. (I always wanted to ask him about his life as a soldier but…somethings you don’t ask).
“Yes, I’m a Catholic, but not a ‘catholic’. I was left behind; no-one came back for me but I was never alone since my Guardian Angel stood by me. We were trained never to leave anyone behind – this was toughest in the jungle. ‘Never abandone your brother’, is what we learned. Are there many Catholics left behind? Well, I don’t think they’re welcome here any more. I know they just smile at me – the old special forces man who still prays his rosary in Latin. I suppose it’s only the ‘being nice to each other’ that unites us now. It is certainly not faith and morals. Do you remember what they did with the Mass – I mean THE Mass – when it was finally recognized as being a treasure that could not be abrogated. Well, in this diocese and in most others, they played lip service to what fed our souls for generations. Even when we were fighting in Burma the priest did every thing possible to make it as truly fitting of the worship that is pleasing to God. Worship in spirit AND in truth! Those of us who asked for it to be restored to it’s proper place were laughed at, or accused of being devisive. Every other group is accomdated or should I say, given ‘pastoral accompaniment’ but old soldiers need not apply. It’s the principles that cause the problem. One bishop – a ’68er – said to me while laughing: ‘You’re too rigid, John – and the pope is saying it now too!’ I just replied, ‘He’s right, My Lord (he doesn’t like being called ‘My Lord’ so I call him it as often as I can!). Yes, the Holy Father is right – I’m too rigid, I can’t run my ten miles everyday!!! It’s those principles, or maybe it’s the genetic entropy!’ Smile and pray for him, that’s what I do. He was never taught how to spell ‘soul’ in seminary, so why should I think he’ll be interested in saving mine. Yes, I’m not a ‘catholic’ as the world sees it, as most of those around me see it, or even as that bishop sees it. I have been blessed all my life with so many graces and being a ‘left behind Catholic’ is also one. My hope that as St. Joan (my patron in more ways than one!) said that if ‘…I’m not in a state of grace, He’ll put me there; and if I am, may He keep me there.’ Afterall, there are only two kinds of human souls: those in a state of grace, and those that are not. As a a Catholic, I know which state I want to be in when He comes for me.”
“What if the Pope against you?”
“I was a soldier most of my life. I recieved orders, and obeyed them, only when they were rooted in principles. It’s the same with any pope: if his teaching is not rooted in the perennial principles then it is not a teaching that can be believed – you cannot believe in ‘square-triangles’, or glasses of whiskey made out of cyanide. That’s the problem with questions of marriage today: the Church should have simply said when people were, as they say, ‘redefining marriage’, ‘Sorry folks – metaphysically impossible!’ Problem? Yes, reason has been abandoned, and so the Church has nothing to use to present the truth in season and out of season. I don’t worry about popes, however, since the Church’s teaching is clear. Benedict XV – one of my favourites – once said:
Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: ‘This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved’ (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim ‘Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,’ only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.
I keep coming here because I try to live that – without contradicting what Our Lord has taught through His Church for two thousand years.”
[The above conversation is based on various characters I have known. Does John really exist? Since ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers are not the ‘catholic’ thing you’ll have to take a Catholic answer: No! Is this piece reflective of what many people I know have encountered? Yes!]