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Why I Am A Catholic, Part I



As there is such a discussion around, I have decided to inflict my own take on you.

I am a Catholic by God's Grace. A good Lord disposed that I be born in a still seriously – at least at the cultural level – Catholic country. I lapsed, like countless others, out of my own fault, and out of despise for a clergy unable or unwilling – as I see very clearly now, most likely unwilling – to teach the faith, and chiefly worried of showing you that they were your “friends” instead of old, stuffy people resembling your grandma. They were pathetic, cowardly, mostly unmanly figures unable to attract the respect of ordinary people, much less of young boys looking for manly guidance.

I lapsed. No, it wasn't a grace. It was a big disgrace. It was wrong, sinful, and stupid. There can be mitigating circumstances for lapsing, and I was certainly unaware of the significance of the decision, nor was I helped by my environment. But a sin it still remains.

I went back to the fold – meaning, to the Sacramental life; I never ceased to consider myself a Catholic, as millions of other non-practising Italians – after moving to the UK and finding a Country in which Christianity was merely an option, and rather an embarrassment. As so often, when something you always took for granted – a Christian Weltanschauung – is not there, you start to become more curious, because you now more or less unconsciously start to appreciate it more, and feel its absence. It was easy, and mainstream, in Italy you tell yourself a Catholic without practicing. Not only millions did, but no priest hammered into you the difference. Everyone was so modern, you see; but still, all shared an awful lot of values, and there was a strong basis of shared values among Italians.

I started to put my nose into the matter. Slowly but surely, a new awareness began to grow. The Internet, and the London Oratorians, made the rest. “Seek and you shall find”. The Internet opened to me a world so different from the Italian bookstores of old! Instead of the cheap V II, populist, kindergarten, diabetes-inducing rubbish – easily recognisable as fake even when you do not really know what is authentic – I found an endless well of old-fashioned Catholic wisdom. This wisdom was not only so beautiful, but so inexorably logical, coherent, complete, universal and still absolutely monolithic, that it immediately fascinated a man acquainted with philosophy, and (in his own stupid way) in love with Christianity. It was a block of granite, smashing the stale, sugary molasses of Vatican II into non-existence.

Reality itself was staring at me, because Catholicism is the only way to understand reality, and until you manage to grasp Catholicism life itself will remain outside of your grasp. My (always strong) thirst for knowledge of Truth and for God – a thirst that I could never quench with the babbling idiots of my youth – was now satisfied. I could drink at a well so clear, so fresh, so true, that it was a world of wonder. The Truth I always sought was just there, in the very fabric of the society in which I was born, in the very religion that still shaped so much of it. It was in the robust wisdom our grandmothers had often imperfectly, but always faithfully formulated. It was, in the end, all there. But because of my fault, and arrogance, I wasn't able to look below the thick layer of V II mud and recover the old religion of exactly those grandmothers; a religion which, if I had been determined to rediscover it, would have disclosed itself to me, in time, by God's grace, without decades of lapsed Catholicism; because God can never, ever want that you stop living the sacramental life, much less send this to you as a grace.

By my most grievous fault I decided, certainly before I was 14, perhaps before I was 13, that the Church wasn't worth my attendance; and ended up two decades later spending hours on my collections of several Bibles – I had no less than seven different texts – and comparing bible passages, for hours, like a thirsty madman, or reading around in a confused way; always thirsting, always toiling, never satisfied, never knowing whom to turn to, the German priests of my adulthood even worse than the Italian ones of my youth.

When I discovered Catholic wisdom, I felt elated and very stupid at the same time. It was all there, all the time. The most wonderful gourmet meal, already prepared for me by countless saints as God's exquisite chefs. All there for the asking, and reading, and praying. All there, most importantly of all, for my own salvation, if God's grace assist me and I cooperate with it.

The Catholic Church was right. Is right. Always was, always will. The Catholic Church has all the Truth, and she is the only Truth. The Catholic Church is right even when your priest is an idiot. The Catholic Church is right especially when your priest is an idiot, because then Her immutable Truth shines the more in contrast with the sugary blabbering of her unworthy minister. And then, you love Her more. And when an Evil Clown is Pope, you love Her most.

Scratch away the layer of mud, my friend. What you will find below is better than the purest gold.




“We Never Had It So Good”

Was Francis not paying attention?

“We never had it so good”, said the Bishop of Rome verbatim to assembled religious.

Let us put these words in the proper historical frame.

Admittedly, the Church is faring well in Africa and Asia. Amidst violent intolerance and persecution of various kind, the Church – even the weak, mediocre Church of post V II times – is certainly advancing at a notable pace. I cannot say how orthodox the new converts and the local faithful are, but it is fair to assume on average they take Christianity far more seriously than their European counterparts. In the US the situation is certainly better than in Europe, but clearly nothing to write home about. The situation of Catholicism in South America is too well-known to waste time describing it.

Directing our attention to what I think can fairly be called the historical heartland, Europe, we note the following:

Mass attendance has greatly sunk, stabilising now at a dismally low level. The average age of the churchgoers is not encouraging at all.

Catholicism has lost its grip on Southern Europe. In the last fifty years alone abortion laws have been introduced almost everywhere, divorce has been established, sodomy laws have been abolished, and Catholicism as State Religion has disappeared. A similar, often more brutal process of de-Christianisation has taken place in those countries already weakened by Protestantism.

The crisis of vocation has led to a veritable exodus from the priesthood, and to the almost total stop of new ordinations in the “mainstream” orders. Again, the situation has stabilised in the West at a low level, and there are justifiable questions marks concerning the average quality of the vocations, let alone the quality of the instruction.

Catholicism is not taught anymore. Most baptised people couldn't point out to what it is to be a Christian, and would be unable to notice a substantial difference – much less, to say in detail in what it consists – between them and their, say, Chinese and Indian non-christian friends. A vague and undetermined good-ism is their religion, and if pressed they wouldn't be able to define Christianity in any other way than with nonsensical platitudes like “do no harm” and “do not judge”.

We see the consequences of this every day. Catholic instruction in continuous decline, Catholic values also in retreat, abominations called “alternative lifestyles”, sodomites mysteriously supposed to be “happy people”, and a genocide of unborn babies as daily, almost unnoticed occurrence.

All over the West, including the periphery (South America), either Christianity has all but been reduced to irrelevance (say: the Nordic countries), or is on its way to irrelevance – like in Great Britain -, or it is obviously and rapidly eroding in its core traits (Germany, France, even Italy), or in addition to the usual problems is being strongly challenged by Protestant communities, who make massive inroads among those who still take Christianity seriously (think of Brazil).

Francis spoke to an Italian audience; an audience of religious who must perforce have this erosion of Catholic values in front of their eyes every day. There is no chance Francis would, or could, just ignore their situation speaking of the Church with them. Nor did he, as he could have done, point out to the successes of the Church in some parts of the planet, whilst obviously mentioning the great difficulties in traditional Catholic territory.

No, Francis did not do it. His enthusiasm is unqualified. It is not even the fruit of hopeful optimism, the expectation of a turnaround to come. It is the celebration of the situation as it is now.

Now let us reflect on his words in the light of what we have learnt of this man in these last six months. Is he so blind, or so utterly gaga, that he cannot see the huge societal changes that have completely ravaged traditionally Christian – and Catholic – societies in his own lifetime? Has he forgotten the time when abortion was the preserve of Nazi Germany and Communist countries, divorce a taboo in all Catholic ones, sodomy universally considered an abomination akin to pedophilia and incest, the churches full, and a strong Christian spirit at the root of all Western societies, even those prevalently Protestant?

Can you believe that? I cannot. Truly, I cannot.

My reading of Pope Francis' words is a different one. His religion is not made of rigid defence of Catholic values, evangelisation, Catholicism as State Religion – demolished by the Vatican itself, by the way -, abortion as murder, sodomy as abomination, mass attendance as obligation, & Co.

His religion is made of inclusiveness, tolerance, and dialogue. He clearly believes that only the very worst – if any – go to hell. Conversion to Catholicism is not important to him. Not even conversion to Christianity, in fact, is, though no doubt he seems to believe it would add a lot of “joy” to the life of people now discovering they can't fornicate and abort at pleasure anymore (which is true in the ultimate sense, but not in the sense in which “joy” would be understood by the recipients of the message). He is fully unconcerned about the crisis of vocations; so much so, that when he sees empty seminaries and convents he thinks not how to fill them with seminarians and religious again, but how many people could be put there.

He is also fully unconcerned that the country with the biggest number of Catholics on the planet is about to introduce abortion; so much so, that he travels there and doesn't make of it I do not say the only theme of his visit – which would have been utterly justified – but not even a secondary one. He is fully unconcerned about sodomites in his entourage, and even allows himself arrogant jokes of extremely questionable taste about this alleged gay lobby members not having their own ID; but he is “concerned” when the faithful… count their rosaries; the rosaries they pray for him.

His respect for the laws of the Church is well seen at the liturgical abuse he committed himself on Maundy Thursday – yes, it's a liturgical abuse even if the Pope commits it; a Pope can change the rules, not ignore them ad libitum – and his understanding of religious reverence is also well seen at the football shirt and beach ball he left at the altar of the Blessed Virgin in Santa Maria Maggiore. As to his liturgical views, the Pinocchio Mass tells you everything you need to know. From one who authors a book together with a Jewish buddy of his who supports so-called same-sex marriage, frankly it would have been difficult to get much better. From his Lex Credendi you can clearly imagine his Lex Orandi, even without the YouTube videos.

This is Francis' Lex Credendi, then; and at this points, the pieces fall into place.

A person thinking in this way must, in fact, think that Church never had it so good. Never have there been so many “non-judgemental” Catholics around. Never have there been so few conservative “Pelagians”. Never have so little rosaries been prayed, much less counted. Never has the fake parody Francis smuggles for Catholicism been so vastly followed. Never has Catholicism been so “inclusive”, uninterested in evangelisation, indifferent to the murder of countless babies, blind to perversion, accepting of every behaviour under the sun, not fearful of hell, forgetful of the commandments, & Co, & Co.

Truly, Francis' fantasy church never had it so good.



Catholicism In England And Italy: Some Observations

Splendor Of Catholicism: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome.

Splendor Of Catholicism: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome.

I thought I would confide to the blog some of the differences I noticed between English and Italian Catholicism over Christmas.

1. More people in church, even considering there are many more churches. Still, I think Catholic Church attendance in Italy is even lower than in England. I draw the conclusion that in the last decades the number of masses has been reduced, or the number of churches, or both. Perhaps the Christmas season favoured higher Mass attendance, though I think this only works for Christmas day, or perhaps the churches in central Rome are particularly busy during the Christmas period. I went to Mass on several occasions, and visited more churches where Mass was ongoing (some of them threw visitors out; most didn’t), stopping for the homily whenever I could. Packed everywhere. This was, I think, surprising, and even the contrast with last year was visible. Again, perhaps it’s just me, or it is only in the historic centre.

2. Compared to England, Confession in Italy seemed a mass sport. Wherever I went confessionals were open for business, three or more at a time, and rather busy. This went on basically every day. I do not have comparisons with England because I never spend the Christmas holidays there, but it seems to me the use of the Sacrament was massive compared to what I am used to see. Suspicious that this was purely Christmas-related, I started to check the confession times on the billboards, and it seems to me the situation is much better than in England even outside of the Christmas time. At least in the centre of Rome, I’d say Confession is taken pretty seriously. It might change in more “progressive” parishes in the suburbs, though…

3. Confession in Italy is often lacking in privacy. You have those beautiful, old, carved wood confessionals basically wasted by having the penitent approaching the priest from the front and kneeling in front of him. The others who are waiting are just three-to-four metres away. There’s a continuous buzz in the air, and the constant danger of having your confession made public if one is a bit old and accustomed by declining sense of hearing to speak somewhat louder, whilst the church acoustics certainly does not help privacy. There was, in fact, no privacy at all. I know difficult situations can always happen (from one of the “closed” confessionals came the thundering voice of a Jesuit confessor certainly advanced in years, and in need of a good hearing device…; pretty much a nightmare scenario for the timid penitent…), but it seems to me the system of approaching the priest from the front with no other privacy than a handful of metres of thin air in a resounding old church isn’t the done thing.

4. I have assisted – adding the Masses I have attended to, and those where I stopped to listen to the homily whilst visiting – to at least a half-dozen homilies. All of them were of very high quality, with no trace of the “social smartass” attitude I remember of my younger years, and sound Catholicism wherever you turn. Again, I might have been lucky, or perhaps the central parishes tend to be more conservative. It angers me these obviously smart priests – those I have seen were generally fairly young – are either unwilling or not allowed to wage open war against the secular thinking. They are doing a good job nevertheless, though, and I never had the impression I could have heard the same homily in an Anglican or other Protestant church, as it happened to me in the UK on several occasions.

5. The santino (holy picture) was back in force. Many church had them printed and stored in front of several altars, for the faithful to take them away. Whilst I have seen them very occasionally in England, this was massive and the clear result of some concerted action or directive from the higher echelons. It wasn’t standard fare, either, but rather the santino of the saint to whom the relevant altar is dedicated. They were eagerly taken away by the Italian visitors and clearly ignored by most tourists, which I think is a clear sign they were taken up by those really interested in using them. A beautiful revival of just another Catholic tradition, which I hope will soon find its way to Northern European shores.

In general, my (highly subjective) impression is the Church is more robustly followed by her followers compared to two-three years ago, though as I have already written she is clearly slowly losing the battle of demographics in the country at large. A country where for decades a diffused Catholicism was often only a hand of varnish – but where Catholicism was deeply ingrained in the collective way of thinking – is probably polarising and dividing itself between those clearly taking their distances from Church teaching and those getting closer to her.

As I have already written, Italy is at the vigil of historic elections, whose effects might be felt for decades to come. Let’s hope the dam holds for as long as it can, and that it gives a more assertive, but still rather soft church the time to reorganise and prepare for an unavoidable war for the country’s soul. 


Will Catholics come Home?

Father Z informs us of an initiative of two US (Arch)Dioceses, meant to encourage Catholics who have stopped practicing to come back to the Sacramental life.

Whilst one can only be appreciative of every effort to get lost sheep back to the fold, I allow myself to point out to the fact that just to say “please, please come back!” will not yield a great dividend unless a ruthless analysis of why the sheep have gone away in the first place does not precede the initiative.

The sheep have gone away because the shepherd has become rather weak, rather superficial, rather cowardly and rather stupid. The sheep have gone away because the shepherd has become even too weak to tell them that they are supposed to stay within the fold rather than being scattered everywhere.

If the shepherd starts telling the sheep “what do you want to do today?”; or to appoint a sheep comittee to tell him how to make his work; or to substitute his daily job of being a shepherd with that of being a “friend” of the sheep; or to talk to the sheep about social justice rather than caring for their welfare and security or, in general, to tell them that in these enlightened times the sheep have become so evolved that they don’t need shepherding anymore, it is really no surprise that the sheep become less and less.

Nor will the sheep come back just because the shepherd starts telling them what a good company he is, or what fun, or how socially aware they’ll become if they start being near him (being “led by him” is a word he would, obviously, never use) again.

The way to attract the sheep to the fold is always the same one: to be a good shepherd. The is what the shepherd should never have stopped doing. If the shepherd starts recovering the notion of the importance and dignity of his role, the sheep will slowly but surely start gatherng around him, because they see in him a refuge and protection, and indispensable help on their journey through life. Then, and only then, will the shepherd be able to lead them effectively and to let them feel protected and cared for.

Too many within the Church have renounced their role (particularly when unpleasant) and refused to do their job. This comes at a price and my impression is that the bad shepherds who did so will be punished far more severely than the careless sheep unable to see any use in them.

The recovery of church attendance goes through a recovery of the role of the Church, of the role of the priest sunday after sunday, homily after homily and controversy after controversy, of the basic understanding of what the Church is.

As long as this analysis is not done and the painful (for those looking for popularity and, ohh that word, relevance) consequences consequences of the choices to be made are not clear, there’ll never be any increase in church attendance.


The Papal visit and doing one’s homework.

Huge crowds and ailing Church: John Paul II in Chicago, 1979

The Catholic Herald deals with the effects of the Papal visit, or better said with the hopes of Archbishop Nichols about the same.

My personal opinion is that the effects of the papal visit are being vastly exaggerated and that this exaggeration is conveniently used to cover the fact that like their American counterparts, the bishops of E & W can’t do their job.

These events only have a momentary effect due to some days of intense media coverage, but are largely forgotten once the media coverage has shifted somewhere else. There will certainly be a positive effect on some individuals, but the work and the future of the Church in England cannot be based on short-lived media events. On the contrary, the future depends on serious and courageous work made on the ground every day. Looking at the English clergy it is clear that this is exactly what is not happening.

The past, “historic” visit of JP II – a success by any standard with vast media coverage, massive popular participation and many people touched at a personal level – has been followed by a sharp decline in mass attendance in the following decades. There can be no better evidence that no amount of media coverage can take the place of making one’s homework.

Archbishop Nichols has just seen the last Catholic adoption agency forced to abandon its Catholic character or close altogether. In front of the current situation of Catholic adoption agencies, a courageous Archbishop would have been firing from all cannons for months now, not neglecting one single occasion to make his voice strongly, aggressively heard, rallying his sheep to vocal and organised protest, becoming a serious electoral threat for all those publicly advocating anti-Catholic values and not hesitating to distribute all the excommunications needed to give force to his battle.
Archbishop Nichols prefers to give interviews about the Papal visit instead.

The real problem in this country is not the organisational blunders of the Papal visit, but that we have a toothless clergy feeling perfectly comfortable with their own irrelevance.

Archbishop Nichols is not delivering the goods, nor is any one of his E & W colleagues.
No degree of success of the Papal Visit will ever be able to counteract this.


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