By Charlie Johnston
Today, on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Pope Francis has dramatically restricted celebration of the Latin Mass. So, now it is right and proper to have an offering to a pagan goddess on the altar of Christ (Pachamama) but the celebration of the venerable form of Mass promulgated at the Council of Trent nearly 500 years ago is too divisive and must be banned? Those dissident Priests who teach that Christ and the Apostles were wrong about the acceptability of homosexuality and that God has no right to determine a person’s gender are encouraged by this Pope to go forward in their “ministry” while orthodox Priests the world over are being canceled by their faithless Bishops?
This Pope says that the traditional Latin Mass has been used to undermine confidence in Vatican II, so this form of the Mass must be restricted to ultimately wither and die.
Vatican II was not a breach with the past. At the very beginning of it, Pope St. John XXIII emphasized that the Bishops were not gathered to cancel or even set aside any defined Church teaching, but to understand those teachings more profoundly and promulgate them more effectively. Neither did the solemn Council promulgate any new teaching or condemn any common current error. It was, fundamentally, a pastoral council. Alas, the devil set his minions to work almost immediately, co-opting the true spirit of Vatican II, which was to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world by means that were accessible to all, and replacing it with heretical teachings that were, in fact, a break with the revealed truth of the ages and was actually contrary to the actual spirit of Vatican II.
The knowing placement of an offering to the pagan goddess, Pachamama, on the altar of Christ and its acceptance by Pope Francis was a fundamental breach with Magisterial Church teaching. I regarded it, at the time, as the “abomination which makes desolate” (Matthew 24:15-16). The Amazon Synod, at which this desecration occurred, closed at the end of October 2019. Within six months, Christian altars throughout the world were, indeed, made desolate when the Covid panic arose. Bishops throughout the world rendered unto Caesar that which was not Caesar’s, but was God’s. Thankfully, many of those Bishops have come to regard it as a mistake, a mistake borne of panic. They are no more irredeemable than those Apostles who fled in panic at Caesar’s first coordinated attack against the nascent Church at the passion of Christ. Now they get to choose whether to return to the fold and act as true shepherds and evangelists – as all but one of those first Apostles did – or to join with the Pharisees inside the faith who cheered on the assault on Christ and His followers. I fear we have more Judases this time around than we had at the beginning.
I regarded the Pachamama debacle as the moment when Pope Francis excommunicated himself from the Church Triumphant, yet remained as Pope here in the Church Militant. From that moment, I would have been supportive if the Cardinals of the world moved to declare Pope Francis excommunicant here and, thus, the see of Peter vacant. But that unprecedented move was theirs to make, not mine. Certainly, some Doctors of the Church, including the great St. Robert Bellarmine, anticipated such a possibility and laid the foundation for how the Cardinals of the Church could address it. But it is the College of Cardinals who must address it, not just any organization, lay or clerical, which has a dispute with a sitting Pope. Those organizations (other than the College of Cardinals) which maintain they have the authority to judge the matter for themselves (rather than just stating an opinion), are themselves heretical. Their thundering pronouncements are a proverbial case of the blind leading the blind.
There is a common misconception that the Holy Spirit chooses the Pope. No, the College of Cardinals chooses the Pope. The Holy Spirit makes Himself available to any Cardinal who has the wit to ask, but God does not revoke the free will even of Cardinals on such an occasion. The catch is that, whatever man does, God uses it to advance His will. I think Pope Francis has done a magnificent, if unwitting, job of encouraging the enemies of Christ within the Church to reveal themselves publicly, so the separation of the sheep from the goats could be completed in God’s good time. They came out because they thought – and think – they are winning.
In 1205, St. Francis of Assisi responded to God’s call to “rebuild my Church.” At the time, the Church was rife with dissension, corruption, and a worldly attitude that sought power and influence rather than fidelity to God. In the midst of the time when hand sanitizer replaced holy water in our Churches, I could not help but think often of the story of how, when St. Francis came upon a leper while riding his horse, he stopped and gave the leper the kiss of peace. The baleful irony of a Pope who focuses on political enthusiasms while encouraging those clerics who attack and seek to sunder Magisterial teaching and deny the Gospel proclamations of Christ and the Apostles taking the name, Francis, is not lost on me. If truth in advertising laws prevailed, he would have taken the name, Saul, after the persecutor of Christians or the King who persecuted David. Of course, the persecutor of early Christians became St. Paul, the Apostle and Missionary to the Gentiles. The King of the same name abandoned hope in God, consulted with the witches of Endor and died in battle the next day. David was anointed King and proceeded to mourn for King Saul, who had mercilessly persecuted him. I sometimes privately think of our Pope as Pope Saul, nurturing both the hope that he will find his Damascus and the conviction that, if he does not, he will suffer the ignominious end of the king of the same name.
Now that Pope Francis has deeply constrained the use of a worshipful form of Mass promulgated by a solemn council of the whole Church almost 500 years ago, it IS a breach with Salvation History. It IS a breach with Pope Benedict’s motu proprio of 14 years ago which recognized both the Ordinary (Novus Ordo) and Extraordinary (Latin) Masses as complementary and guaranteeing freedom to the faithful to celebrate either. Cdl. Robert Sarah has been tweeting the last few days that Pope Benedict’s reform is irreversible. I don’t know whether that is accurate or not, but I do know that Pope Francis has made a fundamental breach with his predecessor and with the Council of Trent.
For myself, though I personally prefer the Novus Ordo Mass, I will now endeavor to attend at least one traditional Latin Mass each month and really learn it well. I will obey those orders this Pope gives that do not obviously contradict Scripture and the Magisterium and are not outside the scope of his authority, even as I loudly denounce his abuses and offenses, even though I believe him to be a heretic and, perhaps even, an anti-Catholic bigot. I do so for the same reasons David was deferential to King Saul even as Saul plotted against him. And I pray that God lift this scourge from His people.
Right now, the devil is feeling his oats. Throughout the world, anti-Christian bigotry, persecution and even martyrdom is growing. In most nations, including America, petty tyrants whose names will be forgotten to history a minute after they leave power, exult in their ability to tell the faithful when, how, and if they can worship. Faithful Priests are confronted with obstacles put up by secular rulers who seek to shut them down – and sometimes even by their own Bishops. In Canada, terrorists are burning Christian Churches while Canadian officials give a wink and a nod to the terrorists. The presence of cemeteries near Churches is absurdly cited as evidence of mass graves and of genocide. Individual burial plots are not “mass graves.”
Leftist governments throughout the west, what was once unironically known as the free world, are taking political prisoners and boldly maintaining that unelected bureaucrats have more power over the poor plebes than the divine right of kings of olden times. They wage an ever more furious war against Christianity and orthodox Judaism because they know that their most dangerous rival is not to be found in a political party, but among those who believe that God is One.
It is a trap – for them. But it can be one for us, as well. The great majority of people act as if they believe there is not really a God, or that if there is, He has no power. Those who openly attack the faith (and they are legion) act with no fear of even the possibility of divine retribution. Many on our side are tempted to adopt the scabrous tactics of those who wage war openly on the faith as if God is in danger of being toppled if they don’t. We must fight hard, but our tactics must always be calibrated to, first, call our tormentors to repentance and, second, to defend our faith, our families, and our freedoms. I don’t rule out very hard action: remember, my most noted patron saint is St. Joan of Arc. Passion is a useful, but dangerous, tool. In affairs of the heart, passion brings warmth and life when ensconced in the framework of marriage. When disordered, it degenerates into raw and serial sensuality that brings sorrow and decay. So it is with matters of faith. When confined within respect for the dignity of the human person, it is an effective means of making our stand. When it degenerates into bitterness and wrath, we turn our face from Christ and begin to sink beneath the waves. Oh, how I long to be able to express with power and effectiveness the knife’s edge we must walk in these times – neither to shrink from the battle nor to descend into nihilistic rage.
The Book of Revelation is important to me. I do not primarily interpret it through either a literal or a linear lens (though there is a pinch of both there). I regard it as, primarily, a series of templates, of types of challenges we must face – that we might recognize them and act appropriately when they are upon us. Revelation 20 describes, at one point, all the armies of the world gathering for battle around the saints. “And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them…” (Revelation 20:9). Despair is rampant among the faithful. Many believe it is the end. I hear from them every day. Soon, almost everyone will so believe, as offense is mounted upon offense. But it is also written that “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). That does not just – or even primarily – mean those who physically endure, but those who endure in their supernatural faith, hope and love.
Early last fall I started meditating deeply on the Agony in the Garden. I had long thought that, once great troubles came, everyone would convert. Though I had suspected it for years, I realized with certainty last year that many will never convert – and so will be lost. I think a huge part of the Agony in the Garden was Jesus’ sorrow that, despite the magnitude of His sacrifice, many would reject Him – and life – anyway. I got a far deeper understanding of that sorrow last year. Many among even those who proclaim themselves Christians and Christian ministers do not believe at all. How to address this? I do not discount the witness of our words, but it is the witness of our lives that will bring the most back to Him before the fire falls from the heavens. I am angered by the assaults of the enemies of the faith, but mostly I pity them, for they doom themselves. What I fear most is failing to give effective witness to one who might hear it because I was wallowing in anger. Lord, lead me in a plain path, turning neither to the left in anger nor to the right in fear. Lord, lead me in a plain path.
So we go forth, purifying ourselves with a clean heart before God before going into battle, offering first mercy and wisdom before the clash begins – as St. Joan of Arc always did, trusting that though it is ours to fight the battle, it is God’s to grant the victory.
I think things will speed up hideously now. The battle lines have been drawn. You can’t casually pile offense upon offense without calling forth God’s intervention. At the decisive moment in Revelation, all seemed lost. The enemies of the faith were filled with hubris that nothing could stop them from wiping out all vestiges of the faithful from the earth. When the fire from heaven comes forth, I do not want to be found neglecting the work of my own hands in God’s service, presuming that I needed to do nothing but wait for Him to sort it out. Neither do I want to be found trusting in the work of my own hands, as if that could turn the tide of an unwinnable battle.
We cannot prevail. We can only stand, fearlessly and boldly trusting to God to vindicate Himself and us, His followers, while we continue to proclaim His Kingdom even as so many of those around us seek to destroy us, while calling their own viciousness tolerance and their malice love. I will fight and not hate. But as an offering for this latest offense, a lot of my praying will be in Latin now.
How long, O Lord?