Why a Beautiful Mass Is Not Enough

We have a huge problem in the Catholic Church related to what happens when Catholics go to Mass. It’s described in an article entitled “Changing the Culture,” written by Bob Sutton and published in The Catechetical Review this past spring. This article is at the top of my list of what every Catholic in the United States needs to read.

Sutton quotes Section 1072 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that sacraments “must be preceded by evangelization, faith and conversion.” If this evangelization, faith and conversion have not taken place, even the most beautiful Mass will not be fruitful for those who participate.

In fact, the word “participate” is not even an adequate word. As Sutton explains, the Mass is not about participation. It’s about transformation. And there is no transformation, no fruit from our being at Mass, unless even before we go to Mass, certain realities exist.

Those realities are the following:
(1) We have a personal faith in God.
(2) We have a personal understanding of what it means to give our life to God.
(3) We desire to live a new life in Christ.
(4) The new life we desire flows from personal repentance and conversion.

If any of these 4 realities are missing, the fruitfulness of the sacraments can be blocked.

For the majority of Catholics, these realities are not only missing, they are not even talked about. As Sutton says about his experience, “No one had ever modeled for me in my Catholic schooling or in my parish a discipled life flowing from the Eucharist, complete with active and visible spiritual fruit.”

Sutton asks some really good questions:

“Are those who participate in the liturgy being transformed by the encounter with Christ that it provides?

“Are the activities in the parish organically flowing from and connected to the Mass as an engine of spiritual power?”

“Do we think God is happy with warm bodies rather than active disciples?”

Please reflect on these thoughts, these questions. We’ll talk about the “evangelization, repentance and conversion” that Sutton refers to in our next post.

The Inner Ring aka The Glazing Syndrome

How influenced are we by being part of something that seems so good, so wonderful and/or so important to us? As a result of our sense of belonging to something that seems so good and special, are we susceptible to being compromised in subtle ways? Are we naive or blind to the fact that our loyalty might be taken advantage of?

In my comments in the last year to friends and officials of the Catholic Church, I have referred to what I have called “the Glazing Syndrome,” which is a reference to how the eyes of Catholics glaze over when thinking and speaking about the clergy and the leadership in the Catholic Church. The glaze keeps us from seeing, or from refusing to see, aspects of the Church that are seriously wrong and in need of purification and change.

In a recent article by Rod Dreher, he sets forth an excerpt from C. S. Lewis in which Lewis describes what he calls the “Inner Ring,” which seems to identify the manner in which personal integrity can often be compromised. I thought this description was so thought-provoking that I wanted to share it with you. Here it is:

One last thing: read C.S. Lewis’s speech about the “Inner Ring”  — that is, his identifying the desire to be inside the circle of those in the know, those in power, as a dominant motivator of human action. Could it be that the man, the friend of Cardinal Law’s, was partly motivated not to see the truth in front of his nose, not just because it would force him to recognize something terrible about his friend the cardinal, but also because it could push him out of the Inner Ring? Lewis said to his audience:

And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

Only the Lonely

Some of you old-timers might remember the hit song from the 1960’s, “Only the Lonely,” sung by Roy Orbison. At the time it came out, I doubt that anyone would have foreseen that it would capture a condition that would become a serious problem in the U.S. By 2019, however, loneliness studies have become the hottest trend in sociology.

A 2018 survey conducted by Cigna found that nearly 1/2 of Americans report “sometimes or always” feeling lonely. Young adults, ages 18 to 22, are the loneliest age group of all. Loneliness has been linked to eating disorders, elevated stress and heart and immunity problems.

You might recall that in 2003, an intense heat wave struck Europe, which caused the death of 35,000 people, most of whom were seniors living alone without air conditioning. Of that total, 14,000 deaths took place in France. Poverty did not account for the deaths, but loneliness did

In Japan, about 4,000 elderly people die every year without being discovered until the smell of their bodies draws the attention of neighbors. They have firms which have made a business of cleaning out the apartments of old people who die alone.

All of this is documented in a book by Mary Eberstadt entitled Primal Screams, summarized in a recent article written by Barbara Kay in the National Post. Eberstadt points out that the dying of the elderly in a state of loneliness is a phenomenon in the richest countries, not the poor ones. She believes that the sexual revolution created what she calls the “Great Scattering,” the result of the breakdown of the family as the key component of our culture. The sexual revolution brought sex without responsibility, sex without children, promiscuity, no-fault divorce, contraception, abortion and other ills, all of which contributed to increased alienation and isolation. Technology has of course added to the intensity and frequency of loneliness.

The emphasis on privacy as a fundamental right has contributed greatly to the spread of loneliness in the United States. It has been used to justify the separation and killing of children by their own mothers, sending the message that privacy is even more important than life.

I remember when a couple who lived next to us and were wonderful neighbors moved out and were replaced by a very unhappy mother and her equally unhappy adult daughter. They had no interest in having any interaction with those who lived around them. We found out that they had researched whether they could legally put a privacy fence around their front yard.

We will all be seeing more news and commentaries on increased loneliness. We can all pray that the spread of loneliness will help us reflect objectively on the consequences of behaviors that have become common and maybe even popular in recent decades.