shuffles through notes
“Rum, sodomy and the lash”? That’s the British Navy. Or a cracking album by the Pogues. Still not quite there.
rustle of papers
Ah, here we are! “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion”! Speaking as a rum-sozzled (and you’ll see the application of that later on as you read down, since this was conceived and partly written whilst partaking of Captain Morgan’s and Coke), rebellious (remember: when in doubt, blame the Brits!) Romanist, I have to ask: Why do you say that like it’s a bad thing?
Okay, here is where I (as a representative of my Church, God help us all) set myself up as an Aunt Sally for you lovely, lovely people out there to throw sticks at. Anything and everything that has ever annoyed, or currently is annoying, you about the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – here’s your chance to get it off your chest. Don’t worry about political correctness or holding it all in or even common courtesy (to an extent – nothing too vicious that will cause the moderators to ban your backside until the Second Coming, please!). I won’t be offended by anything up to and including “Your cult is not a Christian church, you’re all pagan goddess-worshipping idolaters and you’re going to burn in Hell along with your father the Devil and his servant the Anti-Christ, or as you call him, the Pope”. This is also equal-opportunity bashing; don’t feel obligated just because you had the water poured over you at Our Lady of the Perpetual Bingo Nights to keep things under your hat out of some sense not washing dirty linen in public or not fighting in front of the neighbours (family rows are the best free entertainment!) Whether you come from the Society of St. Pius V (who broke with the Society of St. Pius X for being too liberal) or the Giant Papier-mâché Puppets of Doom wing of Holy Mother Church, this is an opportunity for you too to get stuck in to your co-religionists. I’m not going to reply to any comments (I may make further comments of my own, because when did you ever know me to be able to keep my beak shut?), do any further explaining of abstruse theological points or popular devotional practices, or use this as a teaching opportunity – I’m not trying to draw anyone out, I’m not laying back in the snipe grass waiting to pounce, I’m not making any kind of a point. This is your excuse to vent without fear or favor. I’m just going to sit here with an objectionable grin plastered on the front of my big turnip head, unassailable in my sense of Romanist superiority to the lot of yez.
To kick things off, here’s my list of ten things that really get up people’s noses about the Catholic Church. It’s not arranged in any kind of order of either gravity, relevance, or ascending/descending order of importance. It’s not even a proper Top Ten, just ten random things that popped into my head for no particular reason except that I’ve heard them/read them in print/read them online/have a vague notion somebody said something along these lines sometime somewhere. Please, I invite you all: fill up the comment boxes with your own lists and annotated reasons why the Catholic Church either as an institution or in the persons of its members drives you spare!
(And with that invitation, Jeff and Chaplain Mike have their very first reason why a Catholic is driving them up the wall).
1. We have a Magisterium and you don’t.
Never mind the fact that the average John or Jane in the pew probably can’t even pronounce “Magisterium”, much less give an accurate or at least working definition of it, we have one and you (probably) don’t. So what is it? One previously-owned Magisterium, lightly used, in excellent condition, owner must sell as going abroad, all reasonable offers considered, choice of colours for first sixty applicants?
You would not believe how crazy this drives some people inside the Church, for equal and opposite reasons. More on that further down in another point.
2. We don’t know what we believe, but we’re pretty sure that it’s better than what you believe.
Following on from the above, thanks to the dreadful state of catechesis in the English-speaking world (and I’m not so sanguine about other areas either) over the past thirty-something years in the wake of the much-abused Second Vatican Council, most Catholics (unless you meet a convert, who actually had to learn and remember all this stuff before we’d let them in the door so we could hit them up with the collection envelopes) haven’t a bull’s notion of what exactly the doctrines and dogmas of the Church are, despite being dragged to Mass every Sunday and holyday of obligation plus going to some school founded, run or staffed by nuns or brothers. This is not some fake nostalgia (all my nostalgia is real and freshly-picked from verdant green meads, dew-wet under the Spring morning sunrise!) for the Good Old Days, because back then people were just as ignorant, but at least they had rote memorisation of the old catechism to fall back on to parrot off to an enquirer (for instance, it really spooked me when out of the depths of the far distant past one of those learned-it-when-I-was-seven answers floated up out of the darkness of my subconscious in reply to a question on a point of doctrine but by God, it worked!) I have also had the experience of being the only person in a group of about nine or ten women who could recite the Ten Commandments, though once I got started, a couple of the older women chanted along because their memories were stirred. This was on a training course under a Government scheme for unemployment some ten years back, and not anything to do with Bible study, so you can see I’ve been making myself obnoxious about religion for quite a while now.
To prove that the Good Old Days weren’t all that good, see this excerpt from a novel written by a convert and published in 1945, “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. Basically, the scene described is when the errant father of the family comes home to die, the family want him to have the priest, he doesn’t want this, and the uncomprehending and exasperated family friend wants them to give him an answer as to why this is so important or what they think the priest can do anyway?
“There were four of you,” I said. “Cara didn’t know the first thing it was about, and may or may not have believed it; you knew a bit and didn’t believe a word; Cordelia knew about as much and believed it madly; only poor Bridey knew and believed, and I thought he made a pretty poor show when it came to explaining. And people go round saying, ‘At least Catholics know what they believe.’ We had a fair cross-section to-night –”
Anyhow, I am given to understand that this kind of slap-dash approach can be really irritating to our separated brethren who have their favourite Bible translation ready, copiously highlighted and bookmarked and underlined, with killer verses that they are all fired up to use (recitation in the original Greek optional) once they get into a good, blood-warming apologetics cage match with a Catholic, upon whom all this effort and knowledge is wasted when said Catholic goes “What’s that? A Bible? Wow, you mean all that Mass readings stuff is collected together in a book and doesn’t just come in those snippets on the missalette for Sunday?” and all the rapid-fire recitation of facts and unanswerable spiritual conundrums is met with a shrug and “Hey, it’s the Pope’s job to worry about that stuff. Sorry, gotta go: I have a statue of St. Joseph to bury upside-down in my cousin’s back yard so she can sell her house.”
3. Can’t sing, won’t sing
Seeing as how it was St. Augustine himself said “To sing once is to pray twice”, I don’t know what kind of parishioners he was accustomed to in his local church since most of us aren’t any too keen on praying even once. Okay, so Hippo was in North Africa, and at least that means he had congregations who could hold a tune and were happy to belt one out, but come on: expecting the rest of us to raise our voices in church? What are we, Protestants?
And our contemporary art is pretty bad, too – and as for the Giant Papier-mâché Puppets of Doom…oh, you thought I was joking about those?
Sorry, Holy Father, you may be encouraging us that beautiful art is a doorway to God, but we still have a long way to go to get back to the glories we once took for granted.
He said that visiting churches, art galleries and museums “is not only an occasion for cultural enrichment” but can also be “a moment of grace, an encouragement to strengthen our relationship and our dialogue with the Lord.”
It is “where we can to stop and contemplate, in the transition from simple external reality to a deeper reality, the ray of beauty that strikes us, that almost wounds us in our inner selves and invites us to rise towards God.”
4. The Protestant Work Ethic versus the Catholic Idea of Success
Or, why the Anglo-Saxon race ruled the world (British Empire version or American Pioneer Spirit version) and why all Papist nations are socially backwards, cannot innovate in technology or science and are mired in poverty, superstition, and misery. The Church indoctrinates us to expect pie in the sky when we die, and spends a massive amount of time and effort fixing our eyes on the world to come instead of inculcating the virtues of thrift, sobriety, hard work and manifesting the will of God through our lives in this life. This means we have a feckless, shiftless attitude of contempt to the affairs of the world and are content to run around in rags and beggary, while bribing saints and idols to do magical favours for us.
The best example I can give of this is to swipe another example from “Brideshead Revisited” in the character of Lord Sebastian Flyte, the aristocratic, handsome, wealthy, socially prominent and attractive figure the narrator meets at Oxford.
In an ordinary novel (or made-for-TV movie), we’d have a happy ending where Sebastian sobers up, meets a lovely girl (or nowadays comes out of the closet and ends up with a lovely guy), settles down to marriage and family life and buckles down to the successful career that his education and status in society deserve. Or if we were still going with the religion angle, he’d become a wildly successful society preacher saving the souls of bright young things like he was, or a cardinal, or end up as a male equivalent of Mother Teresa (or maybe St. Damien of Molokai, only without the leprosy, because leprosy isn’t glamorous when you’re the one suffering from it). Either way, he’d have a glittering, fulfilling career and a visible and measurable by the standards of the world record of achievement, whether in the service of God or Mammon.
What does Evelyn Waugh do with him?
He succumbs to his alcoholism, goes abroad to lead a dissolute life with pathetic little attempts to make some kind of a go of things and finally ends up in Morocco trying to join a monastery because he wants to be a missionary to lepers or cannibals or savages of some description. This is impossible, of course, because he’s not fit for it, and eventually he ends up – after bouts of drinking and falling ill – being taken in by the monks and given a pity job as a kind of under-porter, halfway between being a lay man and being a religious, and (through the character of Sebastian’s youngest sister, Cordelia, telling Sebastian’s uncomprehending friend Charles about where he ended up and in what state), Waugh forecasts his life: unexceptional save for his periodic falls off the wagon and shame-faced return to the monastery, years going by like this, getting older, becoming something of a joke to the novices and tolerated affectionately by the older monks, “a familiar figure pottering round with his broom and his bunch of keys” and “He’ll develop little eccentricities of devotion, intense personal cults of his own; he’ll be found in the chapel at odd times and missed when he’s expected” until his eventual death which will be no more edifying nor uplifting than his life and the best his sister can anticipate for him is that “Then one morning, after one of his drinking bouts, he’ll be picked up at the gate dying, and show by a mere flicker of the eyelid that he is conscious when they give him the last sacraments. It’s not such a bad way of getting through one’s life.”
Waugh also has Cordelia tell Charles “The Superior simply said, ‘I did not think there was anything I could do to help him except pray.’ He was a very holy old man and recognized it in others.” “Holiness?” “Oh yes, Charles, that’s what you’ve got to understand about Sebastian” and “I’ve seen others like him, and I believe they are very near and dear to God.”
And that, my dears, is the Catholic notion of success and why we will never get anywhere with an attitude like that.
5. We have weird beliefs, or, Catlikz, Y U No Rational?
Well, if you’re been following the nine (this one makes ten) series of posts I’ve been graciously permitted to cast up on screen here since March, you already know all about this one. Why aren’t we sensible? Why can’t we take into account the Grand Upward Sweep of History and the Ever-Increasing Rate of Progress and the advancements of science and medicine and general knowledge of the world and its composition, not to mention the toils of scholars in literary theory, criticism, history and related arts, and just quietly shed the nutty stuff that served its purpose as metaphors for the uneducated back in the unenlightened times, as a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis of its former state? Beats the heck out of me, but then again, if I was smart enough to have a rational religion, I’d be an Anglican and then I’d have to learn to play bridge and discriminate about what kind of sherry I drank, and I am absolutely hopeless when it comes to learning card games (the solitaire game that comes with the computer is as complicated as I can handle).
Mind you, this is what gets us lumped in with the Mormons (and I don’t know if it’s us or the Mormons who should be more offended by the comparison; after all, everyone can agree that the Mormons are hard-working family folk who send out as missionaries nice, clean-cut young men who know their faith and don’t indulge in bad dietary choices like fizzy drinks or caffeine, not to mention the Demon Drink, and Catholics – well, um, not so much?). As the first female Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, said in a 2006 interview with “The New York Times”:
“How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?
About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.
Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?
No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.”
So our weird beliefs mean that we’re early school-leavers who then proceed to have a houseful of kids and use up more than our fair share of the scarce natural resources remaining to Gaia. Oh, the humanity!
Okay, this is running long, so I’ll cut it in half here. More fun to come in Part Deux, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!