These days I’m finding I have less and less interest in all the papal shenanigans and ecclesiastical politics that used to raise my hackles and get my blood boiling. Sometimes I really just…don’t…care. It’s all so surreal though, this obsession with every word and gesture of this guy named Jorge Bergoglio who goes by the name Pope Francis.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’m even a Roman Catholic anymore, and I’m very serious about this.
There’s nothing that has ever stopped me believing wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ, in the various Creeds and in the power of prayer, but I’ve come to feel very estranged from the Church as an institution. At heart I know that there must be a true Church, and that this church and its sacramental system is a huge source of truth and grace and deifying life in the world, but I’ve never been fully on board with modern Catholicism or 1962 Missal traditionalism.
The whole cult of the papacy in modern times baffles me and I just cannot get into it nor can I really understand it. It seems totally bizarre to me. Somehow I fully believe that the Pope ought to return to a first millennium way of doing things, and that perhaps Vatican I was just as much a disaster as Vatican II. Very little in the way of preserving or fostering tradition has been done at the hands of the popes for well over a hundred years, perhaps more. It takes an act of blind faith for me to believe the Papacy is actually all that important.
Why than, do I stay, if I do not particularly care for 1962 Missal traditionalism or the utterly banal and papally sanctioned novelties of the Pauline Missal and the ecclesial life that flows out from it? Sometimes I don’t know really, only to say that at some level intuitively I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church; that one can be fully Eastern and Western only in the Catholic Church; that somehow the papacy is necessary even though the modern popes have largely used the office to destroy traditions and foist novelties on the faithful; and that somehow I must remain here to have full access to the graces that flow through the true church. It’s all very confusing at times but this is how I feel. I also feel that the Orthodox East has done a better job of preserving its traditions than the West, and that somehow this has to do with them not having the top down system of Catholics where popes can practically erase, destroy and create at will and expect obedience.
Somehow I’m a fish out of a water, an exile who prays either the Benedictine Office or the Old Orthodox Prayerbook, crosses himself like an old believer, prefers icons to statues, the Jesus Prayer to the rosary, Gregorian chant to Byzantine chant; venerates both Catholic and Orthodox saints; and has no interest whatsoever in papal politics.
At times I feel like the Roman Catholic Church has been reduced by many to either a social justice and vaguely spiritual arm of UNICEF with a goofy figurehead named Francis as its spokesman; a moralistic institution obsessed with sex, marriage and outmoded abstractions like ” natural law”; or an anachronistic institution that exists stuck somewhere between 1870 and 1962 that takes on the best and worst of manual theology, moralizing, apocalyptic obsessions with Fatima and a very skewed and one sided view of the Tradition as the best and only expression of the Faith. I’m at home neither in the land of Haugen/Hass, Karl Keating or the SSPX.
In all these various sectors of this strange world of Catholicism there are pockets of holiness and sincere men trying to do their best. As for me,I’m mostly a home alone kind of guy who loves to pray and occasionally goes to Mass and confession but for the most part feels ill at ease almost everywhere in today’s Church, from the tackiest modern cathedral to the most historically accurate nineteen fifty something traditionalist chapel.
Father Z and the ultramontanists at Rorate Caeli or the Remnant can hyperventilate over the latest subtle gesture or outrageous remark of Francis or some random bishop but I’ll pass. I’d rather sit at home and pray. Really, this stuff is out of our control anyway!