Monday, December 28, 2009

Fighting about Unity

I see from the comments to my last post that I've struck a nerve or two, so let me try to be more clear about this.

What is communion? Forget religion for a moment, and ask what the word means in the secular sense. It means an intimate union, a complete coming together, something like marriage or close friendship. As an actor I've felt a communion among the audience when a show goes really well and the audience is united in their experience of it. It's "being on the same page", it's "intimacy", it's being united fully.

Now the Lutherans believe in salvation by Faith alone, in the necessity of scripture alone, and believe they are not subject to the authority of the magisterium or the chair of Peter. I reject these teachings of theirs, and so therefore I am de facto not in communion with the Lutherans. If I accept communion at a Lutheran service, I am lying in commiting that act; by receiving, I am saying I am in total union with these people, but I am really not. This is like fornication. If I sleep with a woman I'm not married to, I am, by the action of my body, claiming to be in total union with her; which, if we are unmarried, I am not. It may be more than a one night stand, but if it ain't life-long marriage, it ain't a total commitment.

This is the issue on its most basic natural level. On the supernatural level, Christ is offering Himself to us. If we accept Him fully by our assent to His teachings and by our actions (i.e., in matters of faith and morals), we are in full communion with the Catholic Church, which is the body of Jesus Christ. If we accept Him only partially, we are heretics (if we deliberately reject part of His teaching) or grave sinners (if we deliberately don't live up to his teaching).

Excommunication (being excluded by fact or by proclamation) from receiving the Eucharist is, metaphorically, being in hell. It is, as Gina said in her comment to the previous post, something we choose ourselves. But people don't like hearing about excommunication any more than they like hearing about hell. And they hate it when people point out to them that they're not, by their own choice, worthy to receive.

Having said all this, I am not saying Lutherans are not Christians or are going to hell or are beyond salvation. On the contrary, there are many who follow Christ more ardently in their separated denominations than fully communicating Catholics do. And indeed the Lutherans almost always have better hymns than the suburban parishes do, and frequently have better homilies. All of this is a given.

But Christ is a fact, and being outside of full communion with Him and the Church He established is a fact. If the Lutherans think their church is that Church, then they would agree with me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas, Communion, "Seinfeld" and "The Office"

So this past Christmas the family get togethers were particularly trying. You know what I mean.

On Christmas Eve, the one branch of the family studiously avoided talking to me about anything at all that I do. This is the nominally Catholic branch, the pro-abortion Catholic branch, the pro-perversion Catholic branch. They are very successful, and some of them quite famous, for their secular achievements. They are affluent and comfortable, but touchy and irritable at the same time. You might call them the Kennedy branch.

They spent Christmas Eve bragging about their decadence in many ways, and my tolerance was taxed after the third glass of wine, so we up and left. Usually I don’t mind the “Kennedies” on Christmas, as some of them are likable people, and they let one or two members of their branch lead the way on their liberal stridency, while the rest just tag along. But when we started hearing detailed descriptions of the self-indulgent artistic endeavors of the latest Kennedy concubine, my Christmas cheer sounded a retreat. I was so angry that I refrained from receiving communion at Midnight Mass, as I did not feel properly disposed.

Christmas night was spent with yet another extended family branch, one of whose dinner guests was a practicing Lutheran, and at dinner a quasi-theological discussion erupted. My son Colin mouthed to me, “Don’t say a word”, but when someone asked about the Catholic position on the eligibility for reception of communion, I was obligated to speak. I tried to point out that reception indicates unity with the Catholic Church, both intellectually and morally – both in belief and in practice; thus, holding a heterodox position, which is dissent-in-belief, disqualifies one from reception of the Body and Blood, as does mortal sin, which is dissent-in-practice. The young cousin to the right of me told me frankly that he didn’t know that; and in fact he didn’t know anything about his Catholic faith, despite twelve years of Catholic schooling. I should say BECAUSE OF twelve years of Catholic schooling.

Our Lutheran friend, one of our separated brethren, who was separated in the sense of sitting across the table from me, became very indignant. “I’ll receive communion when and where I want!” she insisted. “I’ll receive in a Catholic church or in a Lutheran! Receiving communion is between God and me!” I could have asked if everything is between God and her, or if there are some lines that God has drawn that apply to everyone and not just to each individual. I could have asked if religion is entirely a subjective thing, or if it refers to any objective supernatural fact. I could have asked what she would say if her husband committed adultery – would that simply be between God and him or would other people – say, perhaps, herself – be somehow involved? But I had only had one glass of wine (by then) and not three, so I held my peace and thereby preserved a possible invitation for next year’s Christmas dinner.

But I began to wonder. Why do the “Kennedies” avoid talking to me about Theater of the Word? Why do certain Protestants become indignant about the line the Catholic Church draws on eligibility for reception?

In the first case, I clearly make the Kennedies uncomfortable. But why? If they’re so adamant about their personalized version of the Faith, why am I a bother, a contradiction to them? Last year the Kennedy matriarch told us that she was furious that our archbishop had announced that a vote for a pro-abortion politician was an action that required sacramental repentance before receiving the Body and Blood. “I was going to march up to receive communion with my Obama button on!” she said. But she did not.

She did not!

Why not, one wonders. According to her rules, it would not have been an infraction. Was it the possibility of being denied communion (a very unlikely scenario) that caused her to refrain? Or something else?

And why do certain Protestants become indignant about our communion? If laxity is the rule when it comes to reception, why not just receive and ignore the rules? Why get mad when the rules are read to you? If the Eucharist has a meaning, then it has a definition and limitations that need to be recognized, limitations that exist as a fact. But if it has no meaning, or if its meaning is subjective (which is the same as having no meaning), then there are in fact no limits, so why get worked up about imaginary ones?

You see, I can understand the liberal position, wrong though it is; it’s the inconsistency that interests me. If they’re right, they have no reason to get upset or angry at the signs of contradiction that the Church and her members present them with. If they’re right, then we’re simply wrong, and so why not just smile and go about their business? Why the fear of bringing up my apostolate? Why the anger over commuion? If religion is entirely subjective, why get angry at the sentiments of another subjectivist?

For that matter, why do atheists get so churned up about God? Why did I, when I was an atheist? Why crusade for No-God, as the character in Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” does?

The answers to all these questions can be found in California, Oregon, and Washington state. There they’ve passed on to the next level. There subjectivism is such that no one cares about anything beyond himself. No one cares. That’s the liberal solution, and that’s the consistent one.

In the 1990s, the television show that best summed up the decade was “Seinfeld”, a show in which the selfish small-minded motives of the characters appeared ridiculous and funny; but the characters, selfish as they were, were in some sense still friends and still cared about each other, albeit imperfectly. Throughout there was an implied reference point of sanity and virtue that they all fell short of, and that was the source of the humor.

In this decade, the TV show that best reflects our culture is “The Office”, a show in which people’s relationships are defined entirely by a business agreement, a show in which the boss is desperately seeking approval or friendship and is shown to be a buffoon thereby, a show in which the small-minded selfishness - indeed the isolationism - of the characters is seen as normative and the attendant despair of heart and subjectivism of morality seen as a matter of course. There is no longer a healthy reference point with which to contrast the behavior of the characters. They’re all subjectivists.

The message of “The Office” is our intercourse as people is an intercourse of commerce or an intercourse of fornication, and either way it’s just an anodyne for the loneliness of having nothing beyond ourselves or even between ourselves to strive for.

Which is to say, the world of “The Office” is a world in which there is no communion.

But here in the Mid-West we’ve not quite come that far. Here we still argue about what communion means. And that is a good sign. In fact, it’s a sign of hope.

May your Christmas season abound, as our family dinners did, with signs of hope – in whatever annoying form such signs take.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What I Learned in England

This past week I was in England with actors and crew from my company and from Corpus Christi Watershed, as we filmed a short movie on the conversion of the Venerable John Henry Newman. We were graciously granted access to Newman’s retreat house at Littlemore, near Oxford, administered by the delightful Sisters of the Work.

A few brief observations.


The English people are so kind and genteel that it’s difficult for an American to know how to talk to them. One conversation (along with inner dialogue) went like this:

KEVIN: We’ve certainly enjoyed our visit to Oxford.

ENGLISHMAN: Yes, how lovely. (smiling a benevolent smile that could be either an indication that Kevin should say more or a patient patronizing of his harsh accent and garish ways)

KEVIN: And being in the footsteps of Newman is such an honor. As was eating at the Eagle and the Child, where C. S. Lewis and Tolkien met regularly.

ENGLISHMAN: Indeed. (the smile becomes more wry)

(an awkward pause follows)

KEVIN: (thinks) Is he waiting for me to say more, or is he hoping I should shut up? (speaks) We also enjoyed the Pantomime at the local theater.

ENGLISHMAN: (a supercilious look of benign contempt) Really?

Thus even conversing in a common tongue can be difficult.


We bought a cell phone to make international calls and of course had problems with it. The young people who were manning the cell phone store were not far removed from the kind of American teens who work at Subway restaurant chains. On the third visit to the store, with my phone still not working, I had to enter into Assertive Complaining Customer mode, and I was convinced not only that I’d get the kind of run around we always get in American cell phone stores, but also that I had been had and that the problems with my phone were the result of some sort of scam these punks were in on.

Much to my surprise, the young clerks showed a great deal of courtesy and patience and even managed to fix the problem in a courteous and professional manner. This is not America, I thought. Nor is it Subway, though the food at the pubs is not quite as good as what you can get at Subway.


Oxford seemed very much like the England I got to know a bit on two visits twenty years ago. I was impressed with the large crowds on foot, many of whom were apparently students in their twenties, with all of the young ladies very pert and attractive. It was the antithesis of a visit to Wal-Mart. No fat, slovenly folks in sweat shirts.

The English have a different facial structure than most Americans. Carl Jung once thought that the American Indian population influenced the European-American stock in some mystical ways, as he saw traces of the red man in our white American faces. His mysticism is suspect, but his observation is accurate.

We saw no traces of the Islamic invasion, except in London, especially at Heathrow Airport (of all places) where most of the counter workers are in Muslim regalia. And there was the ominous sight of an Islamic crescent setting behind Buckingham Palace, which I snapped a photo of.

But the true end of things is the appalling and ridiculous conclusion the Anglican church has come to. The world may end in fire, or the world may end in ice, but the Anglican church is ending in apathy, absurdity and self-parody. I won’t go into details of how I was hit on by a very drunk and flagrantly homosexual defrocked Anglican priest (the only way you can be defrocked as an Anglican priest is not for sodomy or alcoholism, but for criticizing the Anglican bishops, something this poor soul bravely did), but I can tell you the feel in their churches (formerly our churches) is just like the feel in most of the Episcopalian churches in the U.S. - cold, with a kind of stolid refinement of manners, a lingering melancholy, and an overwhelming complacency.


And yet the Oratorian Church in Oxford is packed to the seams at every Mass, confessions are offered almost non-stop throughout the day, with long lines of penitents, and even the ugly modern church named after Blessed Dominic Barberi in Littlemore is apparently staffed by serious orthodox priests. Meanwhile, the church in Ireland is undergoing a much needed purgation and there are indications abounding of the survival, indeed the rebirth, of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the U.K. after a horrible time of trial and failure of resolve. The official Catholic publications in England and Ireland are quite heterodox and show almost no sign of this whatsoever, except for the very telling letters to the editor, which are orthodox and clearly indicative of the grass roots movement that the publishers of these same papers must despise.

One of these letters in defense of the teachings of the true Church was written by one of the world’s foremost experts of Cardinal Newman, Fr. Ian Ker, whom I had the great privilege to meet one night after filming. He is a man of tremendous humor and faith and shows that neither totalitarian kings and queens nor bad bishops can destroy God’s great gift to us, the Catholic Church and its holy priesthood.


In conclusion, it was made more and more evident to me in a number of ways, both spiritual and secular, that John Henry Cardinal Newman’s upcoming beatification is a key event in the reign of Pope Benedict XVI and of turning the tide against the liberal infiltration of the Church and of the hijacking of Vatican II. Newman’s momentous conversion at Littlemore near Oxford 164 years ago was the most important conversion of post-Reformation times, a victory for Reason, an earthquake that many of us have forgotten, but that the enemy and his forces still hear, the beginning of the Catholic Literary Revival and true Reform in the Church, and the opening of a door that led to the astonishing lay apologetic movement we see around us today and that even the Theater of the Word is a part of. Many forces both in the world and beyond it will be trying to derail this beatification. Pray for it and pray for the support of Venerable Newman, Blessed Dominic Barberi, and St. Philip Neri.

I end by quoting a line from the wonderful Christmas Pantomime “Jack and the Beanstalk” that we saw in Oxford,

Fee Fi Fo Fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman

Although now, I might add, that blood, as it begins to rediscover the true Body and Blood of Christ, is beginning to stir.