Praesertim Oboedientiam.


“praesertim oboedientiam”  that is what was written, literally in stone, across the transom passageway from where we lived and where we ate together in the refectory at my seminary when I began my journey to the priesthood. A journey that would take some twenty-one years to complete. It summed up, at least for me, what the Church expected of me – and the other men in formation – strict, unadulterated, and unquestioning obedience above all; nothing less would do. I failed. Many do. Here are three tales and I will still end these brief sagas of woe in a spirit of peace and with a lesson of hope.

This past week I met with a woman who left the church because of something that happened almost 28 years ago. Since that time she has been struggling to find a place of refuge; a spiritual home that would – could – fill her needs, embrace the diversity inherent in her family, inspire her, give her hope, light…peace. She has failed many times. Despite the many churches, denominations, and even a synagogue that she has attended and tried to ‘fit in’, she had yet to find her way to a place she could feel ‘at home’. Then she walked into Saint Miriam one Sunday and ‘felt more love and care than in all the other churches I ever went to combined!”, she said. But, is it a ‘real’ Catholic Church, she inquired of me? That was her struggle. After nearly three decades away from the Roman Church, she is still struggling with what she had been erroneously taught so many years ago.

The week before this appointment, I met with a gentleman who demanded an appointment with me. He entered my office, almost angered, because he visited our parish website and discovered that we do not use the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass. I explained to him that we do, but only at the 7:30am Early Mass; that the later Masses use Novus Ordo Missae, which literally means the “new order of the Mass” or the “new ordinary of the Mass” as promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970. He was not amused.

A brief history: For a long time, we referred to the new liturgy (or the Missal of 1970) as the “new rite”, and the older liturgy (the most recent version of which is the Missal of 1962) as the “old rite.” In his July 2007 letter, however, Pope Benedict XVI said that we should instead think of these Missals as being two forms of a single Roman rite, rather than as two separate rites. Thus he prefers that instead of “new rite” and “old rite,” we now are to call them, “Ordinary Form” (his name for the Missal of 1970, or Novus Ordo Missae) and “Extraordinary Form” (the Missal of 1962, or the traditional Latin Mass). In other words, the pontiff (ref: motu proprio Summorum Pontificum) declared that the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite, which he said was never abrogated, was officially available to all the Church’s faithful alongside the new liturgy of Pope Paul VI. OK, back to brass tacks!

So, with all that in mind, I gently reminded this obviously irate man, now almost ready to rip my throat out, of the words of the Holy Father emeritus, in a letter he wrote to bishops explaining his decision are but an elegant expression of common sense: If the older liturgy was sacred in the past, then it is sacred now as well. He said, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” Makes sense, no?  Apparently not, as the man ended with the fact that a true and effcaious Mass has not been celebrated in this area since 1570! Then, he stormed out of my office. “Thank you, Jesus”, I said under my breath…

Fast forward – or actually, backwards – to yet another human struggle within the greater Church. This one is a young man who is in seminary at present and struggling because, in his heart, he knows he is not called to be a priest within the Roman rite, but within his mind…he is stuck! He knows – deep down where let few people in – that his personal views, his God beliefs, the way in which he sees the word and feels the Holy Spirit is not in keeping with the rules, regulations, and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. But, here he is, now literally within a mere few months of ordination, and finds himself in quite a quandary! (I have been there so I know the depth of his struggle.)

Yes, there are many who leave the Catholic faith because of trauma, the priest abuse scandal, theological disagreement, or some other event that either destroyed their faith in one fell swoop, or ate away at their soul bite by bite. Almost everyone I speak to has that one proverbial, “final straw that broke the camel’s back” moment and poof, they’re gone!

Unlike me examples here today, most cannot point to any specific thing in the Church that is keeping them away, and unless that thing is changed, they will not return, but they know it is not home anymore. How sad for me to hear, but I know of what they speak. For the average ‘Catholic’, there is little we can do to remedy these situations because the thing is often well outside of our control, and no matter how much hope Francis has brought to them, they are quickly realizing, nothing of substance will soon change; praesertim oboedientiam.

So, no, we can’t change theology, we certainly can’t undo the past, and we can’t take away the pain that they feel, whether imagined or actual, but there is something left for us to do: in the words of Father John Dear, “We can listen with the ears of our heart.” In many ways, the best we can do is to simply live our faith with patience and hospitality for those struggling, and listen well.

But, I also wonder with so many people leaving, and so many people disaffected by their experiences of God as brought to them by the holy Church today, isn’t it time that we are forced to evaluate what we do, how we do it, and how we make it relevant to them again so that we get back to the work of the Church and save real souls, rather than make more pretty outfits for us clergy to wear, and archaic rules for people to follow, as we blindly lead them to the precipice of hell? Is there something wrong with a Mass that leaves so many unfulfilled, empty, struggling, sad? And if so, what can we do to make it better?

Oh, wait…we have! She is called Saint Miriam…