Having been laid up over the summer months with another bout of Lyme’s Disease, I’ve been given the gift of being able to look at things from a different perspective. Sometimes, when you are ill and life seems to pass you by, you actually see things others do not. So, here is a recap of the summer of ’16 and of what I’ve seen from the comfort of my recliner while viewing the world through the prism of prayer, pain, complete boredom, and nagging my wife like she was a wench working at an old English ale house.
Mind you, I’m keeping away from the “silly season.” Or at least I tell myself I will. Politics, although relegated to the back pages of newspapers throughout most summers, has become prevalent this year, even before Labor Day, because of what’s at stake: namely the Supreme Court and legislation from the bench on an unprecedented scale never seen before in our nation’s history. One that will, without question, determine the right to life, the right to bear arms, the right to free speech, and the right to religious liberty.
Which makes it not “silly” but serious.
Knowing this, I’ve turned off my TV and turned on my radio. I’ve ordered books, plenty of them, that have replenished my library with classics and new stars like Rodney Stark, who has given me, a so-called historical writer, with a new vision of what history was truly all about. And it has been refreshing and remarkable.
Afternoons, sitting on my front porch (yes, in a rocking chair) listening to the Dennis Prager program has become a staple and has enlightened and edified me.
More importantly, I’ve been listening to people. I mean real people. Not the trash talk we view on television or are subjected to reading the op-ed pages of the newspapers so filled with political propaganda. My neighbors for instance. Your neighbors perhaps. And this is what I found.
The Baptism of “Little Nick”
Recently, the family who owns the restaurant down the street closed shop for the week and went back to Greece. Yup, they chose family over profit because this was very important to them. Their destination was the small town of Velventos, in northern Greece, just south of Macedonia.
Here, surrounded by forests, at the foot of the Pierian Mountains, lies the fertile valley of the Haliacom River. Continually inhabited since prehistoric times, it has survived conquest, political upheaval, the slave trade, and twentieth century world wars. It is where people lived and died and minded their own business before written history.
Of late, the town was almost immune to the economic crises that threatened all of Greece. This was because the town and its people are self-sustaining. The world may rise and fall on trading markets and the shifting sands of socialistic dependent populaces chained to false promises that can never be kept, but Velventos, as it has for more than a millennia, remains unchanged.
Here, the rich loam of the earth yields peaches the size of softballs. The farmers, as they have since the recording of modern history, produce and reap a harvest of nourishing crops that sustain and feed people without the help of governmental programs.
“Old Nick,” the paternal grandfather of the family that owns the restaurant, yet lives in Greece, raises chestnuts, pomegranates, pimentos, and dates. It’s as if time has stood still and despite the turmoil boiling all around them, the people of this obscure town continue to farm, to interact with each other, and get on in their own way without interference from the outside world.
More importantly, they also worship God in a timeless, unchanging and special manner that has not been altered for generations, and has yet to be touched by the progressive influences, stemming, but not attributed to Vatican II, which has corrupted the Latin Church and led to legions of the faithful in the west leaving the pews and religious services and searching elsewhere for either salvation, or satisfaction in an increasing secular world. Numbers do not lie. Statistics can be manipulated and often are, but raw numbers speak truth.
And, I believe, Roman Catholics have left the Church in droves over the past fifty years because we’ve forgotten and abandoned sacred tradition. We no longer genuflect before the altar, perhaps because we are convinced the Presence of Our Christ is not there anymore, removed from the altar and sidelined to a sanctuary not within our view. Yet, even when the sacred sanctuary is visible, as it should be, the faithful have forgotten to bend a knee. We talk and greet each other, which is a fine thing, but we no longer pay reverence to The Presence. Probably because we don’t believe anymore that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.
In Velventos, the baby, “Little Nick,” was greeted upon his arrival at the footsteps of the tiny ancient Church of St. Nicholas by the priest. The church was adorned with timeless frescos painted a thousand years before “Little Nick” was ever born. But, they awaited him, somehow in anticipation of his initiation into the faith. And, so, time, meaning absolutely nothing in the equations that govern our lives and the seasons we take for granted, a baptism occurred welcoming a new soul into the realm of the kingdom. It was simple. It was complete. It was an event that would exist forever.
Over this past summer, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship had the temerity to suggest to the faithful that priests should start saying the mass “Ad Orientem,” that is facing the east. That suggestion was immediately dismissed, even declared anathema throughout the western world by bishops determined to hold onto a progressive agenda.
Why? Because it could possibly have a “slippery slope,” back to how things used to be. And, this is something they cannot countenance. Because this would, in some way, in some unfathomable way, abrogate Vatican II. Of course, it doesn’t, yet they think it does.
Personally, I don’t care what direction the priest faces. Yet I do definitely think he should face the sanctuary, and that’s the salient point. From the moment the priest became the star of the show and turned his back on The Presence, things began to change. The mass became all about the celebrant and not about Our Lord. The priest can face in any direction he wishes, many churches are not even constructed to face the east. But, the celebrant should worship with his congregation adoring God and facing Our Lord. It’s really that simple.
Fads and Fancies
When the Greek family, who owned the restaurant, arrived back in the states after a remarkable and wonderful stay in their ancestral home, they noticed something that amazed them. People were obsessed with following their phones in search of something called “Pokemon.”
It’s just a recent fad, of course, and has nothing to do with life, unless you think such things matter. And, obviously, it has nothing to do with sacred tradition or how we worship and honor our Lord. But, it is a perfect example of how we have, since Vatican II, changed sacred liturgy with every new thing we could think of just for the sake of changing it. We’ve followed every fad and fancy and our church, and our congregations, have faded almost into oblivion. And, for some strange reason, we’ve celebrated this. We continue to deny the obvious and will not discuss the truth: that the Catholic Church, in America and throughout Western Europe is in decline; while the church in Africa and Asia prospers without precedent. Why do you think this is?
What the people of Velventos know is it doesn’t have to be this way. You just have to be true to your roots. We don’t have to change paradigms or redefine history. We just think we should. Because this is the culture we live in. A culture without memory. Without any appreciation for a time honored past that has brought us to where we are today. Perhaps we haven’t sacrificed enough. We haven’t paid the ultimate price and therefore cannot appreciate the gifts freely given to us. Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, we need to look back and look forward to what the people of Velventos already know: that traditions do matter; that they define us. And that we should never abandon them for the sake of modern concepts of acceptability and conformity. Not now and not ever.