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Sermon for the 8th Sunday After Pentecost: Protestantism in the Church has failed -- Let's try Catholic Tradition

by Fr. Richard G. Cipolla
St Mary's Norwalk, Connecticut
July 30, 2017


How the hammer of the whole earth has been cut off and broken! How Babylon has become an object of horror among the nations! "I set a snare for you and you were also caught, O Babylon, While you yourself were not aware; You have been found and also seized Because you have engaged in conflict with the LORD." Jeremiah 50:23-24

Brokenness. That is the only word, a neologism I am sure, that describes our current situation, our plight.  Last evening before dinner I read the New York Times, skimming as I always do. I had no hope of objectivity in the reporting of the news. Objective reporting went several years ago.  But I was deeply saddened to see in an article on yet again another personal debacle within the Trump administration of revolving doors and twitter invective the reporting of the ipsissima verba of an off hand conversation of someone who is working at a high level in the administration and who worked to get someone high up fired and succeeded.  The Times reported his language in the very words he used, which included four letter words that are now common in the artistic media and in everyday talk among so many of our young people but still never until this time have been printed in a newspaper that is read by many people indeed, including young people.  For me this was a powerful sign of where this society is.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Times did this on purpose to make clear the grossness of these people who are close to the president.  But printing those words is crossing a line that needed not to be crossed, because we all know the low level to which discourse has descended among the majority of people.  When the terrible earthquake destroyed the town of Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict and destroyed the monastery of Benedictine monks there, I said that this was the sign of the end of Western civilization as we knew it, that is, a civilization founded on the Christian faith, not perfect, but yet with a grounding in faith in the person of Jesus Christ and all that that means.  What is going on not only in this country but also in the whole Western world provides incontrovertible evidence that we are living not only in a post-Christian time but also in a real way in an anti-Christian time.

The breakdown in the moral fiber of this country and of the Western world that happened in the 1960s is real and we are living in its aftermath. To make this observation has nothing to do with a stuffy moralism or puritanism or any ism at all.  We live in a time in which the real fruits of the Protestant reformation that denied the corporate nature of the existence of the individual within the Church as the body of Christ in the world are plain to see. We see its fruits in  the so called rediscovery of the self in the Renaissance, the revolutionary spirit of the later eighteenth century and early nineteenth century and the attendant movement called the Enlightenment  that placed the individual at the center of meaning, and despite the use of WE in the declaration of independence, the American vision placed the freedom of the individual, whose goal is the achievement  of life,  liberty and the pursuit of happiness at the very center of the meaning of human existence.  That peculiar American understanding of the importance of being a corporate entity as one nation, a special nation, was nevertheless undergirded by that radical understanding of the self-determination of the individual that can never be reconciled with the Catholic understanding of the individual as necessarily linked to everyone else in the body of Christ that is the Church in this world.  And yet two terrible World Wars were fought with the belief that there is something very important in the corporate understanding of Western civilization that is worth fighting for and dying for.

But all this is broken and cannot be repaired.  It is a foolish endeavor to try in any way to go back or to recapture the past millennia.  Despite the lowest Mass attendance perhaps in the history of the Church, at least per capita, despite the abandonment of the Catholic faith and its necessary moral component by the great majority of baptized Catholics under forty, despite the confusion and itching of the powers that be in Rome to make things more palatable to a non-believing and self-centered age, the Church seems to refuse to do what has to be done and preach and teach as did the Apostles, daring to tell this generation of the great danger they face if they do not repent and turn to God and throw themselves at his feet and ask for his mercy, a mercy that is never automatic nor can it be presumed, but is always there for the asking, for the asking, one must ask for mercy.

But how can one even preach such things in a Church that has taught her people to feed themselves of the Body of Christ?  A Church who has taught them to stand to receive What is Holy in direct contradiction to the examples of the Magi and of St. Peter and the practice of the Church for nearly two thousand years?  A Church that has forgotten the vision of Isaiah of the Holy, a Church in which the words Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus have been emasculated by countless vernaculars that imitate the tower of Babel?  A Church where a moon faced priest faces his people and becomes a presider instead of a sacrificing priest?

Brokenness.  Marriage, the understanding of the family, the constant upsurge in the use of ever new drugs to dull the terrible emptiness felt by so many of our young people, the avoidance of the alleviation of the real poverty of so many people on this earth and instead taking refuge in screeds about global warming, a theory that seems to have some basis in data but is not helping those who are the poorest of the poor and who suffer every day atrocities that we cannot even conceive—this has little to do with Jesus’ mandate to love especially those who are in need.

And what are the successors of the Apostles doing in this singular time?  Beating the air.  Trying to figure out how to get through this time of brokenness without admitting that things even in the Church are broken.  That anti-intellectual and irrational positivism that the hierarchy has taken refuge in is crumbling in the face of the onslaught of a godless world and is becoming the laughing stock of what passes for the intelligentsia in our society.  The embarrassing attempt to attract disenchanted youth by imitating the failed methods of Protestant appeal to sentimentality and emotion is indeed disheartening. It does not seem to occur to them to draw on the deep and God-given Tradition of the Church to reconvert our people by truth spoken plainly, by goodness in living a life that makes a serious attempt to be holy, and by beauty, that beauty that is found in Catholic Tradition but needs to be put into practice especially in the liturgical life of the Church.

I was hoping for a good nor’easter, but then they said that the heavy rain would be confined to the Delmarva peninsula, a name that sounds like a 1930s hotel in Palm Beach. I had hoped to be able to put on my Gene Kelly hat and my Gene Kelly smile and my tap shoes and go dancing and singin’ in the rain.  I pictured myself clicking my heels and gracefully swinging on a lamp post and let the rain help me forget the innumerable lines that have been crossed.  But the rain never came.

So I donned my own peculiar hat and went to the stone altar and performed that primordial gesture of throwing smoke against a stone altar, an act that resonates with the whole history of man, an act that recalls the Abrahamic sacrifice in all of its terrible incomprehensibility. But this altar was being prepared not for a sacrifice that was a test of faith.  In this sacrifice there was no hand to stay the knife.  In this sacrifice the very body of God incarnate was slaughtered like a sheep and the blood of God flowed onto the stone altar of the Cross and flowed over the thousands of lines that have been crossed by men and women who have deliberately confused freedom with self-fulfillment and that Blood covered those lines with the infinite merciful love of God.