A Leave of Absence

Addendum: Nothing below should be construed as a declaration that I am leaving the Holy Catholic Church. I am sorry for the confusion some remarks in the post created.

Confessional web-logs, as a general rule, are among the worst kind and should be strenuously avoided. With that noted, I apologize in advance if this particular post, the last I will be writing for at least a few weeks, topples over into personal territory. Great Lent is supposed to be the time when good Christians take stock of their faults, do penance before God, and then cast their eyes toward the Day of Resurrection. Some foolishly believe that each Lent provides an opportunity to eradicate all of their infirmities, though perhaps a few every generation or so are holy enough to accomplish such a great feat in full cooperation with God’s grace. A priest at St. John Cantius in Chicago once counseled me that if I could successfully remove just one fault during the penitential season then I will have had a good Lent. Examining my conscience today and several times previously since Easter, I cannot say I had a good Lent. In fact, I cannot say that any of my Lents since returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church have in any way, shape, or form been good. Maybe my Eastern Orthodox ones weren’t particularly respectable either, what with all of the petty distractions that I routinely let enter into my life back then. Today the problem seems to be less about distractions and more about the infernal habits that I have taken up in response to a series of negative events, some of which were beyond my control and others which were always firmly within it. Some of these events are recent; a good number of them are not. With the coming of April 5, there is now 35 years’ worth of muck, weeds, and fallen limbs to cast out, to say nothing of the more recent floods of sewage in which I have nearly drowned—and nearly drowned others in the process.

This morning I read a blog post by a fairly notable traditional Catholic writer in which he excoriated the upcoming “Year of Mercy” and the bull of indiction announcing it. I had no words, only an unsettling feeling that I had been dwelling in a hopeless world far too long and maybe now is the time to get out. No, that does not mean getting out of the fight for Catholic tradition, the social rights of Christ the King, or the restoration of the Church and society. It does, however, mean abandoning my perverse addiction to “scandal porn” and the gross negativity it engenders. That’s easier said than done because I believe with all of my heart and mind that it is irresponsible for Catholics to ignore the concrete problems we are faced with today, or to whitewash over them as part of a self-congratulatory, triumphalist narrative. But it is also irresponsible to continue pressing home the point, often under a cloud of speculation rather than incontrovertible evidence, that the Church is little more than a wasteland, bereft of both sanctity and truth. Various “theories” are put forth to explain the present situation, and many of them lead to conclusions which ought to drive any rational soul out of the Corpus Mysticum altogether. But people are comfortable with their respective enclaves and so they don’t leave. They just continue to scream that the sky is falling, stopping only after they’re sure everyone around them is trapped in the throes of despair.

I do not want to despair, but it is a struggle for me. It is not by any stretch my only struggle, but once despair sets in, then all other struggles become pointless. Then there is no hope, and the absence of hope soon entails the eradication of love and the loss of faith. Sometimes the only thing keeping me in the Church is pride—pride which declares boldly that I could not have been wrong to leave Eastern Orthodoxy in 2011 and that I would rather perish in error than confess the sin of apostasy before a bearded priest with a Crucifix and Bible on a stand for me to venerate. This sort of pride is, I believe, especially demonic for it points to no other end than keeping me where I am long enough to lose my soul forever. It envelopes me in darkness with the demented surety that any light I might see must be a false light, a trick intended to put me back in communion with “those people,” i.e., Catholics who do not share my troubling penchant for anger-as-holiness, bitterness-as-sanctity, and condemnation-as-mercy. Instead of fully embracing the Catholic Faith, the true religion that transcends even the darkest difficulties, I hold loosely to a set of self-chosen beliefs that look astonishingly Catholic but may be dispensed with at the drop of a hat.

It does not end there, but it would be imprudent to offer a fully litany of failings at this juncture. There is, as innumerable Church Fathers have taught, great virtue in believing oneself to be the worst among sinners, and at appropriate times those sins should be laid bare. Such a profession can be undertaken in the wrong spirit, however, and lead to more harm than good. I am not in the business of discerning spirits, especially right now. Instead, I have been in the business of mistaking so many polemical acts, judgments, and uncharitable dismissals as some great “witness for the truth.” No, I was witnessing on behalf of my own pride more often than not, and if any good came from it, it was only because our good Lord in Heaven will never make a totally depraved man. God will in fact work through His fallen and sinful creatures. Knowing that brings some comfort, albeit only a tiny amount.

What brings me no comfort is the state of my life, which includes above all else the state of my eternal soul. I find myself fending off jealously whenever I come across a genuine person of faith who, despite their own failings, continues to press on with genuine joy in the face of so much darkness. I see this in my wife, in many of my fellow parishioners, in strangers I spend no more than a few minutes with, and in more priests, young and old, than I’ve ever given credit to. Any person even slightly less lost then myself would feel no jealousy at all; they would let the light of others, which is a reflection of Christ’s Light in us all, illumine them. Perhaps they would even kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and thank the Lord for having encountered such individuals and pray for the strength to not follow them in their faults (for all of us possess them) but emulate their everyday virtues as a stepping stone to attaining after the virtues of the saints. This is not what I do. This is not who I am. But I must change. So many in my life are depending on me to do so, and all of this—this great gift of life God has given me—will be for nothing if I do not.

Please continue to pray for me and my family, and I will do my best to remember all of you in mine. If you need to contact me, please do so through the “Contact” page. For those I have promised articles to, I have not forgotten.

Et sit decor Domini Dei nostri super nos et opus manuum nostrarum fac stabile super nos opus manuum nostrarum confirma.

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8 comments

  1. WOW. Thank you for this, and I will certainly pray! Please pray for me as well.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, the Diary of Saint Faustina, brought me back fully to the Catholic Church. I cannot overestimate the impact it had on me. I must confess that seeing all the recent ultra-trad attacks on Divine Mercy Sunday has been extremely disheartening for me. I started to doubt the reality of Our Lord’s fathomless Mercy as proclaimed in the Gospel and underscored by the Risen Jesus via Saint Faustina. I started to be infected by that bitter, negative POV that writes off post-VCII canonizations as Not Really Real. (As if there could be the slightest doubt about the sanctity of a Maximilian Kolbe, for instance.)

    This poisonous POV is largely absent from my Real Life experiences but seems to be everywhere online. Just this morning I was thinking about Our Lord’s words: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.’” IMHO this verse provides the key. ISTM that Catholics who loathe VCII and all its fruits (even its authentic fruits) are just as guilty of “the hermeneutic of DIScontinuity” as progressives who think the Church didn’t exist until the 1960s. I am not pointing any fingers here; just saying that this attitude was starting to infect my own attitudes.

    I don’t have an Eastern Orthodox bone in my body, or even an Eastern Catholic bone for that matter; by virtue of my upbringing, I’m Latin to the core. So I don;t think I would ever feel driven by despair to embrace the EO option. But I could conceivably have my faith and fervor eroded bit by bit by all the negativity. I do think it’s a really good idea to get away from that stuff, at least for a while.

    For the record, I had a lousy Lent, too. I hear that a lot of people did. But isn’t recognizing that you had a lousy Lent part of the solution, so to speak? I acknowledge that I’m a total mess (which I am), and I throw myself into the arms of Infinite Mercy.

    OK, sorry for long-windedness. Gotta get back to work. Let’s pray for each other.

  2. Thanks for the update, Gabriel. I did not get the impression that you were considering leaving the Catholic Church. Not at all. I hope I didn’t give the impression that I thought this, because I didn’t. I just figured that the same negativity that was getting to me was perhaps getting to you as well. I mean, as you say, when people start attacking MERCY, then you have to wonder what sort of god they’re worshiping.

  3. A “perverse addiction to ‘scandal porn’ and the gross negativity it engenders” is an endemic problem on the blogosphere, in general. It’s tough to know where the line is, and to notice when one is crossing it. I have come to the conclusion that without being asked to stand up and defend the Church, it is best not to do so. Yes, the faithful are the Church, too, and yes we should stand up for the truth, but we too often begin to think the Church actually needs us, that without us the Church would fall (or something), and that’s pride. That’s nothing unique to you or to traditionalist Catholics or Orthodox or religious or Americans or American men, it’s a danger of the medium. Kudos to you for recognizing it in yourself and acting to address the spiritual temptation of the medium, and the addiction to it I and many have been too easily entrapped by. Blessed paschaltide to you and yours.

    1. Much, much truth in what you say. I do get my hackles up when my Church is wildly misrepresented or unfairly maligned — whether by polemical Online Orthodox, by professional Catholic-bashers like Dreher, or by clueless fundamentalists (whom I mostly laugh off). But, if I tried to put out every Internet Anti-Catholic Fire, I’d spend my waking hours doing nothing but put out fires. Not healthy. Or fun! Still, if God puts a particularly egregious example of idiotic bigotry right in front of one’s nose, one may feel understandably justified in responding. (Charity is the key here — and so difficult to achieve; impossible without Grace.)

      However, I don’t think Gabriel was talking so much about inter-church online polemics as about Catholic internecine warfare. And that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

  4. Thank you for your honesty, Gabriel. What you have just confessed, and chosen to do in response to it, IS your Lent. Just a bit out of liturgical season.

    The only other thing it occurs to me to say is that this is not really a question of Catholicism vs Orthodoxy. The same temptations to outrage porn, traddier-than-thou-ness, and prideful one-upsmanship exist in Orthodoxy too. But I’m sure you know that.

    Best and prayers,
    Mike

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