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Fortifying Our Faith By Embracing The Church’s Past

August 31, 2023 Frontpage No Comments


By now all of us are deeply aware of the grave crisis for the Church that is likely to arise from the upcoming Synod on Synodality, which is just two months away. The Church’s most faithful prelates, in particular Gerhard Cardinal Mueller, Raymond Cardinal Burke, Robert Cardinal, Sarah and the late George Cardinal Pell, Bishop Athanasius Schneider and Bishop Joseph Strickland, and others as well, have very courageously and forthrightly warned us of the dangers that we will be facing as a purposefully selected cadre of the Church’s most notorious dissenters and enemies will be given privileged places of power and influence at the table of the synod to decide the future fate of the Church.
It certainly looks like the sharks will be circling in the waters of the Tiber this October.
I can testify from my own experience in conversing with many Catholic lay people, priests, seminarians, and religious that among Catholics who take their faith seriously, Catholics who both really understand their faith and sincerely seek to live by it, the consternation about what may be coming is universal. So, what can we personally do about it? In one conversation after another about this, the conclusion is always the same — we must do all we can to fortify and intensify our own spiritual lives and stay the course by carrying out ever more faithfully our own God-given vocations.
In this regard I needn’t tell you what you already know, that this is all done first and foremost by the Church’s tried and true practices of spiritual formation and sanctification: the frequenting of the sacraments, personal prayer (especially Eucharistic adoration, the rosary, and mental prayer), fasting and other forms of self-denial, and spiritual reading. What I would additionally propose as a particular remedy for all the coming mayhem of demands for a radical makeover of the Church is to steep ourselves, our families, and our Catholic social circles in the Church’s incredibly rich patrimony of centuries-old Catholic art, architecture, music, and literature.
When as Our Lord was entering Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, the Pharisees protested against the accolades that Christ was receiving from the multitudes, He answered that if the people were silent “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Whenever we enter or through photos behold a magnificent Gothic cathedral or a lavish Baroque church, the very stones do indeed cry out. These stones summon us to join them in offering glory to God.
Of course, many of us don’t have the means or opportunity to visit in person the great medieval and Baroque churches of Europe and Latin America, but excellent photos of these architectural masterpieces can easily be found on the Internet as well as in the conventional format of books.
It is through the Internet that the sheer breadth and depth of this Catholic patrimony of ours has become ever clearer. With searches using the right keywords, a seemingly endless profusion of vivid photos of the interiors of beautiful churches throughout Europe and Latin America can be discovered. Equally voluminous are the photos to be found of magnificent Catholic paintings and sculptures. With regard to the latter, there are not only photos of the famous sculptures of the great artists, but also photos of the countless polychrome wooden statues of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints that have been carried in local religious processions for centuries. So much of this art speaks directly to the heart.
Many photos of Catholic art are listed as being in the public domain, so they can be downloaded and printed to a size of one’s own choosing to serve as highly inspiring wall art in our homes, which one can also have blessed by a priest as sacred images. By this means these venerable artworks can renew, fortify, and vivify our daily prayer lives and serve as visual sacramentals within our own homes.
A huge component of the Church’s plan to win back souls to the fold of the Church following the Council of Trent was the development of a new wave of religious art and architecture purposefully designed to communicate the truths of the faith clearly, resolutely, and without compromising or diluting those truths. The early Jesuits were deeply involved in this program of re-evangelization through art and architecture. A huge percentage of the extant treasures of Catholic religious art in Western Europe and Latin America stems directly from this epic campaign to win hearts for Christ through a carefully curated catechesis of the senses.
In mission territories, native artists were employed to create in their own cultural style this genre of catechizing Catholic art. There were even iconographical guide books written to help artists harmonize their own creative talents with the message of the Church.
An equally stunning patrimony of countless liturgical vessels and other objects for the celebration of the liturgy has been preserved in many of the older church sacristies and in public museums, much of which has been beautifully photographed for discovery on the Internet, as well as in lavishly illustrated books. One of the most efficacious ways to impress upon the minds of your children the Real Presence of Our Lord and God in the Holy Eucharist is to show them the incredibly magnificent monstrances, chalices, and tabernacles that medieval and Baroque Era goldsmiths and silversmiths handcrafted for the containment, reservation and exposition of the Sacred Host and the Most Precious Blood. It is ironic that during an era — our own — when the use of beautiful liturgical vessels has sharply declined in our Catholic churches, many secular museums have continued to acquire and display as great art these precious objects created for divine worship.
With all these different forms of Catholic art, there is usually much more than meets the eye, for woven into the pedagogical fabric of each of these artworks one can find multiple layers and strands of religious symbolism, often evoking the Old Testament types of the New Testament mysteries they celebrate. Here is where a further source of nourishment for our spiritual lives comes in.
Numerous scholars, many of whom are not even Catholic, have devoted years of intense study to unraveling what the medieval and Baroque artists intended to convey through the various details of their paintings and sculptures. In countless journal articles and academic books, these scholars have shared their findings, so much of which can readily serve to inspire us with new insights into the events of Our Lord’s life, the meaning of the sacraments, and other mysteries of the faith. While it is certainly true that in reading interpretations or explanations of these Catholic objects given by non-Catholic or “dubiously Catholic” scholars a healthy degree of caution and discretion is needed to judge the validity and doctrinal soundness of what is asserted, a Catholic reader who knows his faith can generally separate enough of the wheat from the chaff in these scholarly studies to draw great spiritual benefits from what is revealed of the sacred intentions of the original artists.
I have often found that the non-Catholic scholar who has chosen to study intensively a particular genre of Catholic art or Catholic liturgical furnishing makes a sincere effort to try to see the artwork or object through the eyes of the Catholics who employed it in their worship of God, and in doing so is brought to sympathize with the faith and devotion of medieval and Baroque Era Catholics.
The various artworks and liturgical objects of which we have spoken here, together with the medieval and Baroque Era churches for which they were made, communicate a message of Catholic belief and identity that is clear, consistent, and coherent. This ethos of Catholic identity has stood the test of time for nearly two thousand years. By contrast, much of the proposed agenda for the upcoming Synod on Synodality constitutes an attempt to impose an entirely new paradigm of what it means to live and profess the Catholic faith.

Evil Cannot Be Validated

Underlying the proposals for what should be “reconsidered” at the Synod on Synodality is the notion that just because sinners obstinately refuse to repent, just because heretics and dissenters continue to refuse to accept the teachings of the Church, the Church ought to begin to doubt and call into question her teachings, as if that were the problem, and as if these sinners and dissenters possessed a “truth” that the Church was refusing to see.
That is like saying St. Monica should have given up on trying to win the conversion of her son Augustine and instead give her approval to his conduct because for a very long time he refused to repent.
Evil is not validated by a sinner’s perseverance in it. The sins of abortion, adultery, fornication, and sodomy are not validated just because in the eyes of the world these sins seem to be “here to stay” in our society. The Church has no need to examine her conscience as to why she cannot bring herself to accept these “here to stay” lifestyles. They remain intrinsically evil acts, no matter how many people commit them and no matter how stubbornly they refuse to repent of them.
Organizers of the Synod on Synodality assert that the intended outcome of this event is somehow to change the way the Church deals with Catholics who refuse to accept or live by her teachings, to change things in such a way that these individuals feel fully “accepted” for who they are and how they live, accepted and regarded as Catholics in good standing without having to change their lives or repent.
In a synchronous vein is the synod organizers’ invitation for nonbelievers of all sorts to give their input also on how they think the Church needs to change, so that she can somehow accommodate their wishes as well. What the synod organizers are not yet willing to reveal openly is that the only way to achieve these purposes would be to gut the Church’s fundamental moral teachings — or to put it more bluntly, to betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver.
No, after nearly two thousand years of producing saints and martyrs, evangelizing countless millions, and inspiring most of the world’s greatest art, architecture, music, and literature, the Church certainly does not need to be reinvented, least of all by a faithless generation that is drunk with self-gratification. Faithful Catholics will continue to fortify their faith by drawing upon the unsullied treasures of the Church’s past, for those treasures are timeless. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

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