There Ain’t No Pure Church

Some people become Catholic because the Church is a communion of sinners and slobs who are losers, oddballs, factory rejects, and broken dunderheads who can’t tell their butt from a hole in the ground and who have messed up their lives so badly that they know only God can save them. They don’t know from nothing about liturgical fussbudgetry, high theology, ecclesial politics, or all the obsessions that preoccupy us here in the hothouse of Catholic cyberspace.

What they know is that they have a problem with alcohol, that their second marriage is on the rocks, that the job was crummy till they lost it, that they don’t know what to do with Mom now that she’s got Alzheimers, that they wish they could break the porn habit but don’t know how, that they are lonely, confused, and afraid. When they encounter the love and mercy of Christ in the Church, they are grateful, and they see the Church as a place where sinners like them can get seven-times-seventy second chances as they stumble painfully toward the Heavenly Zion they will never deserve but that God, in His amazing mercy, has granted them in Christ crucified.

They instinctively seat themselves in the back at Mass, because they do not feel worthy to be there and they see themselves as being among their betters. The whole wonder of the Church as a gift stands before them, and they recognize that other Catholics are screw-ups like them and are ready to welcome them, or at least put up with them, when their screw-upishness is manifest. They may argue with these other Catholics when they think them wrong, but they wouldn’t dream of reading them out of the Church. They make a fundamental distinction between the unworthiness of an act or idea and the divine acceptance of the person who holds the idea or does the act. They desire, in a word, to regard the Church as Catholic, because they are grateful that God regards a loser like them as worthy to be part of the Church.

And then there are people who become Catholic on these terms:

You’re free to fiddle while Rome burns if that is your choice. You’re free to listen to those who say, “Go back to sleep, everything is fine.”

The next time you’re at Mass where the priest has his back turned to God, where the hymns are as heretical as they are ridiculous, where priest or deacon or militant nun or whomever is spouting obviously erroneous doctrines at the “homily,” where the parking lot is filled with cars sporting Obama bumper stickers, where the parish RCIA might as well be taught by Nancy Pelosi, where altar girls and un-extraordinary ministrettes of holy communion parade through the sanctuary, where everyone is more wrapped up in doing a Touchdown Orans at prayer than in humble awe of the Lord Jesus… at that time, look to the Tabernacle (if you can even figure out where it’s stored) and tell the Lord whether you think all that is OK.

Or is it that you’re aware of all that, but you think it magically happened for no reason, along with the pedophilia scandal and the sodomy fests at the seminaries and the whole theological-liturgical scorched earth reign of terror that has been going on for decades… that all happened totally out of nowhere, by coincidence, all quite unrelated?

Just go on ahead and continue to lampoon me as some bitter sedevacantist misanthrope. Your nonsensical insults will be muffled by all the sand your head is currently stuck in.

I don’t want to fight with you. Peace be with you. I’ll leave you with this. Back when I was a Prot, a fellow was mocking Catholics over the Real Presence. “If they really believed that was their Lord, they’d go up there on their knees.” Interesting point, actually. And now I do. Not that those who receive standing and in their grubby hands don’t believe… but why do they do it? God providentially gave me the grace to find the TLM, and now the sweet savor of true reverence has spoiled me.

The term for the attitude suffusing this tract from my comboxes is “Protestantism.” Indeed, the precise term is “Congregationalism.”


To be sure, I can empathize. It was something I myself was tempted to for multiple reasons as a new convert. It works this way: You can become Catholic, not so much to be Catholic as to extend the middle finger to the last Protestant sect you left behind in your hurt and anger. You establish an unwritten contract with God that, in becoming Catholic, you will show those clowns you left behind what for, and that the Church you are now embracing is Christ’s true and perfect Church (and, just between you and me, a Church worthy of me after my long sojourn through the painful and twisty maze of American Protestantism).

You then turn to that perfect Church at the culmination of your journey… and find that the average Catholic is average, and the average parish is average and is plagued by all sorts of problems — and that even your average bishop is average. You endure homilies in which the priest calls the Scripture (and I quote) a “crock.” You go to crapola summer vacation Bible schools where the kids are forced to parrot their way through a dumb play with a Christ Mime Lady catechizing us about picking up litter. You have priests wander off to fulfill their calling as a gay masseuse. You have RCIAs full of twaddle and the occasional deacon blessing you in the Name of God the Father and Mother and the occasional lecture about how Exodus is a legend like a Paul Bunyan story and, in between, liturgies that are not so much heretical as banal.

So, after three years of this nonsense, you finally head for another parish because you feel you must, just to keep your family safe from the boredom punctuated by nuttiness. All this I grant as a perfectly legitimate thing for a Catholic to do who is really surrounded by grotesque distortions of Catholic teaching.

But the problem is this: You can get hyper-sensitized and bitter. The shock of discovering that the average Catholic is average leaves you prone to see not just a gross violation as a sign of creeping apostasy, but everything as a sign of creeping apostasy. The distance between the vision of the Universal Church you have seen in the theology books and life as it is lived at the parish level throws you into crisis.

At which point you have a choice. You can face the fact that the Church has always been a hospital for screw-ups with Simon Peter (and, um, you) as chief of the cowards, shufflers, and snobs who make up our band of sinners in desperate need of treatment… or you can scan the herd with your gimlet eye and decide that they are a pack of “clapping fornicators” whose only wish is to profane the Eucharist with their “grubby hands” (as my reader above so generously put it elsewhere).

You can choose to sit in judgment of a priest reverently celebrating a valid Mass and accuse him of “turning his back on God” while admiring your own “humble awe” as you sneer in disgust at your average neighbor for not being up to snuff. In short, you can enter into the prideful fantasy of believing that the average Catholic is not merely average but your enemy, and that there exists somewhere the Perfect Parish with Perfect Liturgy and Perfect People. Because, as we all know, the Tridentine Rite Catholic is blissfully free of fornication and all other serious sin and always was until the damned Second Vatican Council introduced the Seven Deadly Sins into Catholic life.

My reader’s impatient contempt for, well, about 99 percent of the Church outside the hothouse of his tiny subculture will sooner or later run up against the George McClellan Principle of Utopian Christianity: namely, that though he has arrived, for the moment, in what he fancies is the perfect sect within the Church and escaped the pollution of, well, virtually all of what the Church herself calls “the Church,” he has also brought himself. And that means that sooner or later he will again confront the imperfections of the people around him — and his own imperfections as well.

At that point, he will either have to face the fact that the Church is basically made for slobs and screw-ups and the incorrigibly Average or else blame his troubles on everybody else and leave again for someplace still purer. To the question, “What’s wrong with the Church?” he will have to answer either humbly, “I am” or proudly, “They are!”


Part of the key to getting out of this confused and angry morass of Puritanism is to learn to distinguish majors from minors. The tirade my reader offered here and elsewhere is filled with floating anger that jumbles up pedophilic crimes with Communion in the hand, lesbo-paganism with standing to receive Communion, fornication with irritating music, paganism with a minor mention of Earth Day in the parish bulletin. Small shibboleths become tripwires that trigger explosions of rage about trivial matters and confirm the Puritan Catholic in an attitude of grim watchfulness over (and contempt for) the slightest indications that his fellow Catholic is one of Them. And, as he makes clear, virtually all Catholics are Them, and good riddance.

For myself, I frankly don’t care and don’t think it’s any of my business whether people stand or kneel, receive on the tongue or in the hand, celebrate ad orientem, and pray in the orans position or not. Likewise, I’ll take any liturgy the Church gives me with gratitude, because I don’t deserve a thing and God graciously gives me the Mass anyway. When it comes to receiving communion, whatever the local ordinary allows is fine by me (and typically, in my experience, you can receive in the hand or on the tongue, kneeling or standing, as you please). Me: I receive standing and on the tongue and have not the slightest idea or concern what my neighbor does. They are brother and sister Catholics, and whatever they do is between them and God.

But my reader has telegraphed loud and clear that he is watching his neighbor like a hawk and is quite certain that God shares his disgust with and rejection of the overwhelming bulk of his fellow Catholics, no matter what his ordinary allows. Indeed, his ordinary is likewise jumbled up in the modernist sodomite liturgical pervert morass, and the proof is that he allows communion in the hand.

For my reader, a huge number of his fellow Catholics are not brothers and sisters, but the Enemy — including, especially, the bishop — if they allow or receive Communion in their grubby hands or stand to receive or engage in other tripwire trivialities. He has made it loud and clear that if somebody standing next to him prays in the orans position, they are contemptible scum and are to be despised, rejected, and fled from in disgust. If a priest celebrates the Paul VI rite reverently, he’s still a bad priest who turns his back on Almighty God. And since virtually every priest in the Latin rite celebrates the Paul VI rite facing the people, they’re virtually all bad — including the Judases who sometimes celebrate the Tridentine Rite but then join in turning their backs on God in the Paul VI rite. In short, my reader has made clear that he loves the Church but can’t stand almost any actual Catholics. It’s a profoundly Protestant attitude.


Now the irony of all this is that it means, as far as I am concerned, my sectarian Catholic reader is one more eccentric member of this big bag of cats called the Catholic Church that the Holy Spirit has been slowly and painfully creating for 2,000 years. His pretense that he can escape communion with a slob like me by hiving off to his Puritan sect within the Church and blotting the rest of the unwashed herd of sheep from his mind except when he wishes to vilify them does not actually sever the link of communion between us. He remains my brother Catholic whether he likes it or not.

So, by the way, does every Catholic I have ever argued with about torture, or consequentialism, or abortion, or anything else under the sun. Unless a bishop excommunicates a member of the Church, my default position is to assume they are Catholic, and I will defend them against combox bishop wannabes with dimestore bulls of excommunication to my last breath, even if I strenuously disagree with some idea they hold or some sin I believe they are committing. My reason is simple: They may or may not be bad Catholics, theologically, philosophically, morally, or intellectually. But it is certain, at any rate, that I am a bad Catholic, so I have no intention of reading anybody out of the Church, though I’m quite willing to argue with them when I think they are wrong about something. I have too acute a fear of this parable to do otherwise:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt 18:21-35)

My thinking on this was formed long ago by the invaluable Uncle Screwtape, who writes:

I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do — if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner — then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these “smug,” commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

If I, being what I am, can consider myself a Christian and a Catholic, why can’t the people that I run into on the Web — including those Catholics I think desperately wrong about something and even those who don’t want to associate with the grubby-handed hoi polloi like me at the contemptible Paul VI Mass?

Indeed, my habit is to extend this principle very far. So I have no problem acknowledging that non-Catholic Christians are in some real (albeit imperfect) union with the Church and will even accept as Christian (in some sense) anybody who names the Name. This includes Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other people who are very far out at the end of the bell curve theologically. Doesn’t mean I have to think they are good Christians either theologically, morally, or intellectually. All it means is that when some confused human being comes staggering down the road of life and is trying to get to Jesus crying, “Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner,” I’m not going to be the one to say, “Get lost!” After all, Jesus didn’t tell me to get lost — and I really was lost and more ignorant of Jesus than a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness. Who am I, then, to grab one of these by the lapels and shout, “Pay me the orthodoxy you owe me”? Best to do like Priscilla and Aquila did with the half-baked Apollos and “expound to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

Bottom line: “Everybody is a material heretic,” said a priest I once knew. That is, nobody fully lives or believes the gospel. We’re all a bunch of slobs and losers and incorrigibly average people, including the people who don’t want to be associated with slobs, losers, and average people. And I’m the biggest slob, loser, and average sinner of them all, yet God still loves even me and lets me come to Mass and receive the astounding gift of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. Why should I tell any other Catholic they aren’t welcome? That’s the bishop’s job, not mine. It’s weeds and wheat till the Last Day.

Mark P. Shea


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

  • Peter


    Is the picture of the interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland, New Zealand?

    • Peter: It is. Good eye!

      • Jared B.

        I did a double-take when I saw this photo — It looks remarkably similar to Our Lady Star of the Sea in my hometown Bremerton, WA [i]after[/i] their remodel last year. Long live Neo-Romanesque 😉

        • Jared–Star of the Sea has been remodeled?! Tell me, please–did they finally get rid of those huge metal albatross-bird things over the altar? (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about–yay!) 🙂

  • The Church is holy, and she our holy Mother holds us sinners to her bosom, for Christ our holy Savior is her Head, and through her He makes us and the world holy.

    Dorothy Day once said (or so it is alleged), “The Church can be a Whore of Babylon at times”. But I disagree! The Church is signified in Mary, and she was not a whore.

    Sure Dorothy could be wrong, just as I could be wrong about the alleged quote. But the truth is this: If we live the Church’s life, follow Mary, we will not be whores.

    For Mary was inseparably united to Christ, and the Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ said to the adulteress: “Go and sin no more.” Let us heed Him.

  • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    You hear that a certain Martin Luther was right, “sin and sin boldly.”

    That is what I got from your article Mr. Shea.

    I am sorry but I still disagree with you on the Liturgy. I am going to write a longer explanation later, however I would like to say that I enjoy your writing on most things, you have made me see certain truths to which I was very close minded on regarding Catholic doctrine on civil matters. I know that you do not like to engage on matters liturgical and every time you write about it seems to me that its clear why.

    • Matt G

      I don’t get the sense from Mark’s article that he is excusing real sin or liturgical abuse. If anything, it seems that the main point of the article is “Forgive, and forgive boldly”.

      • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

        I can see why you would say that and to a point I would agree, however he is not saying forgive, he is saying that there is nothing to forgive because it is all good. In fact as he puts it he said we should be “thankful” for bad liturgy which in turn promotes heresy.

        See this is where me and Mr. Shea part ways and that is, that he does not think the liturgy is important at least not important like doctrine is important he pushes it to the back of the bus so to speak a second class status. As he called it once in an explanation very much like this one the Liturgy should be as “old pair of shoes.”

        • Mark P. Shea

          I can see why you would say that and to a point I would agree, however he is not saying forgive, he is saying that there is nothing to forgive because it is all good.

          No. I’m not. I’m not saying anything close to that. To say that a Catholic is sometimes doing something morally, spiritually or intellectually wrong is another way of saying that a Catholic is sinning. Sin requires forgiveness. It does not require, as a general rule, self-appointed lay bishops constantly enacting vigilante excommunications against the impure, however.

          Which *was* what I said.

          • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

            Well it seems that either I have not understood what you have written or you have not effectively communicated your idea.

  • I think you make a very valid point. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we are Real (TM) Catholics and everyone else is not. There was a time in my life when I was pro-choice. It’s easy to forget that and want to rattle the teeth of anyone who calls themselves Catholic and pro-choice in the same breath. At that time, I honestly didn’t see the contradiction between calling myself Catholic and being pro-choice, and I have to remember that neither do they. There was a time in my life when I found the Church’s refusal to admit women to the priesthood some kind of proof that we were second class citizens. Now I know better, but it’s easy to get impatient with those who are still stuck in that point of view and want to exclude them from wearing the Real (TM) Catholic title. We all have sins, and I have more than my fair share, that we struggle to overcome. We are all on different points in our journey. Rather than getting impatient or looking down on those who aren’t where we are, it’s important to have compassion on them and try to steer them gently in the right direction just as God has done to me along the way.

  • Mark P. Shea


    Bravo! You cheer my heart!

  • BigIrish

    Both the super-traditionalist and the author both seem just a wee bit too concerned with other Catholics at times.

    I agree with the traditionalist person that the real presence is utterly awe-inspiring, but I can’t imagine how they can justify talking about grubby-handed fellow Catholics if he’s so busy being awestruck by receiving God himself.

    And yes, we don’t treat other denominations as lepers, but rather as people who don’t live in the fullness of the truth, fellow humans whom we love and try to help along the road to God. But that doesn’t mean we can put our hands up as sinners and say we’re lazy slobs etc etc…. one of the worst things in this world is that good people don’t become better.

    I’m trying to not to ever settle for anything less than perfection. You can’t say you’re a lazy slob if you’re meant to be carrying your Cross behind Our Lord. I don’t mean to complain or anything, but should we not end a big blog on this kind of topic with something a bit more than saying how bad a Catholic you are.

    Its like you’re trying to ensure you remain modest to the point where you’re undermining the challenge of being Catholic – to draw ever closer to perfection.

    • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

      No not at all I think he came of as somebody obviously concerned because that which is suppose to lead us to heaven now leaves us flat on the ground. That which was once beautiful has become tainted and what took away our thirsts now makes us thirsty.

  • Michael PS

    Mgr Ronald Knox has an excellent description of this tendency that he calls by the old 18th century term, “enthusiasm.:

    “I would have called [this] tendency ‘ultrasupernaturalism’. For that is the real character of the enthusiast; he expects more evident results from the grace of God than we others. He sees what effects religion can have, does sometimes have, in transforming a man’s whole life and outlook; these exceptional cases (so we are content to think them) are for him the average standard of religious achievement. He will have no ‘almost-Christians’, no weaker brethren who plod and stumble…at the root of it lies a different theology of grace. Our traditional doctrine is that grace perfects nature but leaves it nature still. The assumption of the enthusiast is bolder and simpler; for him, grace has destroyed nature, and replaced it.”

    What was Jansenism, after all, but “the vigilant conscience of Christendom overshadowed by a scruple”

  • Yay, Mark! Eeeeexcellent. Well done, Smitherszsz.

  • Mike

    Mark – This was Fantastic! Thank you! I’m one of your silent readers, never having felt the need to comment on your articles that set people aflame with political passions. You are my brother in Christ, who in your own style, just reiterated and reinforced the same message CS Lewis expounded years ago in Mere Christianity, the Screwtape Letters, and others. You have warmed my heart with your article, today. As a revert, I went through the phase of being angry that you describe, and by the Grace of God came to the conclusion you have just articulated (albeit over a painful 10 year period); it is the only position that I can reconcile with our faith.

    To those who may suggest or infer that Mark is somehow letting sinners off the hook, read his words again. We’re all sinners; we’re all bad Catholics. That’s why we keep coming back again and again to the fountain of Mercy. Christ commanded us to be perfect like our Heavenly Father is perfect; it is only He who can ultimately make us Perfect. So when you discover your brother lacking in the Faith (or lacking Faith altogether) expound to him all the more, charitably preaching the Gospel (using words if necessary), all the while trusting in the mystery that is Divine Mercy.

    Thank you Mark!

  • Deacon Ed

    Mark, what you write can be summed up in 6 words: The sacrament of Penance is underutilized!

  • BigIrish

    Yes but is it not a disservice to say “We’re all a bunch of slobs and losers and incorrigibly average people”. The Church welcomes everyone, but also has Saints and martyrs.

    I’m not saying we don’t all sin, but come on… I’m not going to write off the things God has done for me in my life in the past. I’m neither a slob nor a loser; I work hard professionally, personally and spiritually because I’m called to follow Jesus and honour Him by my very life.

    I’m not happy saying I’m a bad Catholic because I realise how much I need God. Surely by recognising how much you truly need God, you become a better Catholic than you were.

  • Mrs O

    It seems that this attitude, we are all sinners, is what lead to the misconception of who is fit for ministry and who isn’t. This is often used when you here of a priest who has committed a grave sin and scandal – we are all human after all and fall! It would seem better to me to identify the sin, address it and move on. I for one expect a little more out of our leaders. Another thing missing is repentance.
    Also, it would do is all some good to know what makes a sacrament valid and what doesnt. Some of what Mr Shea alludes to would make the sacrament invalid in which we have a duty to say something not excluding going somewhere else. But I do understand the temptation of finding fault with everything and it stems from pride. But saying nothing when something grievous is occurring is just as bad.

    • JP

      Actually I thought Mr. Shea was making a good distinction between was was truly worthy of complaint and what was not.

      It is true that we are all sinners, but some do sin more spectactularly than others…and seem to revel in the spectacle. THAT is where the issue arises…

  • Andy

    Me: I receive standing and on the tongue and have not the slightest idea or concern what my neighbor does. They are brother and sister Catholics, and whatever they do is between them and God.

    This is exactly the mentality to have. Heck, years ago, I found myself overly concerned that I was the only person bowing during the words of Incarnation during the Creed. After I while I came to my senses and realized I’m not the Catholic Police. Now, I close my eyes when I bow, and in my mind everyone else bows, too.

    “Everybody is a material heretic,” said a priest I once knew.

    Would it violate his privacy to give his name? That’s a quote I would love to attribute to somebody.

    • Bill M

      Now, I close my eyes when I bow, and in my mind everyone else bows, too.

      Yes! to this, Andy. Thank you.

    • Dave

      “Everybody is a material heretic” is an old trope. Countless folks have made this point for centuries.

  • Ann

    It must be exhausting to be a convert sometimes. Oh the blessing to be born a Catholic and to just feel it in your heart.

    Catholicism is simple. Uneducated people have been practicing it, oh, for over 2,000 years. If it doesn’t feel simple, then you need to step back.

    If you’re doing battle on the internet all the live long day, step away and shut the computer down.

    • Ann, that is the best comment that I have ever read on any story anywhere. Thank you!

    • Cherie

      Ann, I couldn’t agree more. I’m a cradle Catholic, but often along the journey to understand the faith in an adult, intellectual way, I’ve stumbled out of the common-sense, gut feeling that is really a pretty effective guide for daily Catholic life.

      My boyfriend, on the opposite end of the spectrum, was raised by Catholic parents with no actual faith formation, so he has all the Catholic instincts with very little educated analysis. It is my hope that we’ll eventually balance each other into one thoughtful but functional Catholic couple.

    • james Hughes

      absolutely spot on. I am a cradle catholic and just love the notion that god made and loves me. I also love the fact that he gave me the one, holy ,catholic church to get through life and eventually get to heaven. Problem is I get fed up with all the bickering I read on the web. You are quite right ,catholicism has been learnt by some of the dumbest people for 2000 years or so. Look at the apostles some of them weren’t the brightest stars in the heavens. We should all just calm down, put out our hand and be grateful god takes it. AMDG.

  • Eddie

    Great Article Mark!
    For the first minute there, I thought you had talked to my confessor! For that person you talked about going from Parrish to Parrish trying to find the perfect one, there isn’t one. And I guessed he/ she is truly a Roamin Catholic. I heard a priest once say: the Catholic Church is the perfect church filled w/ imperfect people.

  • BigIrish

    Uneducated people have been practicing their faith for 2000 years because God uses Catholics to defend and speak out for their faith. We are the custodians of the faith in our generation – it is our obligation to pass it on.

    The apostles didn’t step back, the martyrs didn’t step back – and saints don’t step back.

    • JP

      I think it was GK Chesterton who once said that the Church is something a mouse can wade in or an elephant can drown in. (or something like that)

      We are all given to in whatever capacity we can handle. For some the Church is simple. For others, it is life in the trenches.

      I don’t think this is a mistake

  • Melissa

    Sir, I take off my hat to you and stand in awe. You are a true gift to our church. (But don’t let it go to your head.)

  • i think the way M Shea writes this has an unfortunate slight (and Im just speaking in full honesty here : ) ‘moral relativistic’ attitude in this piece.

    There is a way to discuss and make certain points in greater reverence about recognizing the distinctions of that “protestant/congregational” attitude (wherever that person lands in the space of time in history) within the church. I mean we ought point out and recognize the deep history and reasons for our Traditions, instead of ignoring them and looking forward only….(such as receiving in the hand, kneeling before communion, the awesome Latin Mass etc)…..and not let others tear those things down or make them seem as “equal” to receiving in the hand etc.
    There needs to be a defense of those traditions, always in reverence, and never in a spirit of moral relativism.

  • BigIrish


  • RK

    Just because the Church is made up of “sinners and slobs” that doesn’t mean that we should embrace inadequacy as the Church’s default position on anything. On the contrary, the Church, as the bride of Christ, reflects, leads and implores us to our eternal destiny. It seems awfully self satisfying and a little ‘bassackwards’ to suggest that mediocrity should be the defining characteristic of the Church vis-a-vis dogma, morality, liturgy, etc. simply because WE’RE all failures. The best hitters in baseball get base hits in three-out-of-ten at bats but those seven-out-of-ten failures haven’t lowered the standard of how excellence is defined…….yet. How about a Church, while recognizing that perfection is quite impossible, also insists on greatness (holiness) from itself and from those in the pews?

  • Maria

    Micaela (and some others), I think the question of what precisely is objectively better or worse, sinful or not sinful, etc., is almost irrelevant to what Mr. Shea is trying to do here. His article isn’t relativistic in the least, simply because his topic doesn’t concern itself with examining what is objectively good and what is objectively bad.
    In fact, it rather assumes that some practices are good and others are bad, and then tries to make the point that, in a sense, we shouldn’t let the fact that there is bad stuff bother us. Or, more precisely, we shouldn’t let it make us feel morally superior, because we are also sinners and imperfect. And even if we are striving to respond properly to grace and others seem not to be, well, (1) we don’t know what graces they might or might not be responding to — they might be responding to the best of their ability, but God might be dealing with other issues than the ones that bug us; (2) that’s pretty precisely the kind of judging we’re not supposed to do; and (3) if God hadn’t gratuitously brought us to the place where we would try to respond properly to grace, we wouldn’t be striving to do so, so our doing so certainly doesn’t give us cause to look down on others. There is a proper way to respond to objectively sinful deeds and less-than-ideal practices, but that proper way does not include scorning those who do them.

  • FamilyMan

    I have to recognize myself in here often.

    The missal you are holding during Mass says to bow…so why don’t you?

    Why does half the congregation, and most of the men, refuse to sing? Good, bad or ridiculous songs…aren’t we supposed to sing? If not, why don’t we avoid the whole (usually) lame effort?

    My kids and I knelt during Mass at the “right times” while visiting a parish near my parents home in a “liberal diocese”…and had a local parishioner come up and thank us for doing the right thing–no one else knelt. Why?

    For those of us who like rules, Mass can be confusing. One parish holds hands, another doesn’t. 10 seconds for the shaking of your neighbors hands or 5 minutes of ample handshakes, strolling about the church and hugs-aplenty.

    One woman kept snatching at my hand because I wouldn’t hold hers and lift them up…

    I listen to Brother Knights offer to pitch in funds for the KOC’s pro-life ultrasound initiative, and in the next breath hear them be glad that Virginia has executed another prisoner “who deserved it”.

    I love baby noises during Mass…and know that many don’t.

    Where is the line between keeping my eyes on my own paper and trying to help my fellow man do the right thing? Is the real answer to close my eyes and tend to my own knitting?

    I have my own problems, and I should strive to let you have yours. Besides with summer attire breaking out, closing my eyes is often the only solution I have left.

  • Tim Trainor

    Thank you, Mark, for speaking a truth that I have to hear repeatedly. I winced with self-recognition more than once while reading your post. I am slowly (VERY slowly) beginning to learn that every time I’m tempted to look down on the (in my proud opinion) less-than-orthodox Catholic, it’s often because I have un-repented sin on my own soul and lashing out at others diverts my attention from my own need for repentance. Spiritual pride seems to be so much more dangerous than even the sins of the flesh, because it can be self-justifying and spiritually blinding. Thanks again, Mark, for a wonderful reflection.

  • Gabriel Austin

    Mr. Shea needs to reflect on the ease with which he criticizes those with whom he disagrees. That they may shout does not make them less Catholic. A problem with C.S. Lewis is that he was just a tad too polite, too lady-like.

    There are reasons for the customs and practices of the Church; they were developed over the centuries. If you see a man walking near the edge of a cliff, you do not whisper “Be careful”. You shout; and so do our wives when they want to correct some of our failings.

  • Mark P. Shea

    It seems awfully self satisfying and a little ‘bassackwards’ to suggest that mediocrity should be the defining characteristic of the Church vis-a-vis dogma, morality, liturgy, etc. simply because WE’RE all failures.

    You know, that is so very true. Which is probably why I never said or implied any such thing.

  • Mark P. Shea

    Gabriel: Calling the bulk of your fellow Catholics “clapping fornicators”, insulting the mass of hard-working and dedicated priests as “turning their back on God”, and priding oneself on one’s own “humble awe” is just the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector played out again as farce instead of tragedy. Don’t humbug me with the Catcher in the Rye schtick. I have no problem with correcting perceived problems. I argue with Catholics who I think are wrong about this and that every day. But assuming the pseudo-episcopal authority to declare who is and is not a “real” Catholic is bogus. Every Catholic is a material heretic somehow or other. Our task is to help each other, not read each other out of the Church.

    Oh, and “ladylike”? Feh!

  • Mena

    The article ignores the problem of generational trends. Nations have periods of disciplined greatness and periods of decay, and so it is with any business, and so it is with The Church. The Catholic Church, like the broader Western culture, has experienced massive apathy and half-heartedness in matters of faith. It’s as much a problem for non-Catholic Christians.

    In contrast, Muslims are some of the most strict, serious, devout people of religion on the planet. I consider Islam to be seriously off in matters of doctrinal truth, but in matters of devotion it’s hard to find people more dedicated.

    I think whenever a society or organization sets the bar low and makes excuses for mediocrity, the result is increasing decay. In contrast, whenever organizations that set the bar high and enforce discipline, it tends towards relative excellence.

    So it is with the Catholic Church in the modern world. The Bishops and laypeople can either set the bar low and watch human nature tend towards mediocrity. Or, we can set the bar high and encourage people towards discipline and holiness.

    So, I don’t really disagree with Mark’s assessment, but I think organizations have to decide what they are shooting for mediocrity or excellence. And dedication and discipline make all the difference.

  • All the world is weird, except thee and me, and even thee is a little weird to me.

    … we chide Protestants for dividing into into smaller and smaller splinter groups ….. sometimes it seems that the only difference between Catholics and Protestants is that Catholics, through no virtue of their own, have a tangible reason to wag their finger at Protestants and say WE KNOW BETTER; not that GOD KNOWS BETTER and desires we slug it out and learn to “love one another as I have loved you”.

  • BigIrish

    Taking constructive criticism, whether you feel it is deserved or not isn’t something to be avoided either Mr Shea.

    But then, we are ALL bad Catholics and slobs or what-have-you.

    You see? If you don’t clarify whatever it is that you mean by posting stuff online, and talk in broad terms, people can misinterpret it and think you’re a smug jerk.

    Now was what I wrote above serious or an attempt at humour? We aim for perfection because God is perfection. I don’t like to spend time thinking how mediocre I am when I could be thinking of things I need to work on. Your article came off a bit insulting whereas I think you could have ended on a more constructive note.

  • Mena

    One last point…

    It’s the leadership that sets the tone and expectation for any organization. If there’s vision and a call to excellence at the top, then the people will respond. In our case, that’s the Pope and bishops. If they make policy changes and ramp up expectations for devotion and some generational purpose (and have a clear plan for what the people should be doing), then that aligns everyone together and motivates all members to achieve the mission.

    If the Church identifies a motivational task for our times–something we Catholics *must accomplish* to advance the kingdom and defeat evil in our day–then the people will step up and do it. If we don’t have a clear mission, we tend to stray and lose our way.

  • Mark,

    Why do you write an article on tradition, traditionalists and the Mass just days after Universae Ecclesiae was released. Yet give no mention to it or to Summorum Pontificum? I find that a bit odd indeed. Even if you perhaps wrote of it else where you should have written of it here. Being that it has every thing to do with the topic.

    Also I cannot share your apparent (and too often repeated) snarky, rude and stereotypical views of ‘traditionalists’ Catholics.

    God Bless,

  • Dan

    What’s worse than a Catholic slob? A Catholic elitist who lives like money and influence is the 11th Commandment and that their perfect timeliness, fixatedly well organized routines, NFP regulated family, suit coat and tie is an indication they are cut from a better Catholic cloth; that the slob is doing something inherently sinful and worthy of disdain.

    • Stu

      I find your post ironic. Did you read the article?

  • David

    Mark-Thank you for this perspective. I am amazed from some of the posts at how many people apparently started reading it with a closed mind and ended up the same way. I too am a sinner and at times a spiritual slob. Thank God for the sacraments to give me the grace to draw closer to Christ in spite of my imperfections.

  • jkm

    Thank you for confronting what this revert has found most troubling since her return–this seeming need to define who is Really Catholic by ever smaller and more elite and self-congratulatory criteria, wherever we fall on the spectrum that has become increasingly pegged to the political. I would call it less Protestantism than neoGnosticism (and I should know, have been in my time away both materially and formally heretical): this assurance that we alone are possessed of the true knowledge, marked by a pride that tilts over into violence of thought and speech if not of action.

    Recognition of this evil in ourselves is the first step toward removing the poison that keeps us from the unity Christ gave Himself to give us; thank you for holding up the two-sided mirror.

    And not least for doing so while using my favorite word, twaddle. Finally, would it be trivializing the power of your piece to request that someone please, please name a rock band The Clapping Fornicators?

  • Mark P. Shea

    Why do you write an article on tradition, traditionalists and the Mass just days after Universae Ecclesiae was released.

    I don’t. I *write* the article a couple of weeks ago, in an effort to get a great deal of work done so I can take a vacation on Memorial Day weekend without deadline pressures hanging over me. Crisis publishes the article today.

    And the article isn’t about tradition, traditionalists or the Mass. It’s about those Catholics of whatever stripe who make it their habit to regard most other Catholics as their enemies. You may feel comfortable arraigning all traditionalists as fitting that bill. I think such an arraignment is highly unfair and insulting to most traditionalists.

    • Sorry for the typo but you wouldn’t be a grammar “fussbudget” would you Mark?

      The article is at least partly about the Mass, clearly that much is so, but it is also in line with your stereotypical views that you’ve put forth about traditionalists in the pass.

      In the article you clearly mock the traditionalists view point on the liturgy. Such comments as “where the priest has his back turned to God”. This clearly mocks the traditionalists hope that the Church will return to the traditional practice of the Priest facing ad orientem at Mass.

      With the release of Universae Ecclesiae it would have been good of you to have edited the article to include it. Since it does, despite your claims, pertain to your article.

      In any event in the article you clearly make the argument that being judgmental is wrong but you do so as you are being judgmental. Or at least it appears so with the snark and mockery.

      Lastly I am a traditional Catholic, as well as a reader of your articles. So I am no stranger when it comes to your stereotypical views and mocking statements of us. Nor am I one of your “angry traditionalists” I’m quite happy, so to are all the traditionalists I know.

      So please take your own advise and stop making unjust characterizations of your fellow Catholics.

      Thanks and God Bless,

      • Mark P. Shea

        In the article you clearly mock the traditionalists view point on the liturgy. Such comments as “where the priest has his back turned to God”. This clearly mocks the traditionalists hope that the Church will return to the traditional practice of the Priest facing ad orientem at Mass.

        No. In my article I *quote* a traditionalist’s viewpoint on a perfectly reverent and valid celebration of the liturgy by a holy and reverent priest. *He* is the one doing the mocking by deriding that holy and reverent priest as “turning his back on God” when Holy Church says the good padre is engaged in a perfectly licit and valid act of worship. Traditionalists have every right to prefer an ad orientum form of worship if they choose. They do not have the right to mock and heap contempt on brother Catholics who worship ad populum or in the Paul VI rite. That some traditionalists make a mockery of Traditionalism with this sort of icy Pharisaic pride is to be laid at their feet, not at mine for quoting them. Such traditionalists, not me, are the great enemies the Traditionalist movement has. Stop making excuses for them and tell them to knock it off.

        • Erin

          Where did he “make excuses” for radical traditionalists (the Catholics who typically consider the Ordinary Form illicit)? You seem to be putting words in his mouth. He simply pointed out that your article has lumped traditionalists with radical traditionalists. I do not know a single traditionalist who critiques, no, blatantly judges the other Catholics in the pews. Traditionalists set their eyes on the liturgy and push for proper liturgical celebration. The Mass is about Jesus Christ, not man (which I know you know).

          I think you need to do a better job of distinguishing between traditionalists and radical traditionalists. Moreover, the sort of behavior you have written about is not limited to radical traditionalists. Plenty of mainstream and liberal Catholics have nasty attitudes, like those who admonish women in veils at Mass for such an “archaic” and “misogynistic” practice. In fact, when I was a child, I remember a homily in which the priest ridiculed reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. That type of behavior is hardly Catholic either.

          • Mark P. Shea

            Where did he “make excuses” for radical traditionalists (the Catholics who typically consider the Ordinary Form illicit)?

            When he ignored the fact that he was looking at a quote from a Traditionalist and tried to pretend that it was a parody I invented.

        • So instead you’ve cherry picked a radical traditionalist, not a actual traditionalist to fit your pre-made template about your fellow Catholics who are loyal traditionalists.

          This person does not at all represent the movement as a whole. The vast majority of traditionalists do not act this way Erin is correct. We have our eyes on Christ not the people around us. And I thought you told me this article was not about traditionalists? Now it seems it has something to do with traditionalists. Hum… interesting, very very interesting.

          What matters is that such persons who are not actually traditionalist do not represent the majority of traditionalists.

          • Mark didn’t “cherry-pick” anyone, David. The reader left the comment Mark quoted, and it wasn’t the only one in that post thread, as I recall, where that sort of sweeping judgment of Catholics who are perfectly happy to attend O.F. Masses was made.

            If a reader somehow wandered over to Mark’s from the National Catholic Reporter and left a comment dissing all traditional-leaning Catholics as evil judgmental Pharisees who are as diabolically proud as the Jansenists of old, I’m sure Mark would come to the defense of the typical peaceful E.F. Mass attendee who doesn’t think the O.F. is invalid or dodgy or too tainted by Freemasonry to have any good in it (etc.), and doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with those who do. In fact, I’ve seen him do that sort of thing on his blog.

            I know, in real life, E.F. Mass attendees who actually attend the occasional O.F. Mass (and receive Communion!) who have relatives who are EMHCs or altar girls, etc. and who don’t think it’s their job to “convert” them, or anyone else, away from what some openly call a fundamentally deficient liturgy. Alas, these sort of traditionalists seem woefully underrepresented in the Catholic blogosphere.

          • Mark P. Shea

            No True Scotsman is a radical traditionalist.

            That said, it is you and not I who insist on saying that guy represents all traditionalists. I made no such claim, but you seem bent on saying he does. I think that is unfair to many if not most Traditionalists.

      • Charlotte

        The problem is that the traditionalists (the loud, angry, arrogant ones) aren’t going to give a rat’s a*s about the new liturgy. They’ll rip on it and criticize it anyway because it’s not the TLM. Watch and see.

        • Erin

          Mark –

          I think it is abundantly clear from his posts that David is a traditionalist and is defending traditionalists from a nasty stereotype.

          Why you keep insisting that HE is the one unfairly labeling traditionalists is beyond me.

  • Charles Woodbury

    Many chewable thoughts up there… Like “thank you God I’m not like that pharisee over there”.
    How rare are our thoughts & deeds that don’t mask some form of pride?

  • Stu

    Sound article. I have seen much of what the article speaks over the years by those who sit in judgment on those Catholics who simply want to do things like kneel during the consecration, receive while kneeling, promote Eucharistic Adoration, desire Bells at Mass, cover their heads during Mass (Mass), establish a Rosary before Mass, want quiet in Church or the Tabernacle front and center on the altar. Or those who have an affinity for the Extraordinary Form have been treated by the establishment as 2nd class citizens over the last few years. Then there are Catholic seminarians who are labeled as “Overly Pious and Devout” (OPD) for their Marian devotion or desire to learn the Old Mass. Indeed, such judgment on one’s Catholic credentials has been prominent over the last 30 years.

    “Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this [Traditional Latin] liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past.” (Cardinal Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy. San Francisco: Ignatius. 416)

    Indeed, sound article.

  • Rich Browner

    Glad to see this article.

    Glad indeed.

  • Carl

    “There ain’t no pure Church”
    “It’s about those Catholics of whatever stripe who make it their habit to regard most other Catholics as their enemies.”

    This coming from someone who’s in search of a perfect politician to vote for? At least this is my understanding of your previous writings on political matters.

    Better to vote for no one at all than the lesser of two evils. Even when a vote can be differentiated between pro-life and pro-death.

    If there ever exists a greater bunch of slobs, losers and incorrigibly average people—its politicians.

  • Pam

    Two or three years ago, I, who am what is charitably known as an “inactive Catholic” happened to encounter my dad’s parish priest in the parking lot of a local store. After a few moments of passing the time, I asked Father if he knew of any place locally where the Latin Mass is said. He looked me up and down and replied “Oh, so you’re one of THOSE are you?” The remark has certainly not hastened my return to the fold, but I am still hopeful that the Latin Mass and a modicum of peace and quiet in the church will come to a Church Near Me. Thanks for the article, Mark.

  • Carl

    “It’s about those Catholics of whatever stripe who make it their habit to regard most other Catholics as their enemies.”

    I don’t see it that way at all. Actually, I see the prevailing attitude being the exact opposite way. Catholics of whatever stripe make the Church their enemy not realizing that the Church is full of broken and sick people.

    “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is of course, quite a different thing.”
    —-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

    And the fact that the typical Catholic polls the about same as a non-Catholic on most social issues it would have to be concluded then that these same stripe catholics would regard most other non-catholic people as their enemies too. I just don’t see this condition as prevailing.

  • Cord Hamrick

    So far as I know, the best strategies for dealing with imperfections in the Church are:

    1. Work on our own imperfections, first (especially through regular use of Reconciliation);

    2. Do not press others to fix their own imperfections through complaint and criticism; instead, we should give constructive criticism only when asked, and to issue admonition only when we have been elevated to a position of authority which lays that responsibility on us;

    3. Protect (as much as possible, by switching parishes if need be) our children from the worst of bad doctrine and practice without thereby adopting (or teaching to our children) an attitude of superiority towards those with bad doctrine and practice;

    4. Use our own time and talent in a volunteer way to contribute to the Church in a fashion which compensates as much as possible for the weaknesses we perceive (e.g. volunteering as a catechist to compensate for bad catechists)…but refuse to complain about the problem we’re attempting to solve, thereby keeping others in the dark (as much as possible without dishonesty) about our motives; and,

    5. Remember who and what we are, and how much Jesus forgives in us, whenever we’re dealing with frustrating people.

    These five items, taken together, comprise a good approach to dealing with the impurities and inadequacies of the Church on earth.

    Now if I could only get myself to follow them….

  • Mark P. Shea

    This coming from someone who’s in search of a perfect politician to vote for? At least this is my understanding of your previous writings on political matters.

    Then your understanding is grossly defective. Refusing to vote for a politician who asks me to support grave intrinisic evil is not searching for a “perfect politician”. It is asking for rock bottom minimalist decency. Only in the topsy turvy world of deranged conservative Catholicism is it possible for holding hands during the Our Father to be conflated with blasphemy and child molestation worthy of excommunication while demanding not to be made a moral supporter of torture or abortion is defined as “perfectionism”. The biblical term for this sort of derangement is “straining at gnats and swallowing camels.”

  • Carl

    Pam: “my dad’s parish priest”

    Please allow what you learned in this article to guide you to answer someone who is ungracious to you next time on these matters.

    Catholic means universal. It’s not the ordinary mass church or the extraordinary mass church.

    I make no judgment nor want to address why you’re inactive but typical “inactive Catholics” are so because of a hang up with some teaching of the Church be it divorce, contraception, or what have you.

    Your Dad’s priest was wrong to define the church as anti-latin and many “inactive Catholics” are also wrong to exclude themselves or allow others to do so because they are not in full communion—just don’t receive the Eucharist if that’s the case. The Church is for all of us slobs, losers and incorrigibly average people.

  • Carl

    * McCain supported neither torture nor abortion.
    * Obama has become the most pro-abortion President ever
    * Enhanced interrogation legislation passed with bipartisan support in Congress
    * Obama and the democrats could have easily repealed enhanced interrogation legislation the last two years
    * Obama has only pledged to not use water boarding during his presidency—it’s still legal under law
    * SERE training of thousands of servicemen continues with water board training

    So that makes enhanced interrogation mutually owned by both parties. Democrats own abortion and the other non-negotiables .

  • Mark P. Shea

    McCain supported ESCR, which is why I didn’t vote for him. I oppose the cannibalism of babies.

    I also didn’t vote for the Dems, since they also support various grave intrinsic evils.

    So I’m not sure what your point is, Carl, but mine remains plain and obvious. I will not support grave intrinsic evil, whichever candidate asks me to do so. That’s not perfection. That’s moral minimalism. Basic decency. You still seem to be arguing that as long as a Republican is only in favor of eating a few babies, that’s okay as long as it’s not as many babies as Democrats want to eat. I want a candidate who says he will not eat any babies. Not perfection. Just no baby eating and similar sorts of inhuman acts.

  • Karen in Denver

    Praise God for the timing of this article. Just this last Sunday I had my first assignment as a self-appointed Liturgy Cop. My godson was making his first communion at a parish that’s not my own, and boy was I busy at Mass. I made lots of mental notes about the general state of ‘goofiness’ at this parish. After holy communion, my godson gave me a giant and spontaneous hug, smiling broadly. He was so very happy that I had no choice but to spit out that lemon I was sucking all through Mass… My little guy was full of Joy in having communed physically and spiritually with our Lord, and I almost missed it!!!
    Excerpts from this article are going into my purse for the next time I feel tempted onto my high horse…

  • I confess! That was me in Mass this Sunday who raised her arm up part way into an orans position during the Alleluia! I was so swept up in giving praise to God and being filled by His love that I didn’t realize what I was doing until it was too late, but I repented immediately. Oh, I was worried that I had caused scandal amongst my most conservative brethren…

    Right on with what you wrote, Mark.
    I am a convert from the Episcopal church, and I was at first scandalized by what I perceived as a lack of reverence as people received the Eucharist, but I have learned to stop watching others and instead focus on the One who is coming to me, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Whether I receive in the hand or on the tongue, kneeling or standing, the outer actions can help to remind me of the reality, but it is the condition, intention, and attention of my heart that leads me to praise and worship Him more deeply in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

  • Big_D

    Mark, while I tend to disagree with more than a few of your columns, this is an excellent piece. I know I spotted myself in parts of your column, especially when I was a new convert. I think all Catholics have SOMETHING about which they are passionate: kneeling or standing, hand or tongue, Marty Haugen or traditional hymns, and can be very judgmental towards those with an opposite view.

  • Russell Peterson

    My prayers go to all those who confuse the rules with God. The rules are to help us love God and neighbor. Sadly, we often use them to separate ourselves from God and neighbor. If this was a liberal site the blogger could have written the same piece with a quote from an over the top “progressive”.
    The two extremes are the same reality.

  • “It concerns liturgy, and, as I have said a zillion times here, liturgy is doctrine. Faith, doctrine, liturgy, identity are all interlocked. They are facets reflecting the bright core of the same jewel of our beautiful and true Catholic Thing.” A quote from Fr. Z’s blog.

    Concern over the liturgy is not majoring in a minor, any more than concern over catechesis is. That is because the liturgy is meant to convey a major; in fact, a whole body of majors. And it is perfectly possible to convey this concern without keeping an eye out on what your neighbor is doing in the next pew. After all, authors like Martin Mosebach and Dietrich von Hildebrand have done it.

    I wonder if all those countless Catholics who built the Cathedrals and composed and performed great liturgical music were all artistic fussbudgets? ; )

  • Carl

    435 members in the US House
    100 members in the US Senate

    I challenge anyone to list more that 10 members out of this 535 who are perfectly pro-life according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    During the Obama healthcare debate Bart Stupack proved that no Democratic Party member will be found on this pro-life perfection list.

    Voting a perfect “I will not support grave intrinsic evil” accomplishes what? Surrender?
    Liberals have arguably spent the last 100 years slowly eroding our US Constitution and Judeo-Christian values and some expect an overnight reversal? Not likely.

    Section 73 of Pope John Paul II’s Evangellium speaks of limiting the harm or what I would call moving the ball down field sports analogy. The goal being the touchdown of pro-life perfection. And you would appear to argue that this is just an argument to justify the “lesser of two evils.” And that it violates the rule of non-negotiables.

    In my mind this strategy of all or nothing only guarantees it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. And if this all or nothing strategy never becomes a political movement—it will be over. I can think of no other historical example where this strategy can invoke confidence. I feel despair and loss of Hope.

    If this isn’t parallel to making the Just War theory synonymous with Absolute Pacifism it most certainly is advocating voting and political Paralysis.

    I would say without statistical proof I am confident that at least 75% of regular Mass attending Catholics would fail to acquire a perfect score on the five non-negotiables. Abortion, euthanasia, human embryonic stem cells, cloning, and on the definition of marriage. All intrinsic evils.

    And it makes no sense that you can quote that a priest you once knew said that “Everybody is a material heretic,” while at the same time predict that an army of Catholic non-negotiables could rally to take back American politics.

  • Carl

    If God can have such endless patience and mercy upon slobs, losers and incorrigibly average people like me why can’t I reciprocate the same towards others like wayward politicians.

    • Carl

      Doesn’t God rebuke the all or nothing perfection strategy?

      Noah, Genesis 9-11, after flooding the wickedness of man away, the new covenant symbolized by the rainbow, is the promise to never strike down every living thing again.

      Abraham, Genesis 18-32, if ten just men exist I will not destroy them.

      Matt 13:24-30 parable lets the weed grow with the wheat, and then instructs to separate the weeds at harvest time.

      We are living a revealed faith, perfection is only found through Christ on the Cross. Politics are of this world and Caesar. Where am I wrong in this?

      Knowing the condition of American politics demanding biblical perfection NOW is akin to a form of Catholic anarchy—at least in the eyes of this world. Are we to be modern day Joshuas blowing our horns and besieging the pagan fortresses?

      • Mark P. Shea

        I’m quite happy to have merciful patience with politicians who advocate grave evil. I pray they will stop advocating it. I try to help them stop by not enabling their wicked and sinful choices with a vote that says, “Good job! Keep sinning!” You should stop enabling politicians who are advocating grave evil too, Carl. The way you deal with sin is not by voting for it, but by praying for the sinner at Mass.

        It’s only complicated if you want it to be, Carl.

        • Carl

          Yes, it will be really uncomplicated using your method. There will be virtually almost no one to vote for in politics.

          “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

          Would have the twelve apostles won a political election in their time?
          Would have “cock crow three times” Peter won an election for his leadership skills?

          But they did prevail.

          • Mark P. Shea

            Right. They prevailed. And not by compromising their principles or by whoring after political power, but by living their faith. The moral is “Don’t support grave intrinsic evil” not “Vote for the lesser of two grave evils.”

  • Mark P. Shea


    I’m not sure that “not perfectly prolife” equals “advocating grave intrinisic evil”. You assume it does.

    However, if a politician does advocate grave intrinisic evil (as for instance, backing ESCR) you seem to be saying that if he offers just a teeny tiny bite of his sandwich made from human flesh harvested from a murdered baby, a good Republican loyalist should take that bite.

    No thank you. I will not support grave intrinsic evil. That’s that.

    • Brian English

      But you do acknowledge that it is the Church’s position that you could vote for someone like McCain as long as: (1) you don’t vote for him specifically because of his position on ESCR; and (2) there are proportionate reasons for voting for him (like keeping a pro-abortion zealot out of the White House)?

  • Stu

    Is asserting that another Catholic is really following “Protestantism” like calling them a “Neo-Catholic?”

  • Andy

    If God can have such endless patience and mercy upon slobs, losers and incorrigibly average people like me why can’t I reciprocate the same towards others like wayward politicians.

    Sure, have all the patience and mercy you like. That doesn’t mean you should vote for them, though. I may love and forgive an alcoholic family member, but I sure as heck am not going to let them near the liquor cabinet.

    Why don’t we talk about the article instead of the tunnel-visioned Pavlovian response of “Ooh, Mark Shea article! Let’s criticize his views on torture!”

    • Carl

      If the Catholic Christian community has so few saintly people how can we expect such perfection in our political community where we represent only about 25% of the general population?
      That’s my stated point. I’m not revisiting the torture debate.
      I didn’t vote for McCain’s views on Stem Cells, I voted so he can put two judges on the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, reverse the socialism wave, and live within our means (sins of usury).
      How’s that Obamamania working out for you?

      • Andy

        How’s that Obamamania working out for you?

        You’re not interested in a discussion at all.

        • Carl

          Not interested in a conversation?
          Prior to this second post of yours I believe I out posted you 6 to 1 and maybe 1,000 words to 50. I write this as proof of time and effort in conversation and not in superior thought or writing skills.

          “Why don’t we talk about the article instead” Andy said

          “And the article isn’t about tradition, traditionalists or the Mass. It’s about those Catholics of whatever stripe who make it their habit to regard most other Catholics as their enemies.” Mr. Shea said

          Your one post was about the Mass…

          I don’t consider politicians any more the enemy than the guy next to me in the pew who votes for them.

          And most importantly I consider the guy in the mirror as public enemy number one.

          • Carl

            If 75% of the American population is non-Catholic then I think it’s save to say that advocacy of “grave evil” as understood by the Church is very prevalent in our culture. And much of the remaining 25% (Catholics) in our culture are unrecognizable from the other 75%.

            Am I the only one who sees the political paralysis in voting for only Saints to represent us in government?

            This number is so few the Church only recognizes one politician as a Saint—Thomas More.

  • Big Kev

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mark!

    I have almost given up on many of the Catholic websites, because it seems that I am constantly lectured on what a “bad” or “Inauthentic” Catholic I am, because I don’t speak Latin, don’t understand the Tridentine Mass, and love the Paul VI.

    I am, in the words of Saint Paul “working out my salvation in fear and trembling.” If that’s not good enough for some “Catholic Puritans” (what a GREAT choice of words!), that’s their problem–not mine. I know it’s good enough for Jesus, who loves us and gave himself up for us in all of our imperfections.

  • Charlotte

    Mark, this piece is excellent. You continue to be my hero. Duly linked over at my place.

  • Kat

    Very good article, Mark. It is absolutely true that there are many Catholics who judge other Catholics to be less worthy. On the same token, it’s easy to judge other Catholics as judging other Catholics to be less worthy, if that makes sense. I recently heard a comment from someone who felt a particular parish give off the impression of being pious, self-righteous, and clique-y. The question I asked myself was: is it they who are pious, self-righteous, and clique-y, or he who is judging them to be less worthy than himself? A combox or blog post only provides a few glimpses into another’s heart. Who is judging whom?

    • Stu


  • On June 12th, Pentecost Sunday, I will be confirmed a Catholic…after almost 25 years in the Evangelical subculture.

    I know the Church is the Human Face of Christ…

    I love Our Lord with all my being…I am the greatest of Sinners, in need of Grace, the Eucharist, the snobs, flubs, and buffoons!

    I am thankful for being reminded of the humanness of the Church so that I do not lose my humaneness towards Her…

    I am in awe that the Catholics would even have such a sinner as me…but I kneel in wonder and praise to God!

  • Mark, guilty as charged. I thank the Lord for his good correction and today it comes through you.

    I’m not a rad-trad but I’m one of those (minister) converts who came Home and has spent too much time since bitch picking over this and that to the point where even my family cried, give it a flipping rest will yeah? And, they were right.

    Recently I have been striving to correct the snot head error of my ways and to love others as Christ loved me. It’s a drag because I have to prefer them over me and that means thinking about them ahead of myself and what I *know* is right and to remember that it isn’t liturgy (as important as that is and, it is) but it is love that covers a multitude of sins.

  • Jon W

    Not that those who receive standing and in their grubby hands don’t believe [in the Real Presence] … but why do they do it? (emphasis mine)

    This is the key to the whole issue addressed in this article. The more I’ve talked to people who hold fantastically crazy ideas about the Faith and the Liturgy, etc, etc, etc, the more I’ve found that there are a lot of perfectly understandable reasons for their errors.

    The author of the comment (quoted above) that Mark is responding to knows what it would mean for him to do such a thing, but he does not know what it means for his neighbor to do it. By talking to people sincerely and patiently, I’ve discovered that sometimes their liturgical craziness is actually a misguided attempt to be more reverent.

    • Mark P. Shea

      Actually the author of the quote seems to already know why they do it: they are contemptible Catholics. He has, after all, already made clear elsewhere that if people do other trivial things that offend him, he is mystically empowered to know they are gravely sinful in totally unrelated ways. Hence, those who irritate him by clapping in the liturgy are not merely guilty of clapping in the liturgy, but are also convicted thereby of fornication (giving us the delightful New Wave band name “The Clapping Fornicators”). My reader is quite sure of his standing among the Righteous Remnant and of the damnation of his enemies–virtually all the rest of the Church.

  • Andrea

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this article. It’s an odd chance that brought me to this site tonight, and God used your words to speak to me where I am with my faith.

    In my limited experience, nothing save our Lord can withstand the scrutiny of a thoughtful (much less hyper-sensitive) mind. You say you are a bad Catholic. Well, sir, I am a bad Protestant to whom your article spoke in a very real way tonight. While respecting our differences, I want to thank you for the encouragement you gave me to look not at my failures or at those of the people around me but at the gospel. Your faith and humility help reassure me that it is not foolish to put my hope in the Lamb of God.

    Tonight, that is enough. Again, my thanks.

  • charleswoodbury

    So much finger-pointing from both sides here, yet many of us are still alive that well remember when our liturgy was the same from coast to coast, and none of the current complaints existed.
    The mass could be too long, too short, too boring, but we wern’t at each other’s throats.
    The newest word from the vatican is that the renewal of our liturgy isn’t finished, and that the 2 rites will be once again a single form of liturgy.
    Let us hope & pray our priests & bishops don’t once again try out their innovations.

  • Naomi

    Mark, for some time now I’ve had the conviction that I need to write my spiritual autobiography. Not that I’m so wonderful and a great example, but the theme of the story would be, “How heresy, schism, dissent, and idolatry led me to the Catholic Church.”
    People who go to 12-step meetings have often heard the bromide, “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” There’s more than a bit of truth to that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t reach for expressing beauty and truth — but God can work with any raw materials.

  • Evelyn

    I’ll tell you why I do it–Communion in the hand: I have a very specific oral aversion and absolutely cannot tolerate anyone putting anything into my mouth. Period. It would curl your hair to know why, so I won’t elaborate. Knowing that I have my private reasons for doing some things that don’t seem consistent, helps me remember that lots of other people have their reasons, too, to which I am not privy. I’m so grateful that I can still receive Jesus, in a way that I can tolerate.

  • Katharine

    I am Catholic because I am a horrible sinner. People who know me would be shocked at my past and present sins.
    I just thank Almighty God for my Traditional Latin Mass parish where I can confess my sins in all honesty (7 days a week) and have them taken seriously.
    It’s unfortunate that the parish where the EMHC army shoved Jesus in a closet and Father gave frequent sermons on compassion for the illegal immigrant whitewashed my sins (by appointment only) in pop psychology or dismissed them all together.
    The Church may not be perfect in her people anywhere, but I am thankful I’ve found where Her teachings are faithful and spotless. I had no chance of perfection anywhere else.

  • carson

    There is some merit to his criticism of the traditionalists. The temptation to pride is a strong one, but I disagree with his dismissal of the weightier issues relating to the liturgy. One of the most important means of inspiring the ‘ordinary,’ bigamist, porn-addicted, self-absorbed catholic, is beauty. O’Shea has lost sight of the vertical trajectory of sanctity that attracted that simple lost soul in the first place. Liturgy, beauty, and ritual dignity are important, which is why I suspect he opted to place a picture of an aesthetically tasteful church instead of a more familiar spectacle of American Catholicism.

  • Pingback: Periodically this question erupts in comboxes()

  • Pingback: There Ain’t No Pure Church()

  • Pingback: Prominent Muslim Convert Leaves Church()

  • Pingback: Prominent Muslim Convert Leaves Church - CATHOLIC FEAST - Sync your Soul()

  • Pingback: A Fairly Typical Encounter with a Member of the Urine and Vinegar Wing()

  • Pingback: What is the *Matter* with Me Anyway?()

  • Pingback: Faithful Answers and the Inquisitors’ Anti-Charism of Discernment()

  • Pingback: Rod Dreher posts a piece by an Orthodox nun warning potential converts…()

  • Pingback: Crisis Has a Remarkably Silly Piece Up()