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Steve Skojec’s Benedict Option

Steve Skojec (One Peter Five screenshot [1])

The orthodox Catholic blogger Steve Skojec is in crisis. [2]

In the Facebook discussion, some mentioned the notion of a faithful “remnant”, as so often comes up in conversations like these. My response was to say: talking in vague terms about a Remnant is fine, but what does that mean? Where is it? How does that play out in the lives and families of those trying to simply stay on the path to salvation? How do we raise kids in this without them becoming bitter or giving up on what seems a quixotic refusal to let go of something dying?

How do we boil down what the Church truly is, in her essence, and separate that from what we get in almost every parish we walk into? Just saying “I’m Catholic” could mean virtually anything in 2018, and that’s a problem for us.

So I ask again: where is the Church? What does it consist of when 95% of parishes and bishops and priests and laity are actually not, in any substantive sense, Catholic?

What does it mean when the handful of orthodox bishops in the Church — those very few who give us hope — would prefer to endure unjust persecution rather than stand their ground and fight on behalf of the faithful?

I think paring down the bloat and getting to the lifeblood of what the Church is, and where we find it, is actually where people are going to find some hope.

More:

This, as the interminable winter in the Church stretches on, is where I think more of our time could be well spent. Preserving the beloved things. Finding green shoots poking up through the ice. Reminding each other that despite all appearances, hope is not lost.

I plan to dedicate more of my time in the coming months to such pursuits.

I will spend more time with books. I will attempt to find more time for prayer, and in gratitude. I will seek out the true, the good, and the beautiful. I will, I hope, find a way to recharge somewhat, and seek healing for my battle-weary soul.

Read the whole thing. [2]It sounds to me like this weary pilgrim has found his way to The Benedict Option.  [3] Remember that Father Cassian Folsom, the founding prior of the monastery at Norcia, told me that Christians who don’t undertake some version of it, à la the Tipi Loschi community of San Benedetto del Tronto, are not going to have what it takes to make it through the coming darkness with their faith intact.

Check out the site Steve runs, One Peter Five. [1] He posted this video there a week ago. Hard stuff. NSFW, incidentally. This is what it looks like when an ordinary Catholic dad gets fed up:

UPDATE: Good grief, people, I don’t know that Skojec’s “95 percent” estimate is accurate. I assume it’s overstated for rhetorical effect. But if that’s what you’re focusing on, and ignoring the entirely of his critique, you are straining at gnats and swallowing camels. And if you think the things he’s talking about are limited to the Catholic Church, you’re dreaming. Hope is not optimism, and it can’t be built on sentimentality, whether of the progressive or conservative sort.

“Charity is hard, and endures,” said Flannery O’Connor. I think this is also true about hope. I don’t know Skojec personally, but it seems to me that he has reached a point at which he has stopped expecting to be rescued by institutional leaders. He has stopped thinking that criticizing is going to do much effective good. Instead, he is going to work hard to nurture the green shoots, and to focus on prayer, and on finding and cultivating the good, the true, and the beautiful. Why is this not the right thing to do? He’s not doing this because he’s giving up on his Catholic faith. He’s doing this because he wants to save it. 

All of us — including us non-Catholics — can learn from this. Again, I don’t know Steve Skojec, but he seems to be where I was in 2005 as a Catholic. What’s he’s saying that he’s choosing to do now is the right thing to do if he wants to save his Catholic faith. If I had done it, I might still be Catholic … but then I wouldn’t be Orthodox, for which I am grateful. I had to learn early in my Orthodoxy, after a bad mistake, that I cannot allow myself to get drawn into intra-Orthodox church fights, or allow myself to trust institutions more than I have to.

UPDATE.2: I gotta note something. At the same time I’m having Catholic commenters in this thread griping at me for posting something from the horrible, terrible, no-good Steve Skojec, and yelling at me for causing Catholics to lose their faith, I’m getting — seriously, it just came into my e-mail box — a letter from a parish priest in a troubled archdiocese, thanking me for writing about this stuff (especially the Uncle Ted story), and telling in detail, naming names, about how Uncle Ted-dism (gay clerics in positions of real and lasting power) has devastated his archdiocese.

Here’s what I think: sooner or later, all Catholics (and all Christians to some degree) who wish to be honest are going to have to face the kinds of things Steve Skojec is facing, and figure out how to continue in the face of those hideous truths. You can avoid it, but doing so means turning your eyes away from some unpleasant truths. Doing so, though, means you aren’t preparing yourself or your children to live in the post-Christian world as it actually is. Our kids aren’t going to stay Christian if all we give them is the religion of relentless suburban cheer, including turning our eyes away from the things that distress us.

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72 Comments To "Steve Skojec’s Benedict Option"

#1 Comment By Bernie On July 13, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

Charles, I sincerely thank you for your kind comment.

#2 Comment By Mike On July 13, 2018 @ 7:46 pm

As a man who struggles with same-sex attraction I cannot endorse Mr. Skojeck’s lionization of minor league cranks like Joe Sciambra and Gerard van den Ardweg. Their “expertise” about homosexuality is much a joke and built on an animosity. Why the church takes up with these guys, who can only alienate a same-sex attracted man who wants to seek Christ, is unclear because they give justification to the charge that the church despises a man who struggles like that.

#3 Comment By DB On July 13, 2018 @ 8:22 pm

Mr.Skojec raised a very interesting point in the beginning of his video which, for me, seemed to be the main point of his talk: that of manhood, of manliness. What is it to be a man, a man who follows Christ Jesus, a man who believes in one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These are the thoughts I had right off the bat looking at the video. His point hits a nerve, I should think, for many a parish.
Since the scandals have been exposed (almost 20 years ago), who has not thought twice about entrusting one’s children with a clergyman? What a terrible thought. But who would cast that first stone, and say “not I”?
I wonder how many dads, dads who would otherwise be coaching a team in the CYO league, or usher people to their pews Sunday morning, I wonder how many of these dads bailed out on the Church due to the abuse scandals?
Is the Church churning out priests worthy of emulation? Whatever their innate sexuality may be, they take a vow of celibacy. There is and always will be something about being a priest that sets them apart, some might say even “above” the rest of us. Being celibate requires, I dunno, almost superhuman powers to maintain it.
However, a priest takes a vow, he dons the collar and joins a sacerdotal order – all this entails a big dose of responsibility that they assume.
They have to know that parishioners – including dads with sons – will have high expectations of them. Being a priest, in my humble view as a layman, means being a model to whom people will look up. A pillar of the community.
Long ago, I remember images of Maryknoll missionaries parachuting behind the lines in Communist China and of hearing about local priests keeping neighborhood parishes from teetering into the chaos of joblessness and drugs. A priest was a Man’s Man. Or rather, an extra-ordinary Man: not only is he leading the flock, but he is doing it alone, as a celibate. Having a priest, or a monk, in the family tree was something to brag about.
Wasn’t this the point Skojec was getting at? This question of masculinity. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve mostly ever only known quite exemplary priests – from many different countries. I look upon these scandals aghast as they are exposed one after another, year after year. How did these people, some of them really monstrous, get into the orders? As an on-going saga, it is truly tragic.
But the story, in my opinion, doesn’t end there blaming the priests and bishops.
If you took any dad with knotty hands who was a Sunday usher or CYO coach from the 1970s, and yanked him into 2018, he would say exactly what Skojec is saying. There is nothing exceptional about his opinion. I’m going out on a limb, but I would guess that his opinion reflects his surroundings and the influence of his elders. Their generation – ie, our elders’ generation – still looked upon the priesthood as a noble route for promising young men. What happened to American Catholic culture, circa 1970s onwards such that joining the religious orders was no longer viewed as a viable route for young man who showed promise? The ethos of upwardly mobile American middle class – ie, we descendants of previous generations of the Church of immigrants, neglected to nurture the idea that the priesthood is a noble, desirable calling. I include myself in this critique – not because I think I would’ve been a good recruit (I wouldn’t have), but rather because I recognize that the consumerist-materialist ethos of the American middle class is deeply rooted in my outlook and that’s not good. Father Greeley told us how normal, how mainstream American we’ve become but that doesn’t seem to be of much help in this context of recurrent crises and an apparent inability to reproduce and perpetuate itself. Echos of Paul’s warnings against the wisdom of the world swim about in my mind.
So, here we are, with a Church reeling from an on-going series of scandals, sin, crime and tragedy. I fear that true leaders, solid men leading their flocks, are in short supply.
Well, the obvious response is to say that it is not in men that one should place one’s faith.

#4 Comment By ginger On July 13, 2018 @ 9:16 pm

David Brandt:

“Ginger, would you like to suggest a better list of things The Ninety-Five Percent Of Are-Too Catholics should know and do?”

Whatever makes you think I would like to do that?! But I could do that, and I could probably beat you at the game. You are talking to somebody who grew up in the “remnant,” living off the land and awaiting the Three Days of Darkness to purge the earth of the other 95% (more like the other 99%, because I’m pretty sure my family’s list was a heck of a lot stricter than yours is).

But no, I would NOT like to do that. I have much better things to do with my life and will leave it to God to decide Who Is In and Who Is Out.

“Can you do better than sneer that Africans—bloodily martyred for their faith even in these anything-goes days—don’t know the Faith? Cuz that’s, uh, kinda rayciss.”

This is not worthy of response.

#5 Comment By ginger On July 13, 2018 @ 9:23 pm

“By Catholic teaching, the sacramental nature (or lack of it) of a civil marriage is not determined by how many or how few children the couple produce.”

Not at all! I have a friend with 9 children who is divorcing her husband and planning to go for the annulment. 9 kids means nothing to the annulment process. Nothing at all.

However, when same friend was recently asked by another well-known Catholic friend to give her advice on a talk about the importance of the domestic church, she had the good sense to reply, “Look, I’m really not in a position to guide others here, given that my own marriage and family was an abject failure.”

Nor will this friend ever try to tell others how good Catholics should live. Or pretend to be part of the 5%.

Similarly, when you marry an old guy who had 8 kids by his first wife, it would probably behoove one to humbly keep one’s mouth shut when it comes to helping determine who the 5% are. Not to mention getting involved in all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories about what is happening with the Church nowadays.

However, if one does NOT choose to keep one’s mouth shut, one shouldn’t be surprised when others find it all quite amusing.

#6 Comment By ginger On July 13, 2018 @ 9:32 pm

If anybody has any interest in hearing Dr. Robert Hickson’s side of the story (or if one just wants to indulge in a dose of Catholic soap opera and kookiness), you can read his version of events here:

[4]

I found this line particularly interesting:

“Yet, if one looks at Christendom College today, not one word is mentioned. On the contrary, the fact that Dr. O’Donnell invited Mrs. Sharon Hickson (who keeps this name in spite of Dr. Hickson’s request that, since she broke that marriage, she also should give him back his name) to come to Christendom College as an English professor, and that he (O’Donnell) even told the Literature Department that they were to hire her (to some people’s embarrassment — do you believe that? — out of a sense of decency at least).”

Wait, what? There was no real “marriage” to break if they were never validly married in the Catholic Church in the first place. How could she break something that never existed?

“It is hoped that one day this truth will all come out and all the injustice and cunning deviations and untruth will be revealed and removed. A man can take only so much obliquity and duplicity and intimate perfidy. Truth and justice matter. Certainly for a Christian Soldier and West Point Graduate like Dr. Robert Hickson”

One hardly knows where to begin.

#7 Comment By ginger On July 13, 2018 @ 9:48 pm

DenverGregg:

“Love in the Ruins is my favorite by Walker Percy.”

Thank you–appreciate it! I hope to read 2-3 of his books during vacation.

#8 Comment By MikeS On July 13, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

I watched the video. I like that guy, especially his idea that some well-placed smashing fists and elbows would go a long way to ending the scandal.

#9 Comment By Thomas Tucker On July 13, 2018 @ 10:14 pm

Oh , ginger, are you and I ever on the same page with this hypocritical show of religiosity.

#10 Comment By Lee Penn On July 14, 2018 @ 1:43 am

Adding to the Walker Percy discussion above … My favorite of his books is “Love in the Ruins.” As you read it, note that the book was published in 1971. What Percy saw coming, has done so.

On the politics of who reads (or cites) whom, I am liberal. On my FB wall, I have made posts referring to (and crediting as sources) Rod Dreher, Mark Shea, and Steve Skojec … and others. I can learn from varying people and perspectives, and have my own ideas tested. As I said, I am liberal in that respect.

I am an Eastern Catholic, currently attending the Latin/Dominican parish across the street from where I live. At this parish, there are lots of good Catholics, as far as I can tell. I cannot guess the percentage; that’s not my business.

As for Steve’s estimate: people who are exhausted by struggle against long odds and with little earthly consolation in sight will say stuff like this. Although I don’t agree with the 95% estimate, I am not going to chuck rocks at Steve for what he said. Shell shock is a real thing.

Rod, I have been reading your work on the abuse/corruption scandals in the Church since 2002 or so. I was grateful then for your work, and remain so. Every bit of exposure of evil, and every bit of external pressure on an entrenched and corrupt bureaucracy is of service to the Church. Carry on!

#11 Comment By Gerard On July 14, 2018 @ 11:20 am

Geez, the comments on this post are what the military calls a target-rich environment.

First, Rod, I’m all in favor of your commentary on the Catholic Church, and your focus on the corruption within Her, and your sharing of the thoughts of frustrated priests, and so forth.

Keep it up, man.

Second, on Skojec’s 95% estimate that has so many people in high dudgeon, listen, our local pastor told me recently that on an average Sunday approximately 20% of the Catholics on the parish rolls are at Mass.

For holy days of obligation, that number is more than halved.

This data is entirely consistent with a number of studies, to include recent polling by Pew Research.

So right off the bat, on the simple and basic issue of obligated Mass attendance, at least 90% of nominal Catholics casually disregard or don’t give a fig about a binding (under pain of mortal sin) Church commandment.

And that’s before we even touch a lot of other stuff, to include such sticky wickets as obedience to moral precepts, as promulgated by the Church for millenia, on sexuality.

So the hard fact of the matter is that Skojec’s estimate that 95% of the nominal Catholic population are not really Catholic in any meaningful way is right on target.

Sorry if that inconvenient reality gets people all prickly and defensive.

Moreover, it’s NOT the 5% like Skojec who are arrogant and self-righteous and hypocritical. It’s not the people who acknowledge weakness and sinfulness and failure.

Rather, it’s the much larger group of people who arrogate to themselves the right to decide what laws they will obey and what laws they will ignore, who presume to instruct the institution rather than be instructed by it, who ooze hypocrisy even as they accuse others of hypocrisy.

Yeah, that old beam in the eye thing…tell me about it.

#12 Comment By William Tighe On July 14, 2018 @ 11:59 am

What Gerard wrote.

#13 Comment By Rick On July 14, 2018 @ 2:02 pm

Once more here’s Steve’s comment:

“95% of parishes and bishops and priests and laity are actually not, in any substantive sense, Catholic.”

There’s no question a huge percentage of baptized Catholics in the US are non practicing.

But to say 95% of Catholic **parishes and bishops and priests** are “not, in any substantive sense, Catholic” is to have lost faith, not just in one’s fellows, but in the sacraments themselves…at least as administered by the Catholic Church.

Here’s the authentic “orthodox Catholic” position:

Christ is Risen

He has continued his ministry throughout history to this very day, sanctifying, governing, and teaching through his apostles and the hierarchical Church

The sacraments are effective whenever the bishop/priest/deacon intends what the Church intends. They don’t depend on the personal holiness of the minister.

Similarly, the teaching of the Church is trustworthy, and does not depend upon the personal holiness of the bishops.

We bear responsibility for our own conduct. Even when Christ’s apostles and servants and followers and we ourselves disobey, He is faithful to Himself and to His promise to remain always with his Church.

#14 Comment By Thomas Tucker On July 14, 2018 @ 7:49 pm

Gerard must not have spent much time on the 1PeterFive website and it’s comment sections.

[NFR: I check in with the site once a week or so, to see what they’re writing about — often it’s quite interesting, even if I don’t share the views of the writer — but never read the comments. It’s my policy never to read comment sections other than my own. Well, I looked at 1P5’s comments section last week. Any room that has that irritable, wrapped-too-tight weirdo Hilary White in it is a room that any sane person flees. — RD]

#15 Comment By Gerard On July 14, 2018 @ 8:37 pm

Rick says that the efficacy and authenticity of the sacraments do not depend on the personal holiness of the ministers.

Comforting. Even accurate. But beside Skojec’s point.

The cognitive dissonance experienced by Skojec and the 5% of actually serious Catholics goes to the absurdity of a situation where the vast majority of laity do not practice the faith. While the vast majority of clergy look the other way. Either because they are dishonest charlatans. Or cowards.

None of this is an argument for leaving the Church, as I’ve made clear in previous comments.

It’s merely a statement of jarring and disturbing reality.

Denial and evasion won’t change that — nor correct the massive dysfunction at issue here.

#16 Comment By Anne On July 15, 2018 @ 10:53 am

How did I miss this post until now? I see Ginger’s been on a roll, a good one too…and Bernie finally blew, which I get. Rod, you know, you do seem to be a veritable magnet for priests telling horror stories about teh gays. I understand the power component in any sexual harassment, but problems between adult celibates of whichever sexual orientation involve issues laymen probably shouldn’t try to address unless they’re professionally trained.
Just hearing there are homosexuals in the priesthood spells corruption to some, and yet until relatively recently a homosexual orientation in itself was never an impediment to holy orders. In fact, being already confined to a life of celibacy might be considered a practical advantage. But because it contributes to their shared sense of isolation and deprivation, celibacy can breed cliquishness as well as the more obvious forms of clericalism among priests. Humans are social animals, for better and worse. Still, I fail to see any necessary connection between the existence of homosexual priests and this 95% (or name another high percentage) of Catholics Steve Skojec considers unworthy of the name. Still, this sense of being among “the remnant,” the only true faithful, seems to me a phenomenon not all that different from the sense of privilege and responsibility and yes, suffering that goes into clericalism, just without the authority of office and special clothes.

It’s not that I don’t get what he’s feeling, which you should know. I took my kids and joined a self-consciously “orthodox” urban parish when they were young. Our only deviation from that “norm” was that my kids also attended our geographic parish school with the regular goyim. Anyway, to make a long story short, I didn’t get to wherever you’d say I am without passing through the ranks of the remnant along the way. It’s been a long, hard ride, but I’ve been on it longer than Mr. Skojec, so who knows where he’ll be in another half century. I just don’t think it’s either theologically correct or psychologically healthy to think about the majority of your fellow Catholics this way.

A lot of myths, i.e.,in this case, misinformation, have gone into the idea of a Glorious Catholic Past, be it in the 13th century, the fourth century or the first. But the reality seems always to have been much like the Church circa 2018. Or worse, even much worse. St. Paul himself, e.g., had to scold his earliest converts for drinking too much and getting into arguments during the agape meal, of all things, and that was the earliest version of the iconic Early Church. Certainly, the complaints about the faithful found among the sermons of the fathers of the church, from Chrysostom in the East to Augustine in the West, show a certain pattern from earliest times;it’s just that in those days the preachers usually became part of the clergy, maybe because neither today’s celibacy rule nor more stringent educational requirements got in the way. Still, over the centuries the 95% have made their own contributions to tradition, such as the cult of the saints, which in the beginning meant following what the bishops considered the demonic leanings of “the culture,” holding regular feasts of wine and song in cemeteries where their neighbors too went to feast with their ancesters. Apparently, those feasts could be a lot of fun. Everybody went, or at least 95%. The bishops and preachers didn’t come…until they did.

#17 Comment By Heronymous Bosch On July 15, 2018 @ 11:11 am

Look, Skojec is fed up with our mostly homosexual church, and that is good and fine. What is not fine about Skojec is that he thinks Vatican II was the worst event in human history, that the Catholic church went wrong at Vatican II, that our latest few Popes have lied to us about the third secret of Fatima, that the American Constitution is the source of all our problems with its horrible freedom of religion etc.

The problem with guys like Skojec is that they rightly are upset at the feminization and homosexualizton of the Catholic church, but insist that the problem is not the feminization and homosexualiization of the church, the problem is the CHhurch itself As such, they are pretty schismatic and are now insistent that Freedom of religion, the American Constitution, etc are the main problem and what caused the downfall of the church. They miss the mark, and screw lots of people up, because they sound like they know what is going on, but they are as dangerous as any liberal Catholic, just from the other end

[NFR: Well, I don’t know Skojec’s work well enough to say one way or another. But I do know that he’s absolutely right to say that he needs to take more time to immerse himself in the good, the true, and the beautiful. He’s going to burn out and crack up in his faith if he doesn’t. I say this as someone who was warned in the same way, but didn’t take it seriously, and burned out and cracked up. Whether or not you agree with Skojec’s judgments, a guy whose job requires him to immerse himself daily in this kind of thing is carrying a very heavy burden. When that was part of my portfolio over a decade ago, I could only write a fraction of the things I knew, or believed, to be true. It was a tremendous burden to know about a lot of really terrible things going on (the Uncle Ted fiasco being first among them, but by no means the only thing), and not be able to write about them because the people who told me about them wouldn’t go on the record — and therefore, to have to reconcile myself to the likelihood that the malefactors would get away with it forever, even as they and those who covered up for them were reassuring the public that everything was well in hand, that the scandal was over, etc. You have to be stronger than I was to carry that knowledge without breaking down at some point. — RD]

#18 Comment By Anne On July 15, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

“…this sense of being among the remnant, the only true faithful, seems to me a phenomenon not all that different from the sense of privilege and responsibility and yes, suffering that goes into clericalism…”

“Privilege” isn’t really the word I was looking for here. Try “enlightened,” but by an enlightenment that leaves the enlightened feeling at once obedient to a higher authority yet isolated and alone in the responsibility that confers.

#19 Comment By Anne On July 15, 2018 @ 1:39 pm

Regarding the 20% of the total parish population Gerard says his pastor estimates attend Sunday Mass, that actually seems a dramatic increase over the percentage that attended the official liturgies in the early centuries or even during the highest Middle Ages where Christendom held sway. There’s a reason why the Council of Trent made annual Communion a church rule. To fulfill that requirement meant setting foot in a church at least once a year. The idea that it’s a mortal sin not to attend Mass on Sunday (as well as to refrain from servile work) was a teaching many well-known clerics have taught through the centuries, even though it was ignored by most of the laity until 1917 when it was promulgated as universal canon law. And even then, only certain Catholics in certain parts of the world followed the rule to the letter.

According to official polling, the average attendance figures for Catholics range from 15% in Spain (compare to 38% in nextdoor Portugal) to 40+% in the US, 48% in Italy and as high as 72% in Malta and higher in parts of Africa and Latin America. (See stats in sociologist Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Faith.) One reason the percentage seems low to many american priests is because attendance figures hit all-time highs during the 1950s and remained so into the 70s. Catholic church figures began declining from those heady heights somewhat earlier than the attendance percentages of many Protestant churches, with some Evangelical churches seeing numbers that didn’t start falling until 1980, but that surge had been the fluke, not what’s happening now.

#20 Comment By Anne On July 15, 2018 @ 7:06 pm

Ramsey MacMullen’s study of early Christian worship entitled “The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400” offers an amazing glimpse into not only the origins of our traditional saints’ feasts, festivals and popular devotions, but earliest church art and architecture, as well as the sermons of the fathers of the Church, which reveal how real life often differed from the ideal they wrote about elsewhere. The architectural renderings of 2nd-century churches and 4th-century basilicas along with photos of their archeological remains are worth the price of the book, as are some of the insights into traditional symbols and gestures.

In attempting to get a clearer sense of how ordinary Christians worshipped and who did what and when, MacMullen notes that virtually all the church fathers, including John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, Asterius of Amaseia and many others, complained frequently that the faithful rarely attended the official liturgies. Gregory, for one, noted that the ones who did normally show up were the elite who “dwell in splendid mansions adorned with marble…” They were mostly men, rarely women and never children or slaves. In his sermon, Gregory actually reproved regular churchgoers for their luxury, contrasting them with those not in regular attendance, including lowly bureaucrats, petty retailers, peddlars, artisans, laborers…”in short, 95 per cent of the population.” (MacMullen, p.15).

Inside those early churches, half the interiors were out of bounds to the laity, fenced off behind a screen and reserved for the priesthood. Modern Orthodox churches retain this general concept, although most have abandoned the original segregation of the congregation by sex, sexual class (consecrated virgins first, followed by widows, clergy wives, wives, etc.) and social status (wealthy donors first, followed by statesmen,etc.). In the early churches, men and women normally entered a church by separate doorways. Outside the doors, beggars hung out, asking for food.
All in all, in MacMullen’s words, for Christians today who “would see early Christendom, in some anachronistic light, as equally welcoming to all, the plain facts are rather uncomfortable…”

Is it really a surprise that 95% of the laity didn’t knock themselves out to get to weekly Mass? What they did attend in great numbers during these times were regular outdoor gatherings in cemeteries where they went to pray for their beloved dead in the custom of the day. These feasts, which were regularly denounced as pagan by the bishops, featured food, drink and hymn singing, sometimes well into the night. Because the dead were buried above ground, holes were often drilled through their coffin-like containers, through which wine could be shared with the subjects of the feasts. Over time, the feasts regularly honored local saints and martyrs, and eventually even bishops joined in. Until all came together into one tradition, this was “where and how the 95 per cent expressed their own Christianity.” (MacMullen, p. 23)

Of course, that’s MacMullen’s own educated guess regarding percentages. Although he works hard to show that only around 5% regularly attended the official liturgies, it’s anybody’s guess what percentage of the remaining 95% actually participated in the cemetery feasts. But apparently, most people did. These days, the consensus seems to be that of the 40% or so who are regular attendees at Sunday Mass, 95% aren’t true believers in what the Church presumes to be teaching them. But again, if you read the sermons of the early church fathers, many complained of the very same thing, even when the congregation they were addressing consisted of the elite who had recourse to Bible studies and other sources of education in the faith. I think what all generations may be seeing in these cases of alleged ignorance and practical heresy is the same thing Paul was seeing among his wrangling converts, and that is the human tendency for any two individuals to interpret the same information differently, including that ever-changing number of doctrines the Church itself tries to pass on. In other words, the simple fact that the Church teaches doesn’t mean those taught will always understand the teaching in exactly the same way. Unfortunately, the traditional rule of thumb for dogmatic certainty that got worked out over the centuries sounds too convoluted today’s literalists — namely, that what the Church teaches and what the faithful “receive” has to match up.

#21 Comment By Erdrick On July 15, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Mandrake says:
July 13, 2018 at 6:19 pm

That’s called an Annulment. It’s something Catholics have.

By Catholic teaching, the sacramental nature (or lack of it) of a civil marriage is not determined by how many or how few children the couple produce. While an annulment after eight can appear jarring, as we don’t know the particulars of the Hickson’s situation

Yeah, he must have made a particularly large donation to the parish and the diocese to get an annulment after 8 kids. What a joke that this guy is trying to be holier than thou with that kind of situation in his background.

#22 Comment By Erdrick On July 15, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

ginger says:
July 13, 2018 at 9:23 pm
“By Catholic teaching, the sacramental nature (or lack of it) of a civil marriage is not determined by how many or how few children the couple produce.”

Not at all! I have a friend with 9 children who is divorcing her husband and planning to go for the annulment. 9 kids means nothing to the annulment process. Nothing at all.

Maybe so, but that’s because the annulment concept has developed into a complete joke. It’s Catholic divorce with some holy water sprinkled on it. It’s no wonder so few take Catholic teaching seriously on anything anymore.