After a two-month period of silence on this blog, I have much to report, but little energy or time to report it. These two months have been eventful in many ways - I have left Belgium to return to California, taking a gap year in the midst of my studies of philosophy at the University of Leuven. During this gap year - in little more than a month's time - I will be getting married, Deo Gratias. The plan is to be married in the Old Rite, of course, though the church space in which we are to be married is situated so that we cannot have the mass ad orientem. It is a loss to the traditional liturgy, but also a definitive improvement upon that which is normally experienced in this and the average parish.
During these two months, I have become embroiled in several battles against liberalism, offering my voice on such sites as Twitter, Facebook, and the Josias, in defense of the Catholic traditional of social and political thought. That has been and will continue to be an adventure. This blog is a bit more esoteric, usually, than is accessible to the people who need to be engaged on pressing issues, from a principled standpoint. I have found that I can reach more people on those other social media platforms, as long as I do not let myself be trapped in the Web - and that itself is a struggle! Technology has many advantages, but many pitfalls as well. In our age, it is one of the most effective means of evangelization and witness; but it is also one of the most effective means of distancing souls from nature, and from other persons with whom they are more immediately connected.
Before leaving Europe, I traveled to Rome and to Paris - I traveled far too little during my whole year in Europe, so in the last months I found myself obligated to see at least these two centers of historic Christendom. I saw and learned much on these visits. In both cities I saw the ancient and huge monuments of the Catholic tradition, looming like giants amidst a sea of tourists. I went to Rome to see my faith, literally set in stone, concrete and immense in its presence. The Roman basilicas especially overwhelmed me with their mosaic images, in which the history of salvation seemed to come alive and shape the very atmosphere of the place. I witnessed the celebration of the ancient vigil of Pentecost at the parish of Santissima Trinita Dei Pellegrini, and the mass of Pentecost Sunday celebrated by Cardinal Raymond Burke at the parish of Gesu e Marie. The whole experience - not just these liturgies - was profoundly liturgical, even where there was no liturgy being celebrated in the churches I visited; even where I was not visiting churches, but standing in front of the profane monument of Vitorio Emmanuelle. Likewise, in Paris, not only was it a profoundly symbolic and even quasi-liturgical experience to walk into Notre Dame (or into Chartres Cathedral, on the one day when I could make an excursion from Paris). Even to see the Pantheon - temple of the Enlightenment - or the monuments to liberte, fraternite, and egalite, was a symbolic act of remembrance: on these sacred grounds have acts of profanity also been committed, yet the Church still stands in some places amidst the signs of pagan ruin.
The juxtaposition of the City of Man and the City of God: this I witnessed especially in Paris, city of Saints and anti-Christs, heart of the eldest daughter of the Church, and center of the perversions of Enlightenment liberalism and modernism. France has spawned both the most staunch traditionalists and the worst modernists. The tense intimacy of these opposed domains has long been observed by the patriarchs and teachers of the Catholic tradition: Christ, St. Paul, and in the most detail St. Augustine, have observed this juxtaposition. It is a juxtaposition that comes in many forms: in times of Christian flourishing, the Church has set herself clearly above the world, in clear distinction and rulership. In other times, as can be seen in Paris, the City of Man exercises its dominion, yet the Church barely but steadily continues to breathe. Paris in this way represented to me the modern world as a whole, where the Church no longer appears to bear the sacred and revered authority which once was recognized in her. The Church - the People of God - has been exiled.
In the Old Testament, there are countless tales of God's city being destroyed and resurrected - his people being exiled into the city of man, where they are surrounded by corruption, where they cannot worship in their age old traditions in the safety of their temple, with the freedom of their God-given ritual. The Babylonian exile represents the severance of God's people from their home, which is the entire body of their traditions of worship, law, custom, and morality. For several decades, we have been losing our traditional rites of liturgy as Catholics, the rigor of our laws and morals, the depth of our ancient identity. We do our best now, in this strange city where we cannot live or worship according to our own traditions; but our best is still poor compared to the life we lived in and surrounding the old Temple in Jerusalem. Every Sunday, I do my best to contribute to the liturgy by cantoring at the Novus Ordo, singing a little bit of ancient chant, and I consider this a sacred activity. But in the psalms I sing, I sometimes have to hold back tears of intense nostalgia; it is often like I am singing of my very inability to sing the songs of old Jerusalem: "By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept..." (Psalm 136). This past Sunday it was ever more poignant, in part because of the recent revelations of the moral decay in which the Church of today is so deeply immersed. It struck me again that we have been exiled to Babylon. We have seen our own city submitted to the destruction of the Chaldeans; we have lost our temples and their ancient rites of worship; we have followed false gods and false shepherds and suffered for it; we lived for generations in a place that is not our home.
But God always promises restoration. In Jeremiah 33, he promises to restore his people to their former joy, after they had been destroyed and desecrated by the Chaldeans. "They will be my people and I will be their God." He promises that they will once again sing his praise - I read this and I thought of the liturgy - and that the young brides and bridegrooms will join in this song of praise - I thought of my forthcoming marriage in just over a month - saying: "Give ye glory to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his mercy endureth forever." (Jeremiah 33:11). The intense nostalgia for Old Jerusalem is accompanied by hope - hope for the restoration and rejuvenation of the right worship of God. Our Church desperately needs this restoration. The Church has died many times, but happily, as Chesterton quipped, she has a God who knows His way out of the grave.