The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

They Have Uncrowned Him - Marcel Lefebvre

Part V- You Can't Go Home Again

Last Friday, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to the place where this full-circle journey began: St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church in Oakland. This is of course home to the local Indult Mass of the Roman Catholic diocese, and since I attended Mass there seven years ago now, they have since obtained a priest of the Institute of Christ the King to not only say the traditional Latin Mass for them every Sunday, but everyday as well. Things are looking up for them. But for me, too much has happened since then.

I felt very little nostalgia watching this German priest bark out his Latin responses while his confused altar servers meekly answered back. This was my dream, my only real joy as a disgruntled man of twenty trying to discern what the heck I was doing in the Bay Area at that time. Now all I could do in that church was admire the architecture, the stain glass windows, the saints' statues with rosy colored cheeks. I am a foreigner there now. Perhaps I am a foreigner everywhere.....

I should back up and say what happened precisely during that time. When we last left this series, I was a revolutionary socialist activist in my late teens. To make a long story short, I had a falling out with my comrades due to their increasingly cultish motivations to control my life. I finally broke with them after my first year of college here at Berkeley, though I still remained a Marxist and an atheist. I then plunged myself into study of Marxist theory and history, trying to figure out where I could go from there in order to advance the cause of human liberation.

In the meantime, my life became increasingly petit-bourgeois and self-absorbed, if not to say lonely. I focused on my classes and work, I read and bought classical music CD's . In a word, I enjoyed being an introverted but comfortable student. The problem is, I felt an increasing absence in my heart. Later I would identify it as the call of grace.

Fissures began to emerge once I started to read about the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, a Marxist theorist. She researched much into the continuing influences of Hegelian idealism in Marxist theory. I remember one author cited Lenin's notebook when he was reading the Hegel's Science of Logic in the aftermath of the defeat of the revolution of 1905. In this notebook, Lenin inverts the classical hierarchy in Marxism in which matter determines the Idea. For Lenin, at least at this instant, it is the Idea itself that drives matter. Does that mean that the Idea is completely transcendent, above matter, driving it to its chosen end without reference to the material conditions of class struggle? If so, where does the Idea come from?

Of course, this is all very vague now, but the bottom line for me was that history was then free from the exigent task master of matter. Why then the blood, guts and violence? Purpose is not handed to us on a silver platter by the rules of class struggle. So what is the purpose, then?

These could be considered secondary causes for my abandoning Marxism, but such was my mindset at the time. I began going back to church little by little, at the indult Mass in this church in Oakland. The beauty of the liturgy, the atmosphere of holiness, and the music drove me to the Mass like a moth to the flame, but it was not enough to convince me out of my militant atheistic convictions. I was torn, though. I was an atheist who wanted to believe, but knew at that moment the intellectual price was too high. I had left the Catholic Church thinking it was an intellectually weak and shallow institution. It did not provide me with any consistent world view on why the world is the way it is.

I remember shouting at God in my heart in that church, daring Him to show me a ray of light if He did exist. I even remember once prostrating myself in front of a statue of the Virgin so that she would get me out of the abyss into which I had fallen. I felt adrift, abandoned, and utterly worthless in life. I was a good student, hard-working and bright, but where was it all leading? I launched out into the deep and I found something. Or rather, someone.

I do not remember how precisely I first heard of the Society of St. Pius X or Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Internet would be the short answer to the question. All I know is that at some point in the spring of 1999, I ordered the book, They Have Uncrowned Him by the excommunicated French archbishop from the Society of St. Pius X's (SSPX) publishing arm, Angelus Press. In it I found a very consistent, militant, if highly reactionary vision of history. Finally, someone from the Catholic tradition gave me a powerful, take-no-prisoners critique of the modern world, and I was asked to take it or leave it and not dialogue with it. It was just what I was looking for. The most potent part of the book for me is when he quotes St. Augustine in saying that the fact that you are free is not important. What is important is whether you wield that freedom for good or evil. So much for the cause of human liberation!

Bottom line, within six months I bought into Lefebvrism totally and unconditionally. Going to the New Mass is a sin, the Conciliar Church is heretical, the Pope is still the Pope but confused, the restoration of the Tridentine Mass will cure all ills, etc. I dropped out of college and moved into a Society retreat center nearby before I went to be a Lefebvrist seminarian in Argentina for two years. I had swapped one totalitarianism for another; from being a Marxist I was now flirting with fascism. Indeed, extremes have more in common than they would like to admit. For me, however, I was finally home. I had found that Catholic Tradition (capital "C", capital "T") that the world was hiding from me and which was the cure for all ills. The rest of this series will examine how all of this came apart.

The day before I came to Berkeley, I went to the Saturday evening vigil Mass in Spanish at the local Roman Catholic church in Hollister. For that young man of twenty who had seen the light, this action would have been tantamount to a mortal sin; it would have been exposing himself to a quasi-heretical service and generalized sacrilege. On that night, though, right during Communion (being officially an Anglican, I only went up for a blessing), the last wall of integrism came tumbling down. Maybe it is the effect that Spanish singing has on me, but when they were playing their instruments and singing their rather secularized hymn, I merely gazed at the picture of the Virgin pictured above and wondered what had happened after all of this time. "None of it matters now," I thought. All these things I had obsesssed about, all of them are irrelavent. These good Catholics were worshipping God as best they could, and God appreciated it. The only problem was that that church was not my home either. Not even the Anglican seminary chapel I go to now feels like home.

Too much has happened, I know. The only thing I can hope for is glimpses of that wonderful day when I will come back into myself and be able to return to my Father's house. We are indeed in via, not in patria. None of us will ever really be home until that day.


At 4:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you've got it now. The key is not some air-tight dogmatic system, or even a cultural or ancestral 'home place.' But rather YOUR relationship to GOD.

For ME, that generally is best served in a Prayer-Book Anglican setting. All Catholic Churches leave me cold, and the same chapel you attend was only slightly warmer for me. Sometimes, and Antiochian Orthodox Church turns the trick for me if they don't drag it out too long and use Slavic settings. Try the Sunday night service at the chapel, if Fr. Martin is still doing it.)

At 4:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you've got it now. The key is not some air-tight dogmatic system, or even a cultural or ancestral 'home place.' But rather YOUR relationship to GOD.

For ME, that generally is best served in a Prayer-Book Anglican setting. All Catholic Churches leave me cold, and the same chapel you attend was only slightly warmer for me. Sometimes, and Antiochian Orthodox Church turns the trick for me if they don't drag it out too long and use Slavic settings. Try the Sunday night service at the chapel, if Fr. Martin is still doing it.)

At 8:29 AM, Blogger RW said...

That is quite a journey - thank you for sharing it.

I am interested in your ideas of "being at home" where you worship. When I first attended St. Herman of Alaska there was a definite sense of coming home. But, I was a reluctant homecomer. I was not that excited to return home. And you are right to say we will not be truly home until we are with Christ, but I believe that we are blessed with moments of crashing into the kingdom during the Divine Liturgy - or "glimpses" as you say. These glimpses or encounters with the kingdom are what keep me going. I can easily get overwhelmed by the world and I struggle to keep my eyes on Christ. He, is my only hope, my salvation.

I will pray for you.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You poor lost soul!!

At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read several of penny's posts on this blog -- all seeming to contain a malicious and spiteful spirit. So, I suspect that her latest is meant with sarcastic venom. If I am correct that penny is continuing her persecution of our wonderful blogger, then shame on her--how uncharitable.

What are you penny? A women scorned? You seem to hath the rath of hell.

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I won't read all that fancy philosophy, it rots your brain. I look at the world from economics not finding ways to interpret it, but to change it. Marxism--totalitarianism, give me a brake. If it is totalitarian to kill the rich and end capitalism--sign me up!!!! Yup, petit bourgeois thought ala Burnham.--Marxist demogogue

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