Where’s the Beef?

In Christianity on December 26, 2019 at 9:14 pm

Humanly speaking, 2019 was abysmal for the Catholic Church.

  1. News included ongoing sexual scandal and immense financial impropriety.
  2. Pew Research suggested that slightly less than one-third of Catholics who attend Mass actually believe what the Church teaches.
  3. Responses from Rome often seem veiled in silence and ambiguity (see Why is This Church Empty?).
  4. Extraordinary churchmen like George Cardinal Pell of Australia seem to have been hung out to dry (perhaps as a result of his work in Rome to clean up the financial mess?).
  5. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was characterized by The National Review as an “ugly, incompetent bureaucracy” that has “lost track of their mission to sanctify and are failing even in their attempt to be mere business administrators.”

As one faithful pastor said, “The worldwide College of Bishops is apparently getting their advice from the firm of Aimless, Pointless, Graceless, and Feckless, LLC.”

Maybe Why Is This Church Empty! asked the wrong question. Maybe we should ask, “Why has anyone stayed?”

Here is why: reality.

In the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel says: “Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.” This perfectly describes the sense of reality lost by too many Christians — Catholic and otherwise. We so easily drift into casual Christianity.

Check your faith. Are you baffled or encouraged by the following statements?

  • “Well, if it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it.”Flannery O’Connor’s defense of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
  • [He is] “not an hypothetical God, but a real God, full of beef.”Hillaire Belloc’s response to the loss of history and today’s increasingly abstract faith.
  • “[Justice Antonin Scalia] was struck that the Mass was of such importance that the priest would offer it even if no one else came.”Rev. Paul D. Scalia regarding his father’s faith.

How often have you heard someone complain of the Mass, “Oh, I don’t go to Mass anymore because I didn’t get anything out of it.” That’s like the Wendy’s commercial in which actress Clara Peller exclaims, “Where’s the beef?” Flannery O’Conner, Hillaire Belloc, and Justice Antonin Scalia knew exactly where the beef was and is. Reality.

Reality is is why hundreds of thousands of us have not left the Church. But we must understand:

  • We don’t “go to church.” We go to Mass.
  • We don’t occasionally “take communion.” We receive the Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist.
  • We see the Lord and say with Peter, who also faced the opportunity to walk away, “Lord, to whom shall we go?

Catholic Christians need today need the knowledge — either renewed or newly acquired — that God not only came to earth at Christmas as Baby Jesus, but also that He comes daily in the Mass. Christ is the Eucharist, He is not just “spiritually” present.

In the Sacraments, something actually happens. A transaction occurs between Heaven and earth. The Sacraments aren’t just “ritual.” They are not just symbolic actions, although the symbolism when understood is beautiful. No!  Grace is given.

We can hope for a renewed commitment to teach, govern, and sanctify among the entire episcopacy. Thanks be to God for our faithful bishops and priests fulfilling those roles, and there are many, but 2019 demonstrated we need more.

Yet as Robert Cardinal Sarah pointed out in the very first chapter of his 2019 book, The Day is Now Far Spent, the real solution is this:

If you think your priests and bishops are not saints, then be one for them.

So again — the question, “Why has anyone stayed in the Church?” Why strive to become saints? Why?

Jesus Christ is real. He became a man. He entered history. His life is well attested historically. His constant presence remains with us in The Eucharist. So, why has anyone stayed? The answer: because the Mass remains the “one great reality . . . in an age of unsubstantial insincerities.”¹


¹ Fr. F.X. Lasance, “Introduction,” The New Roman Missal in Latin and English (New York: 1945), p. 12.

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