|Even as Orthodox, this was my spiritual pit stop|
First, in some fluke mistake, apparently our membership change was never sent over and our local parish has continued to keep us on its membership lists. So we've been Catholic all along! But seriously, that's not what happened.
We moved to Orthodoxy in 2015 because we had little choice. Years ago, our local Catholic parish was a hot mess. A fine but weakened priest (owing to family and health problems), had left the already moderate church in the hands of some proud 'that went out with Vatican II' leaders. The next priest, a proud but somewhat weak liberal, continued to play to those forces, allowing almost anything - including a youth leader with a lesbian and transgender daughter in full support of LGBTQ agendas - to take over. Youth became heavy on liberal social doctrine and Harry Potter parties, low on that Catholic doctrine stuff.
That priest and some in the church came to a head when he invited an openly left leaning social justice advocate pushing for, beyond just gay marriage, broadened abortion rights. That pushed the traditional faction over the edge and the whole thing boiled over. The resulting bad blood and the gushing of members (that was already happening) left it so that on a given Sunday, you could go bowling at Mass and not worry about hitting anyone with the ball.
Beyond the social liberalism, the implicit universalism that many modern Catholics embrace was becoming explicit. Soon I heard my boys saying variations on 'well, Buddhism is just another way to God' and 'you get to God your own way, so going youth group isn't too important.' It sounded much closer to Oprah than Jesus. And worse, they were getting it as a direct result of what they were being taught at church. They were losing their faith in the faith because of, not despite, the church.
We went through a series of temp priests, and one really wacked out fellow who told us he was pissed at us for being taken from the parish he liked. Finally we received a priest who was big on administrative and organizational gifts, not so much pastoral or spiritual shepherding. He did stem the flow of financial bleeding and got the church on its feet that way, but he left the more heinous heresies and blasphemies alone.
Meanwhile I have written many times on the change in the greater Church's attitudes toward clergy converts. The year we came into the Church a new bishop arrived who acted as if he would rather see the Church fall into the 7th layer of Hell than see a former Protestant clergy so much as clean toilets in the diocese. Because of this, and in the midst of the financial meltdown and the anemic recovery, we were nearly out in the street. Rumor has it that was the bishop's mentality. By letting former clergy starve, that proved the Church wasn't paying off clergy to convert.
Despite being assured by certain 'lay apostolates' (that's 'ministries' to you Protestants) that full time Protestant clergy were becoming Catholic by the legions and everything usually worked out hunky-dory, we discovered that was not the case. Very few 'full time clergy' actually became Catholic. Only a few of those in later years found any welcoming opportunities. By the late 90s, very few made it further than being an usher. The attitudes of the Church were already changing. It may have been different in the days of Mother Angelica and Scott Hahn, but by my time, those days had long passed. Not that this, on its own, was a major problem. I didn't become Catholic for the job prospects. But week after week of hearing them plead for more vocations - except Dave Griffey, anything but Dave Griffey - added to the mounting toll.
By 2013, we decided to try to find a different parish, even if it was in the same diocese. I know Catholics aren't supposed to do that, but once Pope Francis came on board, and made his famous 'get to God where you are' statement to Evangelicals, my sons were losing all faith in any of this Christian stuff. Why, we could have stayed Evangelical and gotten to God and kept our comfortable life and savings account! Gee Dad, what do you know?
We tried different parishes, but long distance church going isn't easy when you're on the brink financially. Plus, there weren't many parishes that were different than our local gang. A couple were, but they were deep down into the edges of the city soon to be the former city of Columbus. We're in a large town about an hour away from downtown C------s. It has one parish. Other options just weren't available.
At that point, I saw the 'new' Orthodox mission about a half hour or so away (highway driving that is). The distance, again, was an issue. We figured it would be tough, but if everything worked out well, it might be an option that helped with issues we had and opened up a new pilgrimage in the Faith, pending any huge theological problems.
Well, the operative phrase was 'worked out well'. For the next five years we were hit with a never ending string of - everything. Last year alone I was in an ER, physical rehab or other medical facility at least once a week, and typically with different family members. The previous years were similar. One thing after another seemed to block and hinder us from gathering and getting our minds around Orthodoxy, much less getting our hearts around it.
Now, we would never have gone to Orthodoxy just because 'problems' in the Catholic Church, even with the abuse crisis. I've studied too much history to miss that such things have plagued the Church since the New Testament. And if you're looking for a perfect church, good luck.
The problem was we had no real church available that wouldn't teach my kids how stupid we were to become Catholic, if not care about Christianity in general. Heck, we could have found Protestant churches that wouldn't have done that. Orthodoxy fit because there are things that are positive today in the Orthodox Church that are sorely missing in modern Catholicism.
Of course there are also issues with Orthodoxy, as with any tradition. One thing that got under my skin was the Orthodox tendency to be rather anti-Western. Not just anti-American, which many were, but anti-Western. To the Orthodox, the whole of Western Christianity is one big heresy and the cause of almost all human suffering in the world. The irony is how often the Orthodox use ideas unique to the development of the West to beat up the West. After all, the very notions of human rights and equality that emerged from the West weren't exactly plentiful in Eastern Byzantium.
There were other things as well. There is a definite sniff of 'eastern' mysticism in Orthodoxy, always owing to its preference for anything east of the West in terms of what can influence it. That's from the old Orthodox 'we'd rather be ruled by the turban than the mitre' attitude. As a result, some of its doctrines, such as its soteriological and eschatological (fancy talk for salvation and ends times stuff) theologies are a bit foreign to me.
Had things gone normal, and had we not run into an endless assault of emergencies and crises that ground us down and made being at the church as a family almost as rare as a Bigfoot sighting, and at times even as individuals a pipe dream, things may have turned out different.
Last year we had a special series of injuries and emergencies that all but seemed to say 'rethink, rethink.' Not to put a bad theological spin on it, but we did begin to wonder what was happening. It's common in Orthodox circles to say 'welcome suffering, it's God's gift.' But when that suffering is causing the seeds to remain on the rock and be unable to take root, you begin to wonder. When for all intents and purposes we were just generic Christians who happened to show up occasionally at an Orthodox church, we had to think about things.
Then 2020 happened. From WWIII to Covid to the rise of BLM and the open assault on the Christian West and America, we feared being forever in limbo, floating around a church we never seemed able to take root in, would not be good for the boys. I mean, we actually had a national discourse on destroying religious art based on its ethnic origins. The last time I remember that happening was in Germany in the 1930s. Once again demonstrating that those who go into revolutions with arrogance and pride, sure they're the ones to save the world, will generally be the ones to build the gas chamber and gulags, we saw this was no normal 'social disturbance.'
Desperate to do something to root ourselves in a community of believers, and realizing that some of it was just the logistics of our family, our finances, our care-giving of my Mom, allowing the boys to remain home while they work their ways through college, and other things that won't change any time soon, the hope that things settle down so we miraculously can become a regular part of a faraway, culturally disconnected church community seemed to be fading.
The problem was the memories of our local parish. And that's were the new priest comes in. An African priest from Nigeria, he had served with a young PJPII priest down in C------s. A firebrand, that priest was no flaming liberal. Quite the contrary. Like many his age, he seemed bent on reversing some of the worst trends of Vatican II. That seemed a good fit, since I do believe if the new local priest had his druthers, he would implement the Latin Mass tomorrow. He's already made the last Sunday of each month a Latin liturgy. He has also been quick to squelch many of the more liberal compromises and sell outs.
When Covid broke, he fought like a mad dog to keep from shutting down, doing so only when directly addressed by the equally new bishop. When the BLM riots erupted, he called out the idea that this was about racism at all, but was instead about the evil in our hearts on all sides. He has gently and quietly replaced many of the leaders of the church, preferring at least those near the center rather than the far 'pro-sex and death cult' types that were in charge. And he makes no bones about the exclusive claims of the Faith.
We understand that one parish priest does not a Catholic Church make. Clearly the bulk of the Western and Latin American churches are still under the idea that the only way to minister to the world is to follow the world like desperate lap dogs begging for the slightest scraps from the secular table. Despite this being prime time to stand up and call out the catastrophes and death and suffering that have come from generations blindly listening to the latest secular 'experts', groveling and cringing before the latest assaults seems the way to go.
Latin American liberation theologian Pope Francis continues his whole 'the problem with the world is those Catholics over there in the Western Church' attitudes, with hellfire on the evil Western Democracies while at the same time reaching a laurel and hearty handshake to the Christian crushing and Muslim trouncing Communist Chinese. I get that most bishops would side with Henry VIII if he were alive today. Obviously this is nothing new.
But as we see a growing number on the left joined by good left wing Catholics, calling for an end to this silly American experiment rubbish and admitting that white Jesus is clearly Nazi, the boys need a community in which to take root. The Orthodox, by the way, are no better. Though boasting that they never get involved in politics, they seem happy to do so where calling down brimstone on the West and that great racist slave state of America is concerned.
So we're back. Yes, there are still Catholic doctrinal questions we never had the opportunity to get our heads around. Yes, we realize we are still in a left of center parish more concerned about hurting pro-abortion feelings than standing for the Faith. We get that many in our parish still hold the 'gee, you lost everything to become Catholic - that was dumb' mentality.
But there is, at least for a season, a priest suffering the slings and arrows to oppose the apostasy. There is a new bishop who at least might not have a 'pox on you' attitude about former clergy (even if now, that identity means little). And logistically, it's just our best bet. I can't say I'm not altogether glad to be back. I am a child of the not always so kindly West after all.
So there we are. Against all odds, after losing everything to become Catholic, we all but got shoved out the door and had to find another roost. Despite many things commending itself, however, we just never were able to be planted and grow in that Orthodox garden. The differences and problems we had with certain doctrines could not be overcome owing to an all but ten mile high wall placed in front of us. The logistics of getting there alone become an overwhelming obstacle. And when the dust settled, it seemed as though everything was converging to give us no choice but consider what we imagined would be the unthinkable, and that's return to the Tiber.
We understand things have continued to change for the worst. Whereas the Catholic blogosphere was once a platform for welcoming us converts, now there are sites where always tolerant liberal Catholics gather to spit and curse us right wing Nazi freaks polluting their pure churches. In some places, actual Catholics in real parishes have the same attitude. Pope Francis continues his 'I have loved Marx, but have hated Jefferson' assessment of the world. Most bishops are cowering before the storm of antichrists descending on the Faith. But at least it will be a place to gather consistently where we can once again - prayerfully - take root.
And, in the end, I believe there is a Truth claim within the Catholic tradition that is lacking in others, having been now in the three major Christian traditions. Despite warts and all, there is something there there, and it's that 'there' I've been searching for my entire life.
So trying never to say 'not thy will, but mine', we will go into it with open mind and heart. If it returns to promoting heresy to my boys and telling them the whole Jesus tale is fine for a pizza party, but what really matters is the sacred right to abort babies for better sex lives and a socialist state dedicated to putting an end to all this religious rights rubbish, we will bolt again. If need be, I'd rather go back to a Protestant church remaining rooted in it's stripped down version of the Faith while navigating the storm, than one that willing to hand my boys over to the storm. Well, maybe not, but you get the point.
Nonetheless, we're also going in optimistic. There have been good signs, and I believe there are many more who want to be faithful than the Catholic leaders believe. There are many more who want to see that old time religion, and even some values long discarded that might do better than the train wreck inducing values we've embraced in our modern hubris. They get that in many ways the world's promises have been dashed on the gravestones of millions of dead who died from the world's lack of vision and usual sinfulness. If only the leadership would have faith in the faithful.
So we'll see. We're back, and God willing this will be our home until the end of time. Peace. Or, should I say, Pax.