John Allen hits it on the head

The fair-minded nearly ubiquitous former Rome correspondent for the ultra-lefty NCR, Mr. John L Allen, Jr., has led his weekly blurb with a clear and correct statement:

Without a doubt, the push for robust assertion of traditional Catholic identity is the most consequential mega-trend in the life of the church today, and it is also the core of Benedict XVI’s agenda as pope. Emboldened by the election of John Paul II in 1978, the identity wave hit the arena of liturgy first, then went on to engulf Catholic education, Catholic media, priestly identity and formation, religious orders, and virtually every other sphere of ecclesiastical life.


As I have been saying until you readers are no doubt hearing it repeated in your heads at night, Pope Benedict has a plan, a "Marshall Plan" for the Church, focusing especially on reinvigorating Catholic identity.  The liturgy is the tip of the spear. 

Change the liturgy, you change everything else.

Note also that Allen brings in the point of priestly identity.  Clearly this is what Summorum Pontificum is aiming at.  The Motu Proprio is about priestly identity as much as it is about anything else.

If Catholics do not recover and strengthen a clear Catholic identity, one that is coherent in teaching and practice and in continuity with our past, then the Church cannot make the contribution the Lord commands her to give to the world. 

In the ever secularizing, relativizing world, solid clear Catholics are being marginalized, while the squishy amorphous sort are being allowed to stick around as tokens in public discourse. 

We need renewal of our identity so that we can understand well who we are and live our lives in keeping with that identity (this is the ad intra dimension).  Only in this way can we have something vital and effective to contribute to the world at large (this is the ad extra dimension).

Allen got it exactly right.

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  1. Malta says:

    “…solid clear Catholics are being marginalized, while the squishy amorphous sort are being allowed to stick around as tokens in public discourse.”

    That is often true; however, interestingly, it is often the solid, traditional aspects of Catholicism which make the headlines. There is something intriguing to the liberal, “enlightened” world about the stable, unchanging aspects of the Church. Often, this intrigue is coupled with disdain, but the interest is there, nevertheless. People often recognize Truth even if they don’t embrace it. .

  2. Aelric says:

    “Allen got it exactly right.”

    I am not so convinced. Allen consistently makes use of modern sociological terms such as “mega-trend” or “identity wave” seen above (or “affirmative orthodoxy” in a previous column). He writes to an audience who seemingly cannot or refuses to reflect or carry out discourse in terms of interior dispositions and truth claims; instead, Allen resorts to categorizations that, I believe, both limit and misrepresent the Holy Father’s true intentions. Thus, whilst Catholic identity is no doubt an important concept, for the Holy Father I suspect this is accidental (or a means) to the interior formal concern of sanctifying grace; for Allen and the majority of his readers perhaps, identity politics is all they understand.

    To put it another way, a grave sinner and a saint may both give water to a starving man. The external act appears the same and, in a natural sense, was a “good” act. But only in one case was a supernatural act of corporal mercy done. Allen writes, I believe, to the former (though I do not mean to make any claim vis-a-vis his interior dispositions – I comment only on his writing and use of language).

  3. Recusant says:

    Spot on. I would add that Catholic culture, that part that isn’t explicitly religious, needs to be reinforced. It adds an infrastructure to people’s sense of themselves as Catholics.

    Here in the UK we can see empirical evidence of this in the fantastically devout Maltese who came to these islands as immigrants. Within twenty years, and without the embedded feasts, processions and all the many other Catholic markers that suported their religion in Malta, there attendance had plummeted to the level of the natives.

  4. JC says:

    Aelric, good points about Allen-he often has some wonderful observations about the reality of the Vatican, and he lacks the kind of venom one usually sees in Commonweal, NCR, etc., but he’s still a died-in-the-wool liberal and secularist Catholic. He sees this stuff, but he sees it as a negative “trend.”

    As for Pope Benedict, it is just amazing to watch the punch-counterpunch movement. Archbishop Ranjith says that the bishops who refuse to implement _Summorum Pontificum_ are in open rebellion against the Holy Father and serving Satan. Then the head of Ecclesia Dei gives a more “even-handed” assessment, saying, “We’ll clarfiy the document for you.” NEver mind that _Summorum Pontificum _ *itself* says, in essence, “The Bishops have blatantly disobeyed _Ecclesia Dei_, so I’m cuttng them out of the process.”

  5. st daggett says:

    I think Aelric made a good observation, but there are some fine nuances that may be lost in the brevity of his/her post. Aelric should develop those thoughts and start his/her own blog! Very thoughtful and insightful… thanks.
    I am not really thrilled with the desire many of us have to be recognized by or approved by the faithless liberals on the wrong side of Tradition. But then, I am also not thrilled with the “send ’em to hell!” folks either. I prefer a middle ground which says “let them go to hell if they insist, but let’t try to bring them heaven gently”. I think that is what the Pope is doing… Leading the way to heaven, and folks don’t follow, well then, let them go to hell if they insist. Love never forces itself on the beloved.

  6. JC: Archbishop Ranjith did NOT say that bishops who resisted Summorum Pontificum were “serving Satan”. He said, if I recall correctly, that they wind up being instruments of the Enemy. Of course, one can unwittingly “serve Satan”. But let’s try not to give the wrong impression.

  7. Bill says:

    In addition to liturgy, Catholic identity is also reflected in the physical space in which we sorship. Physically separating the reserved sacrament and replacing altars of sacrifice with table/meal altars speaks volumes what we BELIEVE. As Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI also urged respect for architectural norms that reflect traditional Catholic theology. Looking at most parish churches and cathedrals, we have a long road “back.”

  8. Here is one of the very strong statements Archbp. Ranjith made about those bishops.

  9. Matt Q says:

    I also like the fact the amazingly wonderful Archbishop also said:

    “You know there have been, on the part of some dioceses, even interpretative documents which inexplicably aim at putting limits on the Pope’s Motu Proprio. Behind these actions there are hidden, on one hand, prejudices of an ideological kind and, on the other hand, **pride**, one of the gravest sins. I repeat: I call on everyone to obey the Pope. If the Holy father decided he had to issue the Motu Proprio, he had his reasons which I share entirely.”

    I hope our Holy Father elevates this man to Cardinal-Elector.

  10. Aelric says:

    “Aelric should develop those thoughts and start his/her own blog! ”

    Good heavens! I’ll never submit another comment – I promise! :-)

    Seriously, though, Father here has a wonderful site for which I am very thankful: to read; listen; and to which to contribute – even if I do not share his encomiums of John Allen. So cheers to Father Z.

    An off-topic note (though relevant to the site): tomorrow is the second Forma Extraordinaria in the Cathedral Church of Raleigh, NC. As I know there are several readers/posters of this site in the diocese, I hope we have another strong WDTPRS contingent tomorrow. Readers may be interested in the following anecdote: I noted that the Cathedral web page had the Mass listed only as “in Latin”. I wrote to the web master asking them to make a proper distinction between the rite (or usage) vs. the language. To their credit, the change was made quickly and now appears as “Forma Extraordinaria (Latin)”.

  11. danphunter1 says:

    I shall be there in the choir loft attempting to give glory and adoration to the Triune Godhead.
    If anyone wants to join the choir please come up.
    We will be singing:
    “Lord who throughout these forty days”
    Offertory: “Parce Domine”
    “Ave Verum Corpus”
    Communion: “Adoro te Devote”
    Recessional:”Again we keep this Solemn Fast”

    If anyone is comfortable with any or all of these, please join us.
    Deo Gratias!

  12. Jim says:

    Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, and again I say, AMEN! Rem acou tange!

  13. Peter J.R. Sena says:

    Allen’s main point is correct. Only he’s sadly behind the times in discovering it. I don’t take issue with Father Z very often. But I think most of Allen’s commentary is disingenuous at best.

    He’s always been asleep at the switch concerning Ratzinger/Benedict.Every time he tries to catch up,the Pope just bursts ahead,shattering Allen’s effort to keep up.

    A few short months ago, Allen was writing that the Pope’s lifting of restrictions on the TLM was of little consequence and would have no impact on the American Church.

    The first thing I did on reading the Motu Propria on that magnificent early July morning here in West Chester, Pa. was say my prayer of thanks to the Lord. Then I ran to my computer to type my bumper sticker:

  14. Tom Ryan says:

    Absolutely! Benedict is recapturing the Catholic culture. The same Catholic Culture that had sustained generations of Catholics in the Faith INCLUDING those who didn’t read apologetics or read blogs like this.

    In the Ratzinger Report, his Eminence said that German Protestantism never had any appeal to him. WHY?!? Because he was so imbued with a strong Catholic Culture in Bavaria that everything outside seemed so desolate.

    This is why the convert worship over at EWTN seems so vacuous. Sure, convert stories are interesting. But sometimes no more personally relevant than stories of people who turned away from homosexuality. To wit, many of us have experienced dryness in the Faith without being tugged by the lure of Protestantism. Even Voltaire when asked if he’d join one of the new Protestant “churches” replied “My dear friends-I’ve merely lost my faith, not my mind”

    We’ve all learned the Parable of the Prodigal Son well, but does anyone know the other boy’s name?

  15. “Here in the UK we can see empirical evidence of this in the fantastically devout Maltese who came to these islands as immigrants. Within twenty years, and without the embedded feasts, processions and all the many other Catholic markers that suported their religion in Malta, there attendance had plummeted to the level of the natives.”

    I grew up in heavily Italian Rochester, New York. Feasts and solemnities were
    staples of my childhood (I’m 39), especially St. Joseph’s Day, the observance of which through “tables” dates to the 13th century. They marked us as Catholics, but are now largely forgotten.
    As they were chucked aside, the practice of the faith was correspondingly abandoned.

  16. Peter: You are wrong on this.

  17. Hirotomi Takemitsu says:

    I and some friends who share the same condo like very much your website and news. This is my first time contributeing. This article seems fairly honests, except in regards to religious life. I don’t see much change for the better in religious life, especially not in the USA. Not in the Mass either. Perhaps a long time we will be waiting for any inprovements, and personaly I don’t see it coming for years. But I did read an article about 2 communities of nuns in France which had been very liberal, and now have reversed their course of action to a more traditional life with even the habits that they were using ffrom the times of their beginnings, and have vocations now where before they had none, and had a very aged total of members. Maybe that’s a small sing for the better. But in the USA, I would for most Orders especiallty of nuns call it a lost cause.

  18. Paul Bailes says:

    IMHO Allen’s comment looks more than plausible – social/cultural phenomena are important crutches to our attachment to the deeper Mysteries of the Faith.

    What does perplex me however is his “Emboldened by the election of John Paul II in 1978, the identity wave hit the arena of liturgy first”. I mean no disrespect, but it seems to me that the “identity wave” is much more Benedict’s than John Paul’s doing.

    Moreover, nearly three decades passed since John Paul’s election before Summorum Pontificum. So what did His late Holiness have to do with the liturgical side especially of the identity wave? E.g. declaring excommunication of Abp. Lefebvre & co. in ’88 didn’t seem designed to advance the TLM.

  19. EDG says:

    Aelric and Paul Bailes,
    I heard John Allen speak about two weeks ago, and it seems that he gave this same address (mega trends). He\’s an excellent and engaging speaker, and I think as a reporter he’s “fair and balanced.” However, I also felt that the sociological approach, aside from being not entirely accurate, was a little dated.

    He said that he has seven points, although because he had less than 45 minutes, he gave us only 4 of them. One of them was the recovery of Catholic identity (he didn’t mention JPII, and, personally, I think JPII had very little to do with it and in fact did not seem to be very gung-ho on the idea). He mentioned processions and holidays, etc. I thought that was great, although I don’t think we should be doing it for sociological reasons, but for religious reasons. After all, these feasts are important events, not something we do just to make a point. They have been largely suppressed over the last 40 years, but not by civil society: they have been suppressed by the Church itself. So we have to bear that in mind in order to bring them back. The sturdiest objection you will get to a Corpus Christi procession will probably be from your own pastor.

    In addition, Allen’s four main points seemed to have been distilled some years ago. He finished his blithe analysis and a monsignor from the Plains States stood up and said that it was all well and good, but there was something going on out there that Allen had not even mentioned: Islam. Did Allen think this might be a problem? John Allen said that he did, and that it was one of his other points that he didn’t have time to discuss. But the general impression I got was that his points were a little insulated from reality, perhaps actually by trying very hard to be “objective” (I’m not sure that’s possible) and perhaps simply because he’s working in a somewhat unreal environment. In any case, those are my modest observations. He’s a great speaker, though, and has some very funny stories about the town in Kansas where he grew up. It makes Lake Woebegone look like Paris.

  20. I agree, this is all a beginning in establishing a Catholic Identity which for sometime has been lost.

  21. Malta says:

    “We [priests, in persona Dei] need renewal of our identity so that we can understand well who we are and live our lives in keeping with that identity (this is the ad intra dimension). Only in this way can we have something vital and effective to contribute to the world at large (this is the ad extra dimension).”

    Well said, Fr. Z. Priests need to reorient themselves metaphorically and physically to the east: the the Risen Christ. We need more faith, and less politics in our Priests, who work on the “front lines” of salvation. Jesus Christ is not an idea, but Our Lord–the Redeemer of the World. We all live on a rock twirling in space called Earth, from which none of leave alive. We all die, and will all be put into the earth.

    It seems that many of our prelates forget this central reality. They feverishly work for corporal betterment on this earth (not, ipso facto, a bad thing) but totally forget about the eternal destiny of man; the reason we were put on this earth in the first place. We need much, much more than the physical needs of our bodies. The soul thirsts, and will find nourishment where it will, whether false or true.

    As Aelric alludes, the ultimate aim of Catholicism isn’t a political identity in terms of rites, or factions. It is the betterment of the soul–the Salvation of the soul.

    The Novus Ordo has done a poor job of preparing souls for eternity, as is evidenced by every poll since this “manufactured liturgy” has taken hold: almost a non-belief in the Real Presence, almost all “Catholics” believing in contraception and abortion, etc.

    The Traditional Church, spearheaded by SSPX, has been preserving the very thing that the world has been trying to deprive us of: A faith in connection with the Saints and fathers of the Church, going back 2,000 years, a true, unafraid faith, a faith that doesn’t accommodate the modern world, but stands firm to the faith of the Saints who have governed our faith for 2,000 years….

  22. Joseph says:

    With all due respect —

    What is this (running) disclaimer for Mr. Allen? Is not the assumption in place that Christians are “fair minded,” as in truth seekers, by definition. And further, cannot we, discerning a group as we no doubt are who are following this blog, make up our own minds as to whether he is or not? It just seems like either a redundancy, or patronizing, and that would be to both the purveyor and the receiver.

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