Tasting notes from my travels in American Christianity
#1
Hello all, I wanted to share my experience attempting to find the correct place to worship over the past year or so.  This was not my first rodeo attempting to find a home church, but it was more comprehensive than my adventures in the past.  It was also influenced by several changes in my life: I got married, have a child on the way, and started making very decent money (top decile household income, likely top 3% within the next couple years).  The uncertainty I felt about donating money to my local Catholic parish grew to be a serious concern, and then the thought of raising a child in the N.O. became unacceptable.  In my previous experiment with traditionalism, I had an experience with the FSSP that was so terrible I stopped attending church altogether for a time.  And so, I started to consider my options.
 
Option 1: Conservative Evangelicalism.  Where to start?  The pros of this brand of Christianity are more numerous than I think many of us are willing to admit.  First, their schools are very conservative and emulate what I expect many here may remember fondly of Catholic schools in the past.  They even wear the old Catholic school uniforms and teach Latin these days.  You could easily send your child to a “Classical Christian School” from Pre-K to 12th Grade and then have numerous decent options for college.  Colleges like Wheaton are rigorously conservative and are also well regarded in general.  There is a general cultural support system for Protestantism in the U.S. that can’t be beat.  Your child could go from neonate to 21 and NEVER interact with an authority figure who wasn’t a conservative Evangelical.  Moreover, there is a zeitgeist to these churches; they are the only churches that are growing in the U.S. and they already have impressive numbers anyway.  There is a real sense that you are part of something monumental and lasting.  Sixty-five percent of children raised as conservative Evangelicals continue practicing into adulthood!

The cons are obvious.  You are the number one target for those who despise Christianity or those who profess Christianity but lean left.  The theological problems are endless.  Those great schools all teach creationism too.  The emphasis on Catholic hate is tiring and tedious as well.  I am not a theologian, although in my first dance with traditionalism I explored theology a great deal.  I no longer delve too far into it because in my heart I know it is not as applicable to my discernment of my spiritual home as I would like to admit.  With that said, there are certain aspects of Christian thought that are non-negotiable for me.  These include: devotion to the Blessed Virgin, use of the Septuagint, and the true presence.  Disregarding these three things is just too stupid to me.  And so, I moved on…

 
Option 2: Orthodoxy.  My exploration of Orthodoxy forever changed how I view Catholicism.  I did not ultimately settle on it, but I cannot shake the conviction that Orthodox Christians can go to heaven – and go there by virtue of their faith.  I realize this is not an acceptable view, but it is how I feel, and you can certainly offer arguments to change my mind.  I'm serious about that - it's something I typed because it's what I think even though intellectually I know it should not be correct.  Let’s start with the cons this time.  First, Orthodoxy is ugly.  People who say it is beautiful don’t know what they’re talking about.  The chants and tones are ugly.  The icons are ugly (deliberately so; the Byzantine style necessitates a sallow, sickly appearance, which happens to capture their whole religion’s aesthetic).  The churches looks gaudy with icons plastered everywhere.  There are many exceptions, and there is a certain *kind* of beauty to it all, but it seems a little depressing to me as a whole.  Second, there is an anti-zeitgeist in Orthodoxy.  Their churches are fairly empty.  There is no cultural support in the U.S. in the forms of universities, schools, or even basic catechetical classes.  Almost 60% of children raised Orthodox leave the faith.  Even if I could get past the ugliness, raising a child Orthodox would be a fool’s errand.  Perhaps most annoying, the metropolitans are just as liberal and modernist as your average Catholic bishop.  They are constantly sticking their noses in politics to tell conservatives how misguided they are, and they always weigh in on the side of the globalists who want you to go vegan, stop having kids, live in pods, and eat insect burgers.  I won’t eat the bugs.  If you want to see what the Catholic Church might be like if Vatican II didn’t happen, consider the lack of enthusiasm the Orthodox have for their rite.  I wonder if the energy of the Tridentine Mass would exist if we were not standing in direct opposition to the N.O.  The Orthodox are also utterly incapable of missionary work and obtaining conversions.  This seems like a real problem for their future.

With all that said, the pros are numerous.  They are also obvious and not worth listing.  When you look at the history between the East and West, the Catholics often end up looking like the bad guys.  We did rape and pillage Eastern Christians during the Fourth Crusade for literally no reason; we did take an oppressor/imperialist role during many different periods of history e.g., the Venetians; we often made the Orthodox actively prefer Muslim rule to Catholic rule; the Donation of Constantine was a forged document; etc.  They bravely endured oppression at the hands of Muslims and Communists, emulating what you would expect to find from Christ’s Church.  They have many rich traditions such as the use of basil, which grew around Christ’s cross.  I do not have many theological gripes with them, and they are good on my three crucial points.  But with all of this said: the pros do not outweigh the cons.  There really is an overall sense of death and dying in Orthodoxy, and even that might have been OK if not for the overwhelming liberalism of the hierarchy.  Catholics who think the grass is greener or that Orthodoxy is an antidote to modernism are very, very mistaken.  They want you to eat bugs just as much as your local archbishop.


Option 3: FSSP, et al.  I did not have a good experience with the FSSP, but that’s not important.  I will instead offer what my current complaint with all traditionalists ""firmly within the Church"" is: It’s a shell game.  You won’t be scandalized by attending Mass at an FSSP parish, but enjoy having your financial contributions go straight to a bishop who will do his best to make sure you DO get scandalized.  I really question the morality of actively participating in a parish like this that, despite being orthodox in all the right ways, on paper functions like any other diocesan parish as far as the bishop’s pockets are concerned.  It strikes me as a type of blood money: You give money you know will be used in immoral ways as long as you get to worship as a traditionalist with certainty that you are staying firmly within the Church.  This didn’t occur to me my first time around because I was poor.  Now, however, I can’t imagine making such a Faustian pact for my own piece of mind. 

 
Option 4: Your local diocesan parish.  Barf.  It’s been a while since I attended an N.O. parish, so I gave it a try.  It’s worse than I remember.  Just in the five years I’ve been gone, there are fewer young people than ever before.  The old people seem older.  Has anyone else noticed that cultural Catholicism doesn’t exist anymore?  There’s no sense of any distinctives; the parish schools seem anemic and secularized; everything seems emptier and hollower.  I don’t know… when I was growing up I still felt like a lot of people identified as Catholic even if they didn’t go to church; they still went on Christmas and Easter.  That seems gone now.  The ONLY people at all three local parishes are decrepit boomers and a few young-ish families that give off those creepy, desexed vibes like they don’t have the proper amount of estrogen or androgens in circulation.  The young adults group I used to attend no longer exists.  There is a new “brash young conservative firebrand” priest just like the one who used to be there before he was shuffled around parishes into obscurity, but this one seems less convincing, more scared, and more hopeless.  He gave a sermon a week ago about how only 2 children in the parish school knew the Hail Mary.  This type of young priest used to be a source of hope for the future to me; now it seems like a played out, tired trope.

I have no qualms about leaving this behind.  It’s pathetic.  Catholics used to seem like “normal” people, but now the only ones who are left are “religious” types – the kind with those wide-eyed, antidepressant stares you see at liberal mainline Protestant churches.  The population is older, lower class, and seemingly more mentally ill.  I guess that’s what happens when all the middle of the road people leave.  But those left are either abject cheerleaders for the Pope and his program, or double digit IQ “conservatives” who pretend like the priest didn’t just give a homily on how Jesus wants you to endorse welfare programs.  I am really emphasizing this because it is remarkable to me how fast this all seems to have changed.  During my entire childhood and early adult life there was a certain vibrancy in parish life.  It wasn’t great, but it was something.  But again, something appears to have changed just in the last maybe four years.  Has anyone else noticed this?  I can’t quite put it into words, but something has been lost recently…  By the way, retention rate for children raised Catholic is basically a coin toss, only slightly better than Orthodoxy.


Option 5: Charismatic Episcopal or High Anglican.  Meh, they don’t use the Septuagint for reasons (?) and I simply don’t get a sense of intellectual rigor from them.  They are weak on Marian devotion not because of any theological reason but as a concession to other Protestants as far as I can tell.  They believe in the true presence and apostolic succession, but their line of succession also comes from literal Brazilian Communists, soHuh?  If I really gave up on Catholicism for good one day, they would have to do in a pinch.


Option 6: SSPX.  Finally… home, 1.5 hours away.  I’m not worried about whether I’m inside or outside of the Church like I once was because the truth is, surveying everything above, I’m at the point where I’d rather not go to ANY church anymore if SSPX isn’t good enough.  Surprisingly, they do have schools, and Angelus Press, and a reasonable number of parishes; they have a cultural presence big enough to work with – and definitely outsized given their size.  I agree with every single theological and political point I have ever heard them make, and that is genuinely special to me.  I can contribute to them financially and actually feel good about it!  Most importantly, the bishops of the SSPX don’t want you to eat the bugs.

The cons are that they are very small and there are *probably* some weirdos there.  They all seemed very clean cut and upstanding to me, but you know how those trads are.


With all of this said, my only qualm is how I feel about schism these days: Namely, that I don't have any interest in that idea.  Taking a step back, it was impossible to step back in and invite the cognitive dissonance back into my head space; having a kid had a major effect on that too.  I simply refuse to expose my child to that crap.  I am judging only by fruits.  In that sense, Evangelicals win out in all but theological concerns.  N.O. and Orthodoxy are both like dying men; the latter a noble old man succumbing to old age, the former a post-op transgender with cancer from the hormone blockers.  FSSP is the one who enabled the surgery, and SSPX is the oncologist.  I won't feel like a hypocrite nodding along in the N.O. and I won't feel like Dr. Faustus in the FSSP.  The idea of schism or anything else that presents a theological quandary that makes me waffle back and forth is purposeless, and does not contribute to my salvation.  And my purpose in bringing this up is not to start that conversation.  Rather, it's to say: Would you truly expect anyone not already a Catholic to do anything different?  Would your average person not judge a church by its fruits?  That person could look at history and conclude it's a coin toss between whether Catholics or Orthodox are the "true Christians," but where to go from there?  Is an individual's soul REALLY going to be lost because they picked the wrong one, or because they looked at the Catholic Church and thought they were a bunch of Communist freaks?  I already know the answer, but I am having trouble getting there myself.
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#2
An individual's soul will be lost if they take the easy route, that's for certain. "For wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat" (Mt. 7:13).

"How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!" St. John of the Cross comments on this verse: "We should note particularly in this passage the exaggeration and hyperbole conveyed by the word 'how.' This is like saying: Indeed the gate is very narrow, more so than you think" (Ascent Bk 2, ch. 7). Among the truly conservative Protestants, you will still find a firm belief in the reality of Hell and no hesitation in saying so. The pampering effect of a liberalized culture is to ask, "Will God really send so many people to Hell?" And we know where that question comes from: "Did God really say..."

Whatever choice you need to make, it will be a distasteful one, not an easy one. As St. John of the Cross said, "I think it is possible to affirm that the more necessary the doctrine the less it is practiced by spiritual persons" (Ascent Bk 2, ch. 7). So we certainly should not ask what an average person would do. We're not called to the average, which is the mediocre. As Garrigou-Lagrange said, virtue is always a summit.

So to answer your last question, the answer is simply yes. A person's soul will indeed be lost by choosing the wrong one. But it will not be because they chose out of ignorance or the inability to adjudicate difficult theological or historical matters. It will be because in getting tangled up in the realm of the intellect, they neglected the way of the Cross that our Lord demands of all His true disciples.
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#3
Any diocesan parish is really a product of the priests there. Sadly, many head priests/pastors are of the immediate post-VII era and are quite liberal. I've just moved to a new area and one of our local churches has a priest who is quite orthodox, talks about harsh truths in his homilies, tells the truth about the modernists in the hierarchy, loves TLM (although he's all alone so he can only do it once per month), and just seems like he's doing the best he can with what's going on. The NO Masses are about as good as you're going to get and I can live with them as I pray I can figure out a way over time to get a more consistent TLM going  Big Grin. Unfortunately, if we all run away to the SSPX or FSSP there will be none of us who will be able to work on the low hanging fruit sitting within reach in the mainstream.
Blood of Christ, relief of the burdened, save us.

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#4
I went SSPX and have never looked back. I'm blessed with a parish only 35 minutes away. Honestly, the best decision I've made since entering the Church.
"The Heart of Jesus is closer to you when you suffer, than when you are full of joy." - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

'Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes: vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.' - Ecclesiastes 1:2

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#5
(10-09-2019, 08:03 AM)Imperator Caesar Trump Wrote: Option 3: FSSP, et al.  I did not have a good experience with the FSSP, but that’s not important.  I will instead offer what my current complaint with all traditionalists ""firmly within the Church"" is: It’s a shell game.  You won’t be scandalized by attending Mass at an FSSP parish, but enjoy having your financial contributions go straight to a bishop who will do his best to make sure you DO get scandalized.  I really question the morality of actively participating in a parish like this that, despite being orthodox in all the right ways, on paper functions like any other diocesan parish as far as the bishop’s pockets are concerned.  It strikes me as a type of blood money: You give money you know will be used in immoral ways as long as you get to worship as a traditionalist with certainty that you are staying firmly within the Church.  This didn’t occur to me my first time around because I was poor.  Now, however, I can’t imagine making such a Faustian pact for my own piece of mind. 

To the best of my knowledge, supporting your parish/priest can be done in other ways other than writing a check each week (or direct deposit).  If one takes some simple steps, one can prevent most, if not all, of this money from getting into the hands of the bishop (if you so choose).  For example, I was told by a priest that one can earmark their weekly collection such that it does not go into the pot where the diocesan allotment is calculated. Simply marking it as "parish improvement' would suffice (but you better ask your priest to make sure).  

OR... make your contribution directly to other non-diocesan causes... instead of a weekly contribution at mass, make a larger monthly contribution to a traditional seminary of your choosing.  

And when the basket is passed around at the time of the diocesan appeal, or for "Peter's Pence", don't throw anything into it.

Or maybe throw this into it:

[Image: 70574261-3068427563187408-2825314819719036928-o.jpg]
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#6
(10-09-2019, 01:55 PM)GangGreen Wrote: Any diocesan parish is really a product of the priests there. Sadly, many head priests/pastors are of the immediate post-VII era and are quite liberal. I've just moved to a new area and one of our local churches has a priest who is quite orthodox, talks about harsh truths in his homilies, tells the truth about the modernists in the hierarchy, loves TLM (although he's all alone so he can only do it once per month), and just seems like he's doing the best he can with what's going on. The NO Masses are about as good as you're going to get and I can live with them as I pray I can figure out a way over time to get a more consistent TLM going  Big Grin. Unfortunately, if we all run away to the SSPX or FSSP there will be none of us who will be able to work on the low hanging fruit sitting within reach in the mainstream.

I tried really hard to do this at my parish.  It was an uphill battle from the beginning, but I wanted to take this approach and "reform from within".  I got stonewalled on introducing any traditionalism into the parish whatsoever.  As in, every priest pulled a Pope Francis and just stopped responding to me altogether.  Wouldn't look me in the eye at Mass.  This was after attending for several months and getting to know them all fairly well.  I was literally the only person in my age group by 20 years to attend daily Mass and they cast me aside in an instant.

This was the church where I had met my wife at the young adult group.  As I mentioned in the OP, it no longer exists anymore.  Every one of those people had left the parish.  We did adoration in Latin at that time.  It could have been a good starting point.  But they preferred driving everyone off than make even a single concession to someone under the age of 40.  And this is in a county that voted Trump by a wide margin in 2016.  

(10-09-2019, 03:11 PM)Bonaventure Wrote:
(10-09-2019, 08:03 AM)Imperator Caesar Trump Wrote: Option 3: FSSP, et al.  I did not have a good experience with the FSSP, but that’s not important.  I will instead offer what my current complaint with all traditionalists ""firmly within the Church"" is: It’s a shell game.  You won’t be scandalized by attending Mass at an FSSP parish, but enjoy having your financial contributions go straight to a bishop who will do his best to make sure you DO get scandalized.  I really question the morality of actively participating in a parish like this that, despite being orthodox in all the right ways, on paper functions like any other diocesan parish as far as the bishop’s pockets are concerned.  It strikes me as a type of blood money: You give money you know will be used in immoral ways as long as you get to worship as a traditionalist with certainty that you are staying firmly within the Church.  This didn’t occur to me my first time around because I was poor.  Now, however, I can’t imagine making such a Faustian pact for my own piece of mind. 

To the best of my knowledge, supporting your parish/priest can be done in other ways other than writing a check each week (or direct deposit).  If one takes some simple steps, one can prevent most, if not all, of this money from getting into the hands of the bishop (if you so choose).  For example, I was told by a priest that one can earmark their weekly collection such that it does not go into the pot where the diocesan allotment is calculated. Simply marking it as "parish improvement' would suffice (but you better ask your priest to make sure).  

OR... make your contribution directly to other non-diocesan causes... instead of a weekly contribution at mass, make a larger monthly contribution to a traditional seminary of your choosing.  

And when the basket is passed around at the time of the diocesan appeal, or for "Peter's Pence", don't throw anything into it.

Or maybe throw this into it:

[Image: 70574261-3068427563187408-2825314819719036928-o.jpg]

Lol... thanks for this.  And what you are describing is the exact problem I had with my experience with FSSP (well, one of them).  The priest actively discouraged earmarking and demanded "obedience" to the bishop in terms of contributions and trusting where that money would go.  Maybe it's because the parish was new, or he had something to prove.  I don't know.  Based on conversations in the past here, I'm the only person who has ever had a bad experience with FSSP, but I definitely did.  This priest barred me from registering at the parish for a month because I "admitted" to attending an SSPX parish in the past and because I made comments about not wanting my money to go to the archdiocese.  I think I wrote a post about it before I left Fisheaters for a while.


Some of you all are really lucky.  Establishing the TLM at your diocesan parish or having good experiences with the FSSP.  I have had absolutely none of that.  Undecided
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#7
That's pretty horrible how that FSSP priest treated you.  I've actually had a bad experience at a relatively new FSSP parish but it was poorly celebrated liturgy, not mistreatment.  The FSSP parish I belong to is just top-notch but it's one of the few where the pastor doesn't get shuttled around every few years.  I'll have to ask about earmarking, I wonder what my pastor would say.  I have a relatively decent bishop so while I have my qualms about the diocese getting my money, I am ultimately at peace with it.
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#8
Imperator Caesar Trump Wrote:And what you are describing is the exact problem I had with my experience with FSSP (well, one of them).  The priest actively discouraged earmarking and demanded "obedience" to the bishop in terms of contributions and trusting where that money would go.  Maybe it's because the parish was new, or he had something to prove.  I don't know.  Based on conversations in the past here, I'm the only person who has ever had a bad experience with FSSP, but I definitely did.
This really depends on the particular Fraternity priest you are dealing with. Their constitutions are flexible enough to allow for a variety of opinions towards issues like "obedience" to the local diocese as well as the SSPX-FSSP relations, etc. The company men will be committed to the idea that the SSPX is in schism since the FSSP in its essence and founding does not make sense without asserting this "fact." But even here, some of these priests can still show considerable sensitivity about supporting a diocese that openly promotes (or does nothing to discourage) heretical or anti-Catholic activities. The pastor at the FSSP near my place is one such person, who openly preaches the SSPX is in schism but also discusses from the pulpit the difficulties and solutions surrounding any contributions the diocese requests. He's handled it with an admirable mixture of tact and straightforwardness.

That all being said, I've seen firsthand horrible, horrible things within the FSSP as well as the SSPX, and I know there are others here who have also seen similar things. Despite all that, whichever place we choose to go to must first be based on the positive reason of where the faith is preserved and nurtured as best as possible. I simply find that the SSPX can do this better than the FSSP because they are not burdened with this theologically obtuse game of obedience. There are of course other theological and political issues that keep me from them as well. 

Lastly, a note about everyone running from diocesan parishes to the traditional ones. I say, if possible, yes do it!! And better sooner than later. Don't hesitate. Ever heard of a boycott? They work only if everyone is doing it. A bad NO priest can ignore as many parishioners as he wants because at the end of the day the laity can't do a single thing. But what CANNOT be ignored is if there are no people there to ignore! A much more powerful statement. Most people today are literate and have access to books and the internet. There is no reason now to remain ignorant, no excuse to be complacent, no justification to keep silent. If only more people hurried to demonstrate that the norm in the Church is unacceptable, and that the hierarchy must give us real reasons to continue to make the effort to show up to their stand-up tragedy shows. As I said, a bad priest can ignore you. But he can't ignore the empty seats and unpaid bills.
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#9
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so your experience on whether the chants and iconography of Orthodoxy are beautiful or not is your own.  While I wouldn't say the TLM is ugly, I also wouldn't say it's beautiful in comparison to Byzantine liturgy.  It's beautiful in its own way, but to me, also doesn't feel "right."  Like the beauty that it has is forced, somewhat gaudy.

However, I have to think your experience within Orthodoxy was brief, not with more than one parish.  In general, you're right about their success in evangelism, but I'm guessing you either went to a Greek parish or an OCA parish that was largely ethnic.  The Antiochian Archdiocese is made up almost entirely of Evangelical converts these days, and many of them are young families with a lot of children.  The only Orthodox parish I've been to which matched your description was an inner city OCA parish that had been there from the Metropolia days.  Very few people, and most of them old.
I have resigned myself to the reality that I shall have no peace or joy should I continue to exist for eternity.  The question of deism or Christianity no longer matters.  I hope that Christianity is a farce, and that when I die, my consciousness will cease to exist.  In the meantime, I ask the Theotokos to be at my side at my judgement and ask her to intercede to, as I beg, Christ to have mercy on me and to allow me to cease to exist when I die.
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#10
Yeah I think this is a powerful thing we laity can do right now; boycott the Novus Ordo. Fill the pews at churches belonging to traditional societies (fssp/icksp/sspx), if you cant do that only go to the tlm's offered in the diocese, and if that's not possible fill the eastern rite churches (byzantine/coptic/syriomalabar). Go to literally ANY legitimate Catholic mass other than the Novus Ordo.

Instead of putting money in the collection plate at your diocesan-approved TLM, to be skimmed by the diocese, donate directly to the FSSP, ICKSP, or SSPX or to their seminaries. If Modernism doesn't pay the bills maybe it can be reduced in the Church.

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