Booting the Buddhists from the Basilica
What saith the Scriptures?
'It is written: My house shall be called the house of
prayer: but you have made it a den of thieves. '"
Matthew 21: 13
It all began with an innocent cup of coffee, and a rather happenstance cup of coffee, at that. It's not often that I visit my local beanery these days, but since I had a friend visiting from out of town this past weekend, this was where we ended up. It was there that I first saw the flyer, posted on the shop's bulletin board: "Chant in the Basilica."
Fantastic! I love Gregorian chant, and I know we have at least one good schola here in town, so the thought of being able to attend a concert consisting entirely of chant really excited me, not to mention the prospect of attending such an event at our city's basilica.
My excitement was short-lived as I read on: "The Tibetan Monks of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery present an Evening of Religious Prayers."
I could hardly believe my eyes. Buddhist monks? In the basilica? You have to understand: I've read about the crisis in our Church, I've talked about the crisis, and I've even written about the crisis… but this is the first time I've actually come face-to-face with the beast. The revolution was coming to my own back yard.
I should also explain that, of all the parishes in my diocese (Grand Rapids, MI), the basilica is my absolute favorite. Located squarely in the downtown district, it is a piece of architectural beauty that rivals a few of the churches in Rome (and I should know, I've been there twice). The three domes of the basilica are a fixture of the Grand Rapids skyline, a familiar sight to anyone who travels on our city's freeways. The inside is just as beautiful, the kind of place that would make any Traditionalist feel right at home: all-tile floors, a majestic high altar, two side altars (one for Mary, one for St. Joseph), several shrines, pillars, and a larger-than-life statue of the Infant of Prague are a few of the highlights of this parish. I have often visited there to pray the Stations of the Cross.
The thought of this holy and sacred place becoming a temple for Buddhist monks was more than I could stomach. I took the flyer off the wall and brought it with me to Mass the next day, with the intention of showing it to our parish priest (Fr. Michael McMahon of the infamous SSPX). I think I initially showed it to him more for the shock value than for anything, but as we shook our heads and joked about "crashing the party," one thing led to another and… well, here's the story.
I more-or-less volunteered to lead a protest at the basilica. I figured we could get half a dozen or so of us to go down there on the night of the concert (Tuesday night, to be precise) and pray the Rosary while the concert was going on. But by the end of the discussion, my small plans had ballooned into a full-scale strategy for outright warfare. We are the Church Militant, after all.
The plan was simple: the men of our parish's Holy Name Society would go to the basilica 15 minutes before the concert and recite the Rosary, out loud, until the basilica "security" booted us out. We would then recite the Rosary outside the basilica until the concert had ended, and go back after the concert to make reparation for the blasphemy that had occurred.
That was Sunday. By Monday afternoon, the plans had evolved even further: Father McMahon was going to make the 3-hour trip from his parish (ours is what we call a "missionary chapel," part of Father's Sunday circuit) to lead the protest, bringing with him the Holy Name Society from his parish, as well as the boys from the parish school.
Now, I am well aware that Traditionalists are often accused of not following the proper channels of authority in situations like this. That was most definitely not the case in our situation. I first phoned the basilica, hoping to reach the pastor there and see what he had to say for himself. His secretary informed me that he was on vacation until next week, and she was rather in the dark regarding the Buddhist monks. She suggested I put a call into the music director for further details, and she sounded genuinely concerned about the planned concert. I did call the music director, but he never returned my message.
Naturally, I did the next most logical thing: I called the bishop's office. Silly me. I had naively presumed that he, most likely also being unaware of the concert, would act swiftly to remedy the situation. The bishop's secretary took my message and said she would pass it on.
Around 5:00 on Monday evening, I got my second up-close-and-personal experience with the post-conciliar revolution. The bishop's secretary called me back to relay this message from Bishop Kevin Britt himself: "If you're concerned about the monks and their concert, you should call the basilica pastor, but there's nothing I can do about the situation, since the pope has met and prayed with the Dalai Lama in the past."
I wish I was making this up.
My first thought was something that I learned from my father when I was a small child: "If so-and-so jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" I resisted the urge to level any such challenges, but it was difficult to not say, "well, tell His Excellency that I'm glad the whole 'collegiality' thing is working so well." It wasn't her fault, she was just a secretary relaying a message. So I thanked her for returning my call, and silently gave thanks that at least our bishop is still a good "papist." Mental note: it really does matter, after all, when the Holy Father sets a bad example for his bishops.
The usual channels of authority having proved to be quite useless, plans for the protest continued. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday contacting my friends and acquaintances (including CFN's own John Vennari and Cornelia Ferriera), in an attempt to rally as much prayer support as possible. I really couldn't have asked for better results. The plight of our chapel (St. Margaret Mary) made the front page of the The Daily Catholic, and I soon had many messages of support and promises from fellow Catholics who pledged to pray the Rosary with us (in spirit) on Tuesday night.
At last, the big day arrived. I dropped in at the basilica at around 4:30 to check things out. There was, at that time, no sign of anything out of the ordinary, except that the tabernacle on the main altar was open and very much empty. So much for offering a few prayers before the Blessed Sacrament.
I then made my way over to our parish chapel, where Father McMahon would be celebrating Holy Mass at 6:00 in preparation for our warfare. It is difficult to describe the feeling to someone who was not there, but that celebration of the Holy Mass was one of the most… well… purposeful Masses I've ever been to. Every Mass ought to feel like preparation for something, ought to be assisted at with such determination. My Latin is slow in coming, but even I understood the opening prayer (from the Mass for the Defense of the Faith): "Exsurge, Domine…" Arise, O Lord.
It was clear what was happening: we were about to wage war against the prince of this world and all of his evil soldiers, and we were calling upon the only true and Almighty God to arise and defend our cause, to defend His Holy Name against an unjust people.
How dare these unholy monks desecrate our sanctuary?
Arise, O Lord…
How dare the basilica pastor allow such a thing to go on in his parish?
Arise, O Lord…
How dare the bishop abdicate his responsibility to protect his flock?
Arise, O Lord…
By the time the Mass had ended, all of the troops were in place. With our congregation, the boys from the school, and the Holy Name Society from Father McMahon's parish, we had amassed some 100-200 defenders of the Church, ready and armed with Our Lady's beads to beat back the demons who would soon be trampling the basilica sanctuary.
We arrived at the basilica at around 7:30, half-an-hour before the festivities were to begin. I milled around the back of the nave for a while, chatting with the event organizers and surveying the various trinkets the monks had brought to sell to their patrons. There were no more than six or seven monks, total, all standing behind their product table and greeting the guests.
I got one of them to explain to me the meaning of one of the "prayer cloths" they were selling. Because the prayers were scrawled on the cloth in the Tibetan language, I had to have one of the monks translate the basic gist of the prayers. What I gathered was that this was a prayer for world peace, and it was addressed to no less than four different deities (incidentally, the four deities were represented by an eagle, a tiger, a dragon, and a horse - I couldn't help but see the similarities to the four gospel writers).
As I surveyed their wares, Our Lord's words came to mind: My house is a house of
prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves and robbers.
Among the items for sale were books by the Dalai Lama (with titles, shockingly enough, that sounded like something John Paul II might have written - "Universal Responsibility and Love," for example), various bells, what looked like stoles, prayer cloths, jewelry, and prayer beads. I bit my tongue as I overheard one of the organizers explaining to a guest that the prayer beads were "just like" the Catholic Rosary.
I should step back for a moment and explain who these monks were, and why they were in Grand Rapids that evening. The monks, having come all the way from the Tashi Lunpo Monastery in India, are on a three-month tour of the North-Eastern states. They intend to visit PA, RI, NY, and other locations (including Carnegie Hall). This is the second "world tour" they have been on in as many years. One spokesman explained that the group had been welcomed in many different venues, including universities, Masonic temples, Presbyterian churches, Lutheran churches, Baptist churches, and several Catholic parishes. In fact, this same group visited Grand Rapids last year, and performed their pagan prayers at our local liberal non-denominational church in town.
I also spoke with the monks' driver/photographer/coordinator, a young man by the name of Douglas Herman. I was saddened to hear him mention that he was raised Roman Catholic, and even more saddened to hear him explain that the Church had taught him to respect all religions.
He explained that the monks were on tour for several reasons: to raise international awareness about Human Rights; to help free the Panchen Lama (the "10th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama"), a 6-year-old boy who apparently has been abducted by the Chinese
government; to share the Buddhist culture with other cultures; and to raise money for the building of a new monastery.
As I chatted with Mr. Herman, our group had already begun to enter the basilica and take their seats. One older gentleman, who was not with our group, but who had heard of our protest and had come to help out, got into a rather heated exchange with Mr. Herman about the appropriateness of having Buddhist monks in the basilica. This gentleman was apparently raised in the basilica, and was none too happy to see his childhood parish being desecrated in such a way. By listening to him argue with Mr. Herman, I discovered once again just how serious is the crisis in the Church of our day. Mr. Herman made two rather excellent rebuttals: first, the monks were invited to the basilica with the full permission of the basilica pastor; and second, even the pope himself was "good friends" with the Dalai Lama. Perhaps Mr. Herman and our bishop had been comparing notes.
In fact, I am sorry to report that this was perhaps the most oft-repeated phrase I heard that night: "You don't like the monks being here? Maybe you should take it up with the pope - he's a good friend of the Dalai Lama."
Such is the state we are in.
The altar area of the sanctuary was decorated mostly with signs and pictures. A large black and white photo of the Panchen Lama nearly covered the entire front of the main altar, leaving it barely visible. On either side of the altar were signs that read, "Free Tibet," "Release the Panchen Lama," and similar such things.
As the 8:00 hour approached, the stage was set. The protesters were in their places, taking up the first fifteen front rows or so. Father McMahon wandered around near the front of the sanctuary, in and out of the sacristy, near the side altars, and so on, waiting for an opportune moment to announce to the crowd the purpose of our presence there. I noted with some relief that our people, which I have said numbered nearly 200, far over-powered the number of people who had come to actually hear the concert. I counted somewhere between 45-50 guests who had come to hear the monks chant their demonic prayers for world peace.
Now, if there was ever a moment when I was 100% certain that Our Lady was on our side, what transpired next certainly was that moment. Father McMahon was still watching and waiting, hoping to announce the reason why he had come, and hoping to do so before the monks were introduced, when one of the organizers approached the microphone, saw Father standing there, and (mistaking him for the basilica pastor) asked him if he would like to say a few words first.
To say that Father jumped at the opportunity would be an understatement.
From that moment, Our Lord and Our Lady ruled the evening, and not once was their reign interrupted. Father stepped up to the microphone and began, and these are his exact words since a fellow parishioner video taped it and provided a transcript. It should give you, as it did me and the rest of the faithful Catholics in attendance, goosebumps:
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
My name is Father Michael McMahon, I am the pastor at
St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Allendale,
Michigan. I would like to welcome you to the basilica
tonight, the basilica of St. Adelbert.
If you will notice in the pews you will probably see
that there is a campaign going on to restore the glory
of the basilica. [Holds up pamphlet from pew] That
is what we are here tonight to do. We are going to
begin to restore the glory of this basilica.
If you go back to the etymology of the word basilica,
it comes from a Greek word meaning royal; it means a
"house fit for a king". And therefore, Holy Mother
Church, the One True Catholic Church, in her wisdom,
took that Greek word, which was also used by the
Romans in ancient times, and used it for where, behind
these pictures [gestures towards Bhuddist signs and
placards in front of the altar], is the tabernacle,
which as Catholics know by the word of Our Lord Jesus
Christ, the Son of God, is where He, in the Holy
Eucharist, in a mysterious and mystical way, resides.
And therefore, because it is the One True God,
necessarily the basilica is built around it, the house
of the King.
And therefore, tonight, while certainly we mean no
disrespect to these gentlemen who have come very far
to be here at this basilica, rather it is a shame on
the Catholic men who allow such a thing to happen, we
are beginning the restoration tonight of this
basilica. Therefore, in honor of St. Adelbert, for
the glory of the Catholic Church, and also to honor
the Mother of God whose feast day, Our Lady of
Lourdes, we are going to do what this basilica was
made for. We do not wish to disappoint those who came
for the reason which was advertised, rather what is
going to happen, is that Catholic men are going to
pray in this Catholic Church.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
The poor event organizer who had asked Father to speak, and who stood by him the entire time, waiting for Father to finish so he could introduce the monks, became visibly and increasingly less comfortable the longer Father spoke - it took a few seconds for the
realization of what was going on to hit him.
By this time the monks had already filed onto the "stage," and they, too, looked rather dumbfounded as Father finished his announcement, knelt at the foot of the altar steps, and intoned the Credo (Credo III, for those of you who know your Gregorian chant).
It was truly a glorious moment: the coordinator, standing with his mouth agape in front of what was clearly a majority-Catholic audience; the monks, all lined up and staring at a man in a black cassock who was now kneeling in front of them, chanting true prayers, having clearly hijacked the event; and the sound... oh... the sound of some 200 Catholics, chanting Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, in a basilica whose acoustics easily make 200 voices sound like 200,000 voices.
I got choked up. Who wouldn't? No sooner had they sung the first few lines, "I believe in one God, the Father almighty," than they had effectively denounced the heresy of Buddhism's polytheism, and filled the air with the reaffirmation of the Truth: there is one God, and He alone is all-powerful.
Arise, O Lord…
As the Catholics chanted, Father motioned to two of men of the Holy Name Society,
who proceeded to approached the Buddhist's display (which was covering the altar, you'll remember) and began tearing it down. The large picture of the Panchen Lama was removed first, followed by the several signs, until the altar was once again visible.
The two Holy Name Society members then joined Father in kneeling at the foot of the altar, and continued the Credo. When the chant had ended, the truth proclaimed, and the first major blow struck against the forces of darkness, one of the men began leading the Holy Rosary.
It didn't take long for people to realize that this group of Catholics did not intend to go away any time soon. By the time the second decade of the Joyful Mysteries was under way, many in the audience who had come to hear the monks were picking up their things and leaving. One gentleman even took back the donation he had made earlier for the monks' monastery project.
Here are a few of the things I overheard in the back of the sanctuary from the shocked and angry audience members:
"These people are not even members of this church - they're part of some fringe off-shoot of the Catholic Church."
"That priest hijacked this service!"
"Did I just walk into a protest against the monks? You gotta freaking be kidding me! This is the sickest thing I've ever seen!"
"Can we fight back? Let's go up there and stand with the monks! We should be supporting the monks!"
"You might as well be committing genocide - they have no respect for human rights!"
It was almost too much to bear without either laughing or crying. The Holy Rosay is the "sickest thing" you've ever seen? Praying to Our Lady "might as well be" genocide? It was tempting to turn around ask the young lady who said these words if she was a supporter of baby-butchering (also known as being "pro-choice"), but I did not wish to give myself away just yet.
The basilica pastor, who was not on vacation after all, was contacted by one of the event coordinators, who were all, by the way, running around like dizzy chickens, with no idea what was happening or how to stop it.
When Father DeYoung arrived, he surveyed the situation and took immediate action. He marched straight up front and took his rightful place beside Father McMahon, kneeling at the altar steps to assist this Catholic crowd in praying the Rosary to Our Lady.
Sorry, my mistake. That's what Father DeYoung should have done, and would have done, were we not neck-deep in post-concilar poo-poo.
Rather, Father DeYoung marched straight to the front and tried to get a few words in with Father McMahon, who clearly was not interested in "dialogue" at that particular time. So Father DeYoung did what any sane priest of Holy Mother Church would do when he saw a large crowd of Catholics praying the Rosary, obviously concerned about having Buddhist religious prayers being chanted in a Catholic Church: he called the police.
Mental Note #2: in the post-conciliar regime, priests of the Holy Church are not on your side, but would rather have you arrested and thrown in jail for being Catholic than help you defend the Faith.
The police escorted Father McMahon out of the sanctuary at around 8:30 to try and sort things out with him, but it was clear that they were confused by the whole situation. Why was a Catholic priest calling in law enforcement to have another Catholic priest removed
from the scene? They were as confused as I was.
I did not get to overhear what was said between the police and Father McMahon, but since nothing really happened in terms of the protesters being asked to leave, I can only gather that the police were unwilling to intervene in a situation that was not, technically, illegal. This was probably the second time during the evening that I realized just how powerful Blessed Mother really is.
While the boys in blue continued chatting with the man in black, the protesters continued reciting the Rosary, while the monks continued to stand up front, looking rather silly and unsure of what to do. And while the monks continued to look out of place (which they really were - the sight of robed Buddhist monks standing in front of a Catholic high altar is one of the oxymoronic images that will remain with me for a long time), Father DeYoung continued to pace the aisles, trying desperately to get the Rosary leader to shut up and listen to reason.
Finally, mercifully, one of the coordinators went up front, whispered to one of the monks, and escorted them all off the platform.
At last, the altar and sanctuary were once again fully visible, and the place was truly starting to look Catholic again.
This was the third time that I came face-to-face with serpent-crushing heel of Her Majesty, the Queen of Heaven. I wish that there were words that could describe to you the scene, some way to convey a small part of the "buzz" in the room. The sound of 200 voices, still sounding like 200,000 voices, continued to fill the entire basilica: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen."
I closed my eyes: yes, this was the sound of a veritable army. This was the sound of the Church Militant. This was the sound of the prophets of Jehovah, overpowering the prophets of Baal. This was, above all, the sound of the army of the Lord of Hosts, beating back the forces of evil with hardly a whimper of resistance. And I am not one who easily lapses in mystical ecstasies, but I could almost swear to you that I heard, as I shut my eyes and just listened to the unrelenting jack-hammer of Aves, the sound of angelic voices joining in the prayers. I saw briefly, if only in my mind, ten million saints, virgins, martyrs, and confessors draw their swords and charge into the enemy's camp. I heard the rattle of armor and the clanging of steel against steel, and I saw the demons scattering before the onslaught.
Arise, O Lord…
I began making my way toward Father DeYoung, who was still pacing the aisles and trying to get a word in with the man leading the Rosary. It was no use: the leader kept
blasting his "Hail Mary's" and ignoring the invitation to "dialogue" with the derelict priest.
I approached Father DeYoung, with my notepad in hand, and asked, "Father, what's going on here tonight? What's happened?"
He asked who I was and who I represented, but when he found out I was reporting for Catholic Family News, he smiled insincerely and simply said, "I don't know your organization, I have no comment." And then he walked away. I personally think one of you readers should reserve your almsgiving this month for the purpose of purchasing Father a subscription.
As he walked away, I overheard him say (in response to a question from a frustrated audience member) perhaps the saddest and most damning thing I heard all night: "I didn't invite these guys, I invited the monks!"
If that doesn't sum up the entire post-conciliar experiment...
Isn't that what the last 40 years has been about? Our pastors have consistently un-invited Traditional Catholics to be a part of the Church, to exercise our duties and rights as devout members of the Church Militant. And while they're busy un-inviting us, they are simultaneously climbing into bed with the least respectable of characters. The monks were warmly welcomed to the basilica, but try to get Father DeYoung (and those who share his cancer) to welcome Traditionalists into the basilica to celebrate the Mass of the Ages. This is a hallmark of our diocese, it seems. For years the bishop turned down the requests of Traditionalists for a parish in which to celebrate the Traditional Mass, but granted the requests of a Protestant denomination to temporarily use a local parish for their meetings while their church was being renovated. In fact, it wasn't until the SSPX made an appearance in our diocese and started gathering steam that the bishop finally made arrangements for an Indult Mass. But I digress.
It was a sad thing to realize, listening to Father DeYoung absolve himself of any responsibility for the protest. I must have heard it said by the monks' coordinators 20 or 30 times that night: "Why are they protesting us? We were invited here by the pastor of this church! Take it up with him!"
And it was true. In a certain sense, we were the ones committing the injustice. The monks were not invading, they were invited. We were the ones who invaded, but who were not invited.
In the aftermath, this is how the evening news portrayed the event: "An evening of peaceful prayer soon got out of hand when a group of angry Catholics disrupted the service... police were called in to remove the protesters... no one was injured."
Father DeYoung appeared on the local news that night and said, "They [the monks] are such peaceful souls... to be accosted in this way I'm sure was shocking to them, as it was to us. To use prayer as a weapon like that..."
Yes, Father, prayer is a weapon. And we used it that night specifically for that purpose. And it worked.
But already, you can see the way the world views us. The monks are called "peaceful," and we are the "angry disrupters," who "accosted" these "quiet" monks with our "weapon" of prayer - but don't worry, "no one was injured." As if Traditionalists are a violent group, known for the number of casualties they regularly inflict on poor, peaceful souls.
However, the news reporters got it wrong. Several injuries, in fact, took place that night. The prince of this world took a severe blow, as did his evil minions. The monks were ultimately shut down.
By 9:00 the organizers and the monks gave up, and agreed to move the concert to the basement. Seeing that our mission had been accomplished, Father McMahon allowed the protesters to finish the 5th and final mystery of the Glorious Mysteries (yes, they prayed
through all 15 decades), the Hail Holy Queen, the prayer to St. Michael, and then dismissed us to go to our homes.
We gathered in the parking lot to thank Father and to receive his blessing, and we returned to our homes, deeply grateful to Our Lady for having crushed the serpent's head in a way we never anticipated. Personally, I didn't think the Rosary would last for more than a few minutes before everyone was kicked out on the street. I had hoped, at best, to be able to momentarily disrupt the concert, and then make reparation after things had wrapped up.
But we won. No question about it. And the victory was sweet. At the same time, I realize that this is only a foretaste, and that there are many, many battles left to fight.
Because the other injury that took place that night was, in a very real way, the injury that Our Holy Mother Church suffered. Those monks should never have been invited in the first place. Father DeYoung should have been taking his place beside us, not setting himself against us.
And most of the poor souls who went to hear the monks will not "get it." As far as they know, we're just that "fringe group" of Catholics who might as well be "committing genocide." After all, Father DeYoung had no problem with the monks coming. The other Catholic churches around the nation that have hosted these monks in years past certainly have had no problem. The pope himself is a "good friend of the Dalai Lama."
So who are we to protest?
Arise, O Lord…
Victory never felt this good. But victory also never felt this nostalgic or ambivalent.
In the end, the Church Militant may be limping, but She is still capable of inflicting a good deal of damage. And after seeing what happened at the basilica that night, I can't shake the thought that if Traditionalists would take up arms and do things like this more often, maybe we'd start making some headway in this war. Why shouldn't we storm the parishes of our dioceses and take back what is ours? For one brief and glorious hour, that's exactly what happened at the basilica: that parish was truly Catholic again. On Sunday, it will go back to being a merely beautiful structure, a house tailor-made for the Traditional Mass and Gregorian Chant, but used to host a boring and uninspiring meal service. It will go back to being a whitewashed tomb, pleasing to the eyes, but rotting from the inside out (lest you think I'm being too harsh, you should know that I've attended Mass there before, and I've heard what Father DeYoung says from his pulpit).
So how long will we let this go on? There is strength in numbers, and more than that, there is supernatural strength when those numbers unite to pray and call on the Queen of Heaven to intervene. When will we start the visible counter-revolution in earnest?
Arise, O Lord.
Mother's Medicine: Mary as Mediatrix
If you want to ask Jacob a question, you can e-mail him at email@example.com and we encourage you to visit his site A Lumen Gentleman - Lumen Gentleman Apologetics.