It was back in 1878 when Thomas Edison, in seeking a suitable design for his new electric light, was experimenting with platinum filaments at the time. The filament would soon get too hot and break at some point, thus extinguishing the light bulb forever. In response to that problem, he and his team had been experimenting with progressively more and more complex mechanisms to compensate for this and protect the filament from overheating, so as to make it last a useful lifetime. With each new addition that solved one problem, a new addition was required to solve the next problem, until the unit cost of his light bulbs was becoming prohibitive.
As the incandescent light had not become serviceable as of yet, Mr. Edison continued to light his laboratory with his intended invention's chief rival, natural gas. One day, while struggling with yet another addition to his platinum filament light bulb design, and as afternoon was becoming evening, he went to turn on a gas jet by merely opening a simple valve and lighting it with the burning end of his cigar, and poof! There was light. And then, with nothing more than a tweak to the valve, he could adjust its level of light, or even shut it off. It all just seemed SO simple, especially in comparison to this absurd and increasingly complicated design he would have wished to foist on the general public. In this low moment, he wondered whether he was really on the right track at all, or if he should simply yield to the obvious superiority of gas and turn his inventive attentions elsewhere.
A couple years ago, a Protestant friend at work was telling me about some new church he had just gone to. Apparently, some newly-trained Protestant minister had just arrived in town, obtained some rented space somewhere, and hung out his shingle as a new minister for the town, advertising it in the newspapers and by word of mouth. That first Sunday, about 200 people showed up. Assuming that minister was any good as a speaker, I have no doubt that many of them continued to come back for more in subsequent Sundays. Why can't it be so easy for us? As my friend told me of this, I could not help but feel exactly like Thomas Edison and the gas light.
Ironically, any one of us attempting to explain ourselves and our Faith to our friends and neighbors and workmates has a similar problem:
"Well, I'm a Catholic. But actually a traditional Catholic. That means I don't believe in the Novus Ordo."
"What is the Novus Ordo? And why haven't I ever seen you at St. Miscellaneous'?"
"Well, um, the Church somehow all got overrun with a bunch of modernists and, well, I can't have anything to do with that."
"What is a modernist, and why is that so bad?"
"Well, they invalidated the Mass by substituting "for all" for "for many" (pro multis) and they teach that all religions are equally good and true and should be afforded public recognition, and a whole bunch of such similar heretical rot."
"But can't you just accept that all people are sincere? I can't believe that God would damn everyone for not being your particular brand of Catholic."
And so it goes.
"So, let me get this straight: In order to save my soul, I need to find a correctly and validly said Latin Mass, which means I must also become an expert in Catholic sacramental theology so as to discern a valid priest and a valid Mass, and which may well be found only hundreds of miles from my home, and then I need to go only there, or else stay at home and pray-read the traditional Sunday Missal for the day, which I don't know how to procure, let alone find all the right readings for the day, and then I also have to become an expert in judging whether a pope is a real pope or not, and a whole host of other technical questions that even the experts are unable to agree upon. Is that about it?"
"Yeah, well, yeah. I guess so."
"I just got one more question. Are you out of your mind?"
No, we are not out of our minds. But clearly we have done a dog-ugly job of explaining ourselves. And it doesn't help that Satan and the "bad guys" are still all basking in the glory of their single greatest triumph since making Adam and Eve fall. Only a couple generations ago you could have pointed to a local Catholic Church in any community and simply said, "Go there; they will answer all your questions and give you everything you need to be saved." That was it, and if someone went where you indicated, the priests would simply take it from there, and you could trust that they would. Nowadays, even the best few places leave much unsaid, and opportunities to sit down with someone to learn what you need do and how to do it are even fewer.
Never before have such truly vast fields been so white for the harvest, and in proportion the workers so absurdly few. With about a thousand true Catholic priests (and about a couple dozen bishops) worldwide who genuinely have the Catholic Faith and the Catholic sacraments to offer in full and actual apostolic unity with 2,000 years of Church history, and thereby, with the One living and true God, what few workers we do have are spread so painfully thin as to make unlikely any more than the barest amount of attention. Things have never been this bare since shortly after the very first Pentecost. And back then, they didn't have almost 7 billion people to evangelize like we do now. And we need to make them all experts in ecclesiology and sacramental theology?
Is there anyone left out there who cares if his soul is saved? Given the paltry response God's call has had since Satan's great victory one really has to wonder if nearly all of humanity has no concern for God or of their own salvation or of anything beyond their own immediate comforts and hobbies. But that can't really be true. Recall the time when The Passion was in the theaters and making news, and people all around the world flocked to see it. Apart from some miniscule percentage who merely went because it amused them to watch an innocent man get the tar beat out of Him (this is how they got their jollies), virtually all of those who attended did so with all true and due devotion. Everyone of those people who did so rightly belong in our traditional congregations.
Were they moved by what our Lord went through to pay for our sins? Were they inspired by the way He laid down His life for us who were sinners? Did they feel love for that God-man who came to earth and died on that Cross for us? Did they not wish to be a part of Him somehow, to be as much forgiven for all the things they did as those at the Cross were forgiven ("God forgive them; they know not what they do!")? Can they not wish to spend eternity with that Heavenly Someone who loves them this much? If all that's the case, then excuse me but, what in God's name -- tell me what business does any of them have NOT being a traditional Catholic? Going into the Council back in the 1960's there were just under a billion Catholics all around the world, and with a population of about 3 billion that was almost a third. Now with what? Maybe 10 million all around the world? God's own Church is but the faintest shadow of its former glory.
Even the Novus Ordo-ites, who have unlawfully stolen our name (of "Catholic," along with virtually all of our resources - material and human), still number barely over a billion, while in the mean time the world's population has more than doubled to almost 7 billion. I most firmly believe that if only Vatican II had not occurred, there would be fully 2 billion Catholics this day. I think we all got a glimpse of how large we would be by seeing just how many were moved by our Lord's Passion back in 2004.
So here we are, few as we are, and yet we have something no one else has. We traditional Catholics alone have a direct, physical and logical and legal and valid apostolic connection to 2,000 years of Church history, and through that, to Jesus Christ Himself personally, as He appeared those millennia ago and founded His Church, OUR Church. When our traditional priests bless, it is our Lord Jesus Christ acting in them who blesses; when our traditional priests absolve from sin, it is our Lord Jesus Christ acting in them who absolves, and the sin is truly forgiven. No one else can validly make that claim. When any other churchman attempts to bless or do anything else in Christ's name, Jesus Christ looks askance at them from His Heavenly station, and He thunders at them "How dare you use My name for your own selfish purposes; you do not know Me, and I do not know you, you workers of lawlessness!"
Maybe it's time to abandon platinum filaments and begin working with carbon. Our message is not and has never been about being liturgically finicky or about judging individuals or about all the things wrong with Novus Ordo-ism, or with technical questions about sacramental validity or papal successions. We are simply THE Catholics living in the world today. Our message is about Jesus Christ, and about Him still being active in this world. He's still bringing guidance and forgiveness and grace to all who seek Him in His Church. And we can positively identify that Church, even though it takes having to travel 200 miles to get to the nearest place wherein He is lawfully and validly worshipped in the manner He intends.
We have protected the sacraments because through them God gives us the grace to live truly as we ought, and as we already know we ought. Without giving up that protection (of course) let us not get so wrapped up in it as to forget the reason we protect it, namely for God's Own grace to be working in our own lives. We alone have direct physical contact with the source of that grace; let us live in a manner that reflects that. Our part is looking after widows and orphans and keeping unspotted from the world. We must not forget to be good Christians in our drive to be good Catholics. Only then can we truly begin tapping in on all of those many who cried with Christ during His dolorous Passion. For in the end, Edison's dream proved right, and once simplified from platinum to carbon, went on to displace gas worldwide.
Besides the longer articles Griff has been writing for the DailyCatholic, he has submitted shorter articles that were published in the Traditional Catholic monthly periodical The Four Marks over the last few years. They are short articles that editor and publisher of The Four Marks Kathleen Plumb has graciously given permission to run here. We are grateful for the opportunity to share these with our readers who may not have had the opportunity to see them originally in The Four Marks since they are Griff's. The above appeared in the October 2009 issue.
Griff's book is available from iUniverse.com Books for $26.95 or can be read on-line at www.the-pope.com We at the DailyCatholic strongly urge you to share it with all you can for that could be the gentle shove that moves your friends back to where the True Faith resides forever, rooted in the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church as Christ intended and promised.
For Griff's previous articles from his STRAIGHT STUFF features, see ARCHIVES