Duty and salvation

When my oldest kid was about four, she happened to wake up around midnight to go to the bathroom. She stumbled through the living room, where my husband and I were sitting.

On this particular night – which was not a typical night! – we happened to be watching Daffy Duck cartoons and eating candy. She didn’t say a word, but just nodded to herself and kept walking. She was clearly thinking, “I KNEW it!”

It was, as I say, not a typical night. A typical night would be more likely to find us filling out insurance paperwork, trying to get stains out of someone’s favourite overalls, or simply trying to muster up the strength to get up, brush our teeth, struggle our way under the covers, and get a few hours of sleep before the baby woke up for her first feeding, so we could catch another few hours of sleep before it was time to get up and do it all over again, take care of everybody and everything all over again.

But what she saw was burned into her brain, and she thought she had found the real secret of adulthood: As soon as the kids’ bedroom door closes, you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT.

She wasn’t really wrong. Adults CAN do whatever they want. The catch is, if they DECIDE to do whatever they want, they’ll almost certainly ruin their lives and the lives of everyone around them, and go to hell when they die. It’s kind of a big catch.

What I tell my kids is that, when you’re a child, people make you do things you don’t want to do. But when you’re an adult, you have to make yourself do the things you don’t want to do. You have to be the unwilling worker and the strict taskmaster, both!

It occurs to me that we, even as adults, often fall into thinking of God as the strict taskmaster: the one who descends from on high, telling us what we can and cannot do. Every time we feel the urge to do WHATEVER WE WANT — uh oh, here comes God, saying “no, no, no.” Get up, take care of the thing, don’t do the thing you want to do, do the thing you don’t want to do instead. Then, tomorrow, do it all over again, even though you’re tired.

Following the ten commandments can feel very much like this, some days, or some years. And then we go to confession and admit, “I didn’t do the thing you told me to do. I failed.” And God forgives us, which is nice.

I’ve been teaching my faith formation class, over and over again, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. We are the silly ones who need to be saved, and He is the saviour. We are the wandering ones, and He is the one who finds us. We are the ones who fall into the hole, and He is the one who pulls us out again.

So I was making up my lesson plans and I realised that, with all this talk about sheep, I had not yet introduced the kids to the idea that Jesus is the paschal lamb. And boy, the strangeness of it hit me right between the eyes. God is not only the shepherd, but also the lamb.

I know you know this. You’re a Catholic, so you’ve heard it all before. But have you ever thought about how strange it is?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

NH schismatics, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, can no longer offer sacraments

The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an ultra-traditionalist, schismatic, antisemitic group based in Richmond, NH, has been placed under sanctions by Bishop Peter Libasci after rejecting repeated chances to come back into compliance with Church teaching.

Damien Fisher (who is my husband) reported in the Union Leader that the Slaves can no longer offer the sacraments at their compound and cannot describe themselves as Catholic. These sanctions “could be ratcheted up if the group does not comply with orders by church leaders, especially orders to stop preaching the doctrine that only Catholics go to heaven.”

The Vatican ordered them two years ago to stop teaching a strict, literalist interpretation of the idea that there is no salvation outside the Church.

According to the Union Leader story:

In recent years, Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci has allowed a priest in good standing from another diocese to minister to the Slaves and their congregation, celebrating Mass in the traditional Latin rite, and administering other Catholic sacraments. According to a statement released Monday by the Diocese, the Slaves have used that allowance to imply they were an approved Catholic organization.

They were offered several chances since 2016 to come into compliance to remain in the good graces of the Church, but they persisted in disobeying the diocese, in presenting themselves as an independent congregation, and in teaching false doctrine as Catholic.

The group has been in Richmond since the mid 80’s, and they operate the St. Benedict Center, a school, as well as publications, a radio show, and websites. They are an offshoot of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart in Still River, MA, which was founded by Fr. Leonard Feeney. Fr. Feeney was excommunicated in 1953 after he persisted in teaching that no one can be saved if they are not baptized Catholic; but he made a deathbed conversion and died in communion with the Church. Many of his followers do not acknowledge that he repented of his heretical beliefs, and the Richmond group is one of the most radical splinter groups to form from the original Fenneyites.

The St. Benedict Center in Still River is not affiliated with the Richmond group, and is in full communion with the Church.

In 1958, Feeney wrote that “the Jewish race constitutes a united anti-Christian bloc within Christian society, and is working for the overthrow of that society by every means at its disposal.” 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the leader of the Richmond Group, Louis Villarrubia, who calls himself “Brother Andre Marie,” stated in 2004:

“If anti-Semitism means opposing the Jews on religious matters, opposing the Zionist state in Palestine (as St. Pius X did), or opposing the Jewish tendency to undermine public morals (widely acknowledged by Catholic writers before the present age of PC [political correctness]), then we could rightly be considered such.”

The SPLC has classified the Slaves as a hate group. It says that Richmond Selectman Doug Bersaw, also member of the Slaves, sometimes known as Brother Anthony Mary, is a Holocaust denier. The SPLC quotes Bersaw as saying:

“There’s a lot of controversy among people who study the so-called Holocaust. There’s a misperception that Hitler had a position to kill all the Jews. It’s all a fraud. Six million people… it didn’t occur.”

In 2009, the Slaves were sanctioned by the diocese of Manchester for their antisemitic teachings, and have since made those ideas less prominent.

According to the Union Leader story, the diocese of Manchester released a statement saying:

“Catholics are not permitted, under any circumstances, to receive the sacraments of the church at the Saint Benedict Center, and its associated locations, nor should they participate in any activity provided by this group or school.”

The diocese is eager to provide a spiritual home for the congregation left without sacraments because of their leaders’ rebelliousness. According to the UL:

[T]he diocese is instituting a sanctioned Latin Mass for people to attend at St. Stanislaus Parish in Winchester.

Photo: Damien Fisher

Learning to live as a baptized person

It was a kindly old priest in Coke bottle glasses, a matter-of-fact French Canadian servant of God with no desire to act as Grand Inquisitor. But his simple, basic questions did the job they were intended to do: They let us know that this was real, this was serious, and our responsibility was not going to go away.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.