The Gospel Truth

One Pilgrim’s Progress | January 5, 2012

During our bi-weekly Men’s Bible Study at my Church last week, old Charlie, one of my two liberal nemeses, mentioned that he had picked up a copy of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, published in February, 1678 and read it that afternoon.

Christian, an everyman character, is the protagonist of the allegory, which centers itself in his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (“this world”), to the “Celestial City” atop Mt. Zion.

Christian is weighed down by a great burden, the knowledge of his sin, which he believed came from his reading the book in his hand.

Life is a difficult journey

Charlie’s religious’ curiosity got me to thinking about my own journey as a cradle Catholic.

I was born into a faith that had existed for nearly 2000 years.

It had survived devastating attacks from without and from within.

It has endured a history or bloody persecution in which thousands of its faithful were ripped apart by wild beasts, crucified, burned alive and thrown off high cliffs, drawn and quartered–all because they believed in the Divinity of the Christ.

It has launched crusades and burned a few thousand heretics at the stake in defense of the faith.

It is a religion that is filled with mystery, ceremony, pomp and high circumstance.

It has smells that excite and calm, music that raises the spirit and comforts the will.

File:Seven Sacraments Rogier.jpg

Sacraments and mystery

Theologically it soars like the eagle as it tries to touch the hand of God.

It can cure disease, ease suffering and prepare for the final moments of life.

It is a church of over one billion people.

It has as many different strains of thinking as a library does.

But being a faith of deep and high-minded ideas, sometimes it confuses.

Sometimes it frightens.

For all its attendant holiness, its leaders sometimes seem caught in a whirling vortex of  charity and unadulterated power that idly dismisses reason and moral logic in favor of pragmatic results.

Some of its popes have done the work of the enemy.

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Alexander VI, one of the notorious Borgias

Others have been saintly.

Most have been ambitious while others mediocre.

The Church is a very human institution— a veritable living contradiction.

I once asked a priest during a Christmas Mission at our parish if he had any advice for someone who had been born into the pre-Vatican Church but came to his full religious maturity during the initial reforms of the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII.

I don’t really remember if he answered my question or if any of the 60 other people in attendance could identify with my dilemma but my mere stating the question was enough for me to come to an understanding of my feelings and thought about my relationship to the Catholic Church.

I am alas caught twixt the old and new Catholic Church.

There are many things about my birth church, which is vastly different from my adult church, that I relish.

As a child, rules, the actual law and order of the faith were deeply instilled in me, by habited nuns and serious priests.

Along with the Baltimore Catechism they laid the foundation for my faith.

We all learned the dogma of the faith by rote memory with a diligence and certitude that armed us to face the three major enemies, who competed for our immortal souls–the world, the flesh and the devil.

As Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday might have said, we knew the facts.

Like Joe we knew the facts

I doubt if the same could be said today.

The Church’s teaching on sexual morality was complicated.

Most of our parents excused themselves from telling about the facts of life.

It was just too embarassing for them to broach.

Modesty forced most of them to  shroud their bodies from our view and as an only child I had no siblings who could have explained my contradictory feelings about my own anotomy.

We were taught our bodies were the temples of the Holy Ghost, yet they were also the snares of the devil.

We were warmed about improper touches to ourselves and to others.

Girls were taught to dress modestly—no long pants, though I do remember a few occasions when they wore Bermuda shorts.

Most dirty magazines of the day were, not what anyone would call pornographic but more of the naturalist pulp magazines of nude sunbathers.

In the stash by the high school

I remember a friend, discovering a stash of such magazines in some weeds down by the local public high school.

His widowed mother had assured him he could could look at pictures of naked women as long as he did not get aroused.

To me this was my very first instruction in what I now understand as John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

It was this friend who actually instructed me and a few others in the facts of life.

The God I was taught in those days was also more a God of Justice than a God of Love.

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My first lesson was in the weeds of a high school

I have to admit He was scary, freightening and seemingly elusive.

I remember being yelled at in the Confessional by a priest, who warned me of the powers of Almighty God.

He literally put the fear of eternal damnation within my soul at that moment.

In retrospect, I think that is really unfair to God.

But in a way it did work.

I have kept the faith all these years.

I have avoided most of the near occasions of sins.

After studying under the Jesuits for 11 year, I was able to rationalize those I couldn’t avoid.

I have been faithfully married to the same woman for over 45 years and still look at women in the same appreciative way that I adopted in the bushes at Forest Hills high school.

However the abject legalism did take a toll on my understanding of God’s divine mercy and the Agape side of His unlimited personality.

The early Christians knew the meaning of Agape

For most of my life I have been a habitual worrier who is relieved when things are over, instead of enjoying the joyful moments of my life.

But the new church is different.

The church of love and forgiveness has replaced the church of law and order.

In the Church of divine rules, I had tried to micromanage everything and had left nothing up to God

The new church is the worst nightmare of Doestesky’s Grand Inquistor, who cursed God for making men with a free will and granting them the freedom to practice it.

He cursed God for freedom.

During Holy Hour I have learned to open my soul and and heart in an honest and true way so that my life is more open to His grace.

The priest called my last confession–beautiful.

This would never have been possible in the old church.

I have learned to accept my body as it is and realize that it was made in the image and likeness of God and was not something dirty and offensive

However people still need honest and realistic rules—like the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ perfection of them with the emphasis on loving all other human beings.

The modern ideas of relativism and secularism have infected the culture and with it, in may places the church and its members.

 The modern church has literally thrown the Christ child out with the bath water.

Scandal, indifference and moral confusion abound.

I see many others who do not have that the double-grounding in the faith that I have.

Maybe even old Charlie would agree that this pilgrim has made some progress in his journey to that celestial city.

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5 Comments »

  1. The Church’s teachings are still protected, by God, no less; but the people in the Church must learn them and live them, and to avoid the wolves in sheep’s clothing who masquerade as Church leaders.

    Comment by Jim Rygelski — January 5, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  2. I am inclined to think that Catholic Education varried to
    some degree depending on what part of the country
    you lived in.

    Here in St. Louis girls were not told not to wear long
    pants or shorts. We wore jeans when we played basket
    ball or softball and when riding bikes, etc. Of course
    we were taught to dress modestly. (1950’s) In warm
    weather we wore shorts – no big deal.

    In at least one girls high school we heard some pretty
    goffy stuff : don’t wear patent leather shoes because
    they reflect your underwear, how long a kiss should
    last which I think was pretty short. Amazing any of us
    ever got married!!!

    In grade school I recall being told by the nun that if we
    doubted anything she told us it was because the
    devil was tempting us and we should say a prayer.
    In a way, we were not allowed to think. And there
    was certainly too much fear instilled!!

    Things have lightened up a bit and we are now told
    that God loves us which is an improvement. However,
    depending on which priest delivers the homily there
    are still some who make it seem pretty tough to get
    into heaven.

    In the old days, it was pretty simple: Keep the basic 10
    and the Commandments of the Church. Of course
    the virtues were taught including charity. BUT today
    we are hit with the demands of stewardship/social
    justice. SO are things better or not???

    When taught we were made in the image and likeness
    of God I thought it meant man was basically good. I do
    not think that was in reference to our bodies as God
    the Father, Our Creator is a spirit without a body.

    When our first grandchild was baptized I got to thinking
    about original sin – wondered WHY we all inherit the sin
    of Adam and Eve when we don’t inherit our parents
    sins??? We are told we should try to be perfect but at
    the same time told the only human being who was per-
    fect was Our Blessed Mother who did not inherit the
    original sin.

    Seems we are suppose to do something that is not
    doable.

    MF

    Comment by M. F. — January 5, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

    • I think you abstracted my main point—our religion is complicated and staying true to it excatly, even more complicated. That’s why we need an open-ended faith with no strings and a greater reliance on God above, instead of trying to do it ourselves, which was the way I felt in the old Church. BB

      Comment by bbprof — January 5, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  3. Thought provoking. The rules and regs still hold good.
    ////the Baltimore is the ultimate. We learned our faith but memorizing and only later with prayer and meditation, did we come to realize what it all meant. I love the Catholic Church which has certainly suffered for the last 40 plus years. I still prefer the reverent, Latin Mass and attend it every chance I get. I also like the new translations very well. Be like little children. Yes, depend on God . Pax

    Comment by Mary B — January 6, 2012 @ 3:50 am

  4. For one and all…..AMEN

    Comment by Jim — January 6, 2012 @ 9:51 pm


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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at bbprof@sbcglobal.net

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