In medio stat virtus, or “virtue stands in the middle,” is a tried and true aphorism of the moral life. It means that the correct way of virtue avoids the errors of excess on the one hand and defect on the other. In the arena of preaching, we might cite as examples the irascible Calvinist rhetoric of a Jonathan Edwards, and the saccharine strains of Dr. Robert Schuller. Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is a “classic” of the Puritanical fervor associated with the First Great Enlightenment, while Schuller’s sonorous sermonizing provides marvelous examples of conviction without dogma.
For the last several decades, Catholics have been treated to sermons more akin Schuller’s, if generally lacking his skill. There’s been an awful lot of bland niceness emanating from the pulpits of our ever downsizing parishes. As one priest frankly admitted to me about twenty years ago, “I wasn’t trained to be a priest. I was trained to be a Rogerian counselor.” Those unfamiliar with the term need to know that it’s derived from the name of Carl Rogers, the inventor of “nondirective therapy.” This is a very affirming approach to psychotherapy, which strives to let the patient arrive at his own solutions, rather than be directed by an expert. William Coulson, Rogers’ disciple and associate, came to discover the disastrous results of Rogerian therapy when their team of therapists unintentionally destroyed the IHM Sisters in California.
The non-judgmental methodology of the Rogerians, imported into pastoral theology, was in vogue in the late 1960s. It was just one aspect of that revolutionary era’s rebellion against tradition.
A recent instance of this “affirming” approach has been dramatically brought to light by Edward Peters. A professional canon lawyer, seminary professor, and consultant to the Church’s highest court, Dr. Peters made very public comments on the very public scandal involving Albany’s Bishop Howard Hubbard, New York’s recently inaugurated pro-abort Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Cuomo’s paramour, Sandra Lee. LifeSite News reported on the kerfuffle:
The questions were provoked by Cuomo and Lee’s public reception of holy communion at a mass celebrated by Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard specifically for the purpose of commemorating the inaugural. During his homily, Bishop Hubbard said that the abortionist Governor Cuomo would “be deeply immersed in the work of evangelism by bringing about the transformation of our state and our society.”
From “evangelists” like Andrew Cuomo, deliver us, O Lord!
For all these disastrous decades in the Church, the milksop pastoral touch of Rogerian clerics has affirmed the mass exodus, not only of the IHM Sisters from their convents, but also of a legion of everyday Catholics from the ranks of the faithful. We need not recount the dismal statistics here, but it doesn’t hurt for us to recall the terrible price to be paid for all this madness. Souls redeemed by the Precious blood of Jesus Christ are being lost.
What’s the remedy?
As ever, the cure is found in the traditions of the Church, her faith, her morals, and her perennial praxis. In short, the Catholic Church has all the answers about the nature of man, and all the solutions to the problems of man. In the contest between gloomy Calvinism and gushy liberalism, the Church’s liturgy comes to the rescue, declaring both of them wrong. The traditional Mass has, in the prayers of the Ordinary and Proper parts, all the doctrinal truths needed to avoid the Edwards or Schuller extremes. The notions of sin and punishment, for instance, were brilliantly brought to light in the Collect from last Sunday’s Mass (Septuagesima Sunday):
Graciously hear, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the prayers of Thy people, that we who are justly afflicted for our sins, may be mercifully delivered by Thy goodness, for the glory of Thy name. Through our Lord.
Here is the Church telling us that we are “justly afflicted for our sins.” Stop to give that some thought. God has the power to deliver us from all afflictions and adversity, yet He wills, either directly or indirectly, that we suffer them in punishment for our sins. We need to appreciate this fact, a “hard truth” we also know from Scripture:
And you have forgotten the consolation, which speaketh to you, as unto children, saying: My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord; neither be thou wearied whilst thou art rebuked by him. For whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth; and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is there, whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. Moreover we have had fathers of our flesh, for instructors, and we reverenced them: shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits, and live? And they indeed for a few days, according to their own pleasure, instructed us: but he, for our profit, that we might receive his sanctification. Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice. [Heb. 12:5-11]
God practices the same kind of “tough love” that is required of good parents.
The Septuagesima Sunday prayer also fits in beautifully with the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, that eschatological state, wherein God’s justice is satisfied and imperfect saints are made right for the Beatific Vision.
But the prayer is not all justice and no mercy. As we acknowledge God’s just punishment, we ask Him to hear our prayers for mercy. Note that the mercy is based upon God’s “goodness” and is directed to God’s “glory.” Thus, the origin and finality of mercy are utterly supernatural to man, so that they uplift him to God, rather than leaving him where he is. And this cri de coeur for mercy presumes both that man is a sinner and that God is just.
If the Septuagesima liturgy is so eloquent on the subject of sin, punishment, justice, and mercy, how rich is the Lenten liturgy?
I will leave the reader to ponder that, Missal in hand, between now and Easter Sunday.