A SiriusXM Radio Personality Discovers Catholic Tradition and Perennial Philosophy
This is an intense and inspiring interview between two friends of Saint Benedict Center, Mike Church, the one interviewed, and David Simpson, the interviewer.
Mike Church is a radio talk show personality, who hosts Satellite Radio’s longest running talk show since 2003, the Mike Church Show. He is also a contributor to online journals: The Imaginative Conservative, The Daily Caller, The Mitrailleuse and many others.
Some months ago, Mike made a massive on-air and online promotion of Brother Francis’ course of philosophia perennis. Beyond that, he organized a study group for people who want to take the course together. Thanks to his efforts, we have seen record sales of Brother Francis’ complete philosophy course. More importantly, he has given a boost to Brother Francis’ very crucial work of evangelizing the nation by preparing good, strong apostles capable of engaging people with truth.
The interviewer, David Simpson, earned his BA in history from Louisiana State University, and his JD from Mississippi College School of Law. He is the owner of The Fiscal Fitness Company, and author of the book, Financial Sanity In Three Easy Lessons. In addition to his career as a financial adviser, for over twenty years, David has been a student of Brother Francis’ philosophy course, and a friend of Saint Benedict Center. Putting his Catholicity front and center, he even does things like quote G.K. Chesterton on his company website. He also co-hosts, with Mike Church, the weekly “Wisdom Wednesday” edition of the Mike Church Show. We here at Saint Benedict Center are grateful to David for introducing Mike Church to the deeper truths of Catholicism and to Brother Francis’ philosophy course. From this, many good things have come. David resides in Mandeville, Louisiana with his wife, Rachel, and their five children.
David Simpson Interviews Mike Church
David: Mike, can you give me a little background on yourself, your faith life, and the recent developments in your spiritual life and how it has impacted your daily life?
Mike: I was born 1962 in New Orleans. I was baptized properly about six days after I was born at St. Augustine Church on Governor Nicholls Street. My first two years of schooling were Catholic. I went to Christ the King Elementary School in Norfolk Virginia. Then my mother fell away from the Faith and became a Protestant, evangelical, born-again, and took us away from the Faith. I did not go back to the Church until I wanted to get married to a very Catholic woman who was from a very large, Catholic family. I went and took the RCIA program at St. Christopher’s in Metairie, which I think is still there. I was confirmed Easter Vigil in 1992. I was a pretty regular Novus Ordo Mass goer until about 2000.
I only went to church intermittently after that and then moved back here to Louisiana. I had been moving around for various radio jobs. I started in New Orleans in ‘96, moved to Raleigh in ‘97, moved to Miami at the end of ’97. I moved to Huntsville, Alabama in ‘99, Charlotte, North Carolina in ‘99 and 2000, San Francisco in 2001, Lake Charles, Louisiana 2002 to 2004, and then back here in Mandeville, a suburb of New Orleans. I have been with Satellite Radio since then.
Through all of this, I had been going intermittently to Mass. I didn’t go every week, maybe on holy days of obligation. Then around 2010 or so, I met you, David, and you introduced me to the Latin Mass, the reverence of which impressed me very much.
After my father died in June of last year, 2014, I had an epiphany moment. That’s when it really sunk home: “Mike,” I said, “there is an end and you’re not prepared for it.”
During this time I had also met our mutual friend, Steve Cunningham. I guess I had become one of his crusade targets because he sent me CDs of homilies from FSSP priests. I had never heard anything like this. It was actual catechism for the first time in my life. My intellect was screaming at me: “Mike, that’s truth. That’s the truth. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
By August or so of 2014, I had made the conscious decision — I’m sure heavily influenced with a lot of grace — that I needed to start going to Mass every week, and I did just that. I missed one Latin Mass Sunday since that time, and I hope I don’t miss any in the future. In the interim, I am actually joining the Schola for the Latin Mass Society. I’ve started to learn Gregorian chant. I have the whole experience now and it’s been very rewarding and very good for my soul.
David: Mike, you mentioned being a Novus Ordo Catholic and a traditional Catholic. How would you characterize the two episodes in your life?
Mike: Before I started going to the Latin Mass religious observance was perfunctory. It was something that was just done out of habit. The highlight of the Novus Ordo Mass, the one I was going to, was the priest’s jokes as he processed out at the end. Of course I am being a bit tongue-in-ckeek, but also honest. You have the Consecration of course, which should be done with great reverence, but the people act like they are not aware that there’s a Real Presence there. It is not acknowledged. That’s a huge, huge issue between the new and the traditional rite. When you have the Real Presence there, with the Sacrifice, when the bell rings the second time in each Consecration, and the priest lifts the Host as he gazes upon It, then genuflects after saying, “Hoc est enim Corpus meum,” you can feel the reverence due to the Real Presence.
David: The solemnity, the reverential attitude?
Mike: Yes, all of that.
David: I’ve been around and watched this sea change in you. It’s a special grace that you’ve been given and you need to acknowledge it as that. Not everybody is given that grace, nor are they given the ability to assimilate it so rapidly and successfully.
Was there any person or thing outside the Latin Mass, any person or thing that brought these changes on and made you amenable to them?
Mike: I can’t give you his name because he likes to remain anonymous, but yes. I would say that the pastor at that parish in Fort Worth, at Mater Dei Parish in Fort Worth, if I had to identify one man, it would be him. You know I’m a historian, an amateur historian; semi-pro. I play semi-pro historical ball. His sermons are laced with history, that means I can look it up. Everything that man ever said I looked up and said: “Yeah, that happened. Yeah, that happened, too. Yeah, it went in that order.” You not only get the history, but you get the dose of the history as seen through the eyes of the Church.
David: Why does that matter to you? What does history add to your understanding? What value does that add to you?
Mike: I place a lot of emphasis on history because history informs our tradition. We can’t be traditionalists if we don’t know what the tradition is. It does form the tradition, but it also informs us of the past and we see that people have dealt with the same problems that we’re dealing with today.
David: So it becomes more real?
Mike: Yes, it becomes more real. Even if you wanted to take the ecclesiastical spin off it, it is possible to do this without going to war. You can negotiate a settlement that’s possible. There’s a way to do this without having a bloody revolution. History is useful for that. The past can inform the present. When you tie that together with the Catechism, then the Catechism becomes real. This particular priest would talk about the lives of the saints. The Catechism lesson then becomes that this saint lived an incredible life. He’s not just telling you about it and then telling you that you ought to do it. He said: “Look, it was done.” It was done by a poor little girl from Lisieux, France, for example, or a man that was born to very wealthy parents in the village of Aquinas, Italy, for example. He could have been almost anything he wanted to be. And I tell you, as you know, that he had to fight for his vocation to join the humble Order of Preachers. There’s a church down the street from here, St. Jane de Chantal. St. Jane didn’t join a cloistered convent; she chose to found one herself under the guidance of St. Francis de Sales. She was a widow. St. Bridget, yes here was a woman that was one of the most beautiful and sought after women of her day, a lady in waiting at the court of the king of Sweden. She had eight children and, after her husband died, she became a contemplative nun. She told her children: I’m going to care for you, but when you can take care of yourselves I’m going to join a monastery. She did just that and she had a life full of visions. Her daughter, Catherine, a beautiful princess, also became a saint. These are real stories. They back the catechism up that this priest would speak about.
David: I know people who are extremely well catechized and aren’t very Catholic. This is a little bit of a leading question to get you into another topic possibly. I’ll violate the legal profession of no leading questions. Has there been anything else besides the Catechism that has oriented your vision of the world and why it’s made theology more real to you?
Mike: Maybe it’s the experience of being blessed with receiving graces. Our Lord says: If you don’t ask for something it can’t be granted; so you need to ask for things. If you don’t knock on a door it can’t be opened, so you need to knock on doors. I think I was knocking on a lot of doors, still knocking on a lot of doors. I think I’ve been blessed in many instances where the grace has been provided because I know I couldn’t have done these things without grace. Those prayers and those requests have actually been answered. That doesn’t just happen. That happens as a result, as I said, of receiving those graces and seeing that if you surrender your will, even partially, to God, then He will take that as a surrender and say “okay” and use you and then place you in positions to help others.
David: I was given a particular grace that I shared with you. A teacher, a mentor of mine, I truly consider him a second father almost, Brother Francis Maluf, who introduced me to scholastic philosophy. That attuned my mind to seeing reality a certain way. I think it’s the foundation point of seeing the natural world so that you can then somewhat see the supernatural world. What has philosophy meant to you and why does it matter?
Mike: That just put all that we just talked about on steroids. If you study the Catechism and learn it and learn the Faith and learn about some of the lives of the saints, it is meaningful. Sure, you’ll receive graces. The more times you receive the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, the more grace you receive. Catholic philosophy helps you to have a better idea of what the truth is behind those sacraments and why they’re so important. It is the handmaid of theology. I never knew this.
Brother Francis, for me, is more like my favorite uncle. I turn to him in times of strife. He imparts to me, through philosophia perennis, truth. I can’t tell you, David, how many times in a day, during a regular three-hour radio show, how many times I say the word “truth.” I think I said the word truth in the last six months more than I said it in fifty-three years of life. That’s because, thanks to Brother Francis, St. Thomas, and Aristotle, truth, both natural and supernatural, is more relevant to me.
Of course, the secular-minded will go: “Okay, so what? I know truth, too.” Actually, you don’t because truth, all truth, comes from only one ultimate source and that source is God. A great source of truth, in addition to revelation, is from the Nicene Creed. There are several other Catholic creeds but the Nicene Creed is a wonderful symbol of Faith; it’s an extension of the Apostles’ Creed. Most people today don’t even know what a creed is. They think it’s something you check off on an application: What creed are you? A creed is something you live by. You live by the creed that there is one truth; we can know it, and we can repeat it to other people. Philosophia perennis has now made that very real. Truth can be known and communicated to other knowing persons.
The history of Holy Mother Church, and, before that, the history of the Old Testament, all speak to one truth. When I pick up the book of Genesis, I don’t read it skeptically. I read it and say: “Of course it’s true.” How do I know? Because God told Moses to write it down. How do we know that? Because Moses said so and worked astounding miracles to prove it. Of course, we know that the books of the Old Testament were approved as inspired by God by the one, true Church. Jesus, Himself, quoted from many of these books, and He said that it was the word of God.
You have to know how to think. You have to know how to remove erroneous thinking from your mind, or not fall into it in the first place. How do I avoid thinking in error? Once you start studying philosophia perennis, you can’t help but question yourself on things of which you are not certain: Am I thinking right? Am I thinking wrong? And I am praying to God every day: God, please don’t let me fall into error. If I fall into error, Guardian Angel, tug me on the shoulder and tell me: Mike, you’re in error. You need to get rid of that. You need to apologize for promoting it. You need to promote the truth, which is real. Falsehood is not real.
David: You mentioned history a couple times. I find it interesting that that is kind of a linchpin that’s brought you into accepting the truth. Do you believe that anyone can travel the road that you’ve been on, or is there some required preconditions that have to get the soil ready for truth to be received?
Mike: I left one part of the journey out that I did not get into. I mentioned the priest at that parish in Fort Worth. Then there’s this. You’re not going to get anywhere in any theological . . .
David: You’re holding up the book Humility of Heart.
Mike: Humility of Heart by beloved Father Cajetan Mary da Bergamo, who lived in the 18th century, and was a Capuchin friar. Father Cajetan wrote this book in 1739 called Humility of Heart. Cardinal Herbert Vaughan fell in love with the book in 1890, and in the last fifteeen years of his life he translated it from Bergamo’s Italian into English. That’s the volume I have here in my hand. I was given information about that book by the Mater Dei priest. One of his homilies stressed that you’re not going to get anywhere, you’re not going to progress in grace without humility. One of those lines he gave in that sermon was, “Reverence to God leads to humility but that’s not enough. If you want to study humility,” and then he mentioned this book. I found it online and I began reading it about a year ago, probably about this time in August of 2014.
As I started reading Humility of Heart, I was thinking to myself, as anyone will think if they read the book: Man, I stink. I am the most prideful, most vain, despicable person that walks the earth today. I started working on humility and just reading that book and digesting it. It’s not a book that you read in one sitting. You don’t even have to read it linearly. It’s all numbered. You can read whatever lesson you want. It will humble you.
David: It’s interesting that you started there because I think most people, unfortunately, end there. In other words, as they quest in their knowledge, there’s usually pride involved in looking, and idle curiosity. There’s always a little bit of “I’m going to figure it out” kind of thing. Eventually, if you’re truly seeking spiritual truth, you will come to the idea of humility and realize: “I’ve been egotistical this whole time.” It’s interesting that you started there when most people kind of finish there.
Mike: Let’s just take this, for example. I never said a Rosary in my entire life until about a year ago, August of last year. When I started saying it, it was about the time I started reading this book. If you get to the Sorrowful Mysteries, you do The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, The Crucifixion, at the start of those five mysteries you begin with The Agony in the Garden. What’s going on there? What’s going on there is that our dear, beloved, precious Lord, who is God and Man is undergoing an agony. He knows what’s going to happen to Him, yet He humbles Himself. He lets Himself be arrested. He could have just smote all those guys. He lets Himself get arrested. He lets Himself be dragged in front of His enemies, enemies of the Truth. These men have wanted to kill Him for a couple of years now. He knows what their designs are. He won’t answer any of their questions because He knows what they’re going to do and He accepts it. He lets himself be dragged in front of Pontius Pilate. He lets Himself be scourged at that pillar. He lets His precious head be pierced by those thorns. He has to carry that cross. He lets them nail Him to a “tree” as St. Peter says referring to the Cross. They nailed him to a tree, His arms tied up around it. He does all of these things. These are the greatest acts of humility in the history of man. For our human nature, we’ll never see an act of humility and love greater than that.
If you’re reading a book like Humility of Heart, and you’re saying that Rosary, you can’t help but say to yourself: There is no pain that is too great for me to endure that is even remotely equal to the God-man allowing Himself to be the subject of ridicule, persecution, humiliation, outright torture, and finally martyrdom. That is the humility of the Incarnation. I think this book drove that point home for me and so much more. I work on it every day because you have to work on it. It’s not something you can say, “Oh now I have it” — you can’t take it for granted and not dig deeper.
David: I’m going to play devil’s advocate a little bit. Somebody listening to this, especially a generation or two below us — we’re both in our fifties — well, they’re going to say: This is just middle-age syndrome. You mentioned seeing your father die and you see your own end. Some of your earlier immoral prowess is gone. Now you say: I’m going to be holy now. How would you answer that criticism? Is it really just a mental change through time or do you think this is a conversion because it was necessary for my salvation and God wanted to pull me into His merciful orb?
Mike: It’s irrelevant — my answer to that question — because it’s part of His plan. The fact is that I never gave the right response all those wasted years. God probably called me my entire life and said: “Michael, come here.” I always went: “Not now, God. She’s really beautiful. Not now, God. That bottle is really full and it needs to be emptied. Not now, God. Give me that pill. Not now, God. I’ve got this vacation to take.” I kept putting Him off: No, no, no, no, no. I don’t think it’s generational at all. I think that I received the grace according to His plan. He implanted the grace in me and said: “Okay, now let’s see what happens.” I finally said “okay”. Humility is our capstone. If we’re not humble, we can’t be feed and grow in sanctifying grace. We have to acknowledge that we are insignificant creatures.
David: If you look at a lot of the saints, if you take a broad spectrum of saints, you notice a lot of them died about forty. They obviously took on their faith much younger, embraced it, and then spent themselves by the age of thirty-five or forty years-old. It’s very common. Obviously it can appeal to the young. I just wanted to know what you would say to some one who said: “You’re just going through a middle-age crisis.”
Mike: I would say that if any hint of grace pops up in your little, young life, you should say: “Yes. Where do I sign?” Try it and then see what happens. I’ll also say one more thing about the generational thing. I mentioned that I was baptized at St. Augustine Church. Who was Augustine? He was the most famous father of the ancient fathers of the Church. Books by or about him fill the shelves of libraries more than those of any other saint. I come back into the Church and the Tridentine Mass. What’s the first book that somehow winds up in my hands after going to a Latin Mass — the Confessions. Somehow it appeared on my desk. Augustine has been with me the whole time.
Augustine was a great sinner. He was was a proud and lustful young man. He was a Manichean heretic, inflated by his superior knowledge and skill with rhetoric. He was thirty-three when he converted. I think we had a lot in common as far as our weaknesses were concerned. And I don’t believe in coincidence. That’s part of the plan. I still read Augustine. I read Augustine almost every day. Of course, he’s my patron saint. One more thing. When I was confirmed in 1992, the priest who had instructed me was a very radical liberal. He’s not an active priest any longer, but he was a really loving, sweet man. He told me, because I had just started my radio career then, “Mike, you need to take Augustine for your Confirmation name.” I said: “Why, Father?” He goes: “Trust me, just take Augustine.” I did.
David: Isn’t that amazing?
Mike: St. Augustine is a huge part of my new life. I always tell him: “Augustine, I’m just like you. I was addicted to bad things. All the things you did, I did them all too. Somehow you became a saint and a Doctor of the Church. How did you do it? Can you inspire me? Intercede on my behalf.” Of course I know that it was God’s grace that effected the change in him, but he had to cooperate. The will is always free to say “no.”
David: Now you have The St. Augustine Institute of Catholic Studies to work with.
Mike: Now here we find ourselves, in God’s providence, friends, and you introduce me to Brother André Marie, who studied over twenty years under Brother Francis.
David: Let me clarify something. We have our course philosophia perennis, which means the perennial philosophy, or perennial truth, natural wisdom, that’s handed down from generation to generation. I was blessed to encounter a great teacher named Brother Francis Maluf through his protégé Brother André Marie. Each Tuesday night you and I now are doing an online philosophy course with about twenty people (though over sixty actually purchased the lectures; not all can make the live online classroom). Tell me about true philosophy and what it’s supposed to do to form our minds, to form our souls in a way to receive truth. The entire school of wisdom that Brother Francis started and bequeathed to his students, his religious community, and to posterity happens to be called the St. Augustine Institute of Catholic Studies. I just thought that was apropos to your testimony to St. Augustine.
Mike: Augustine just keeps popping up in Mike Church’s life, doesn’t he? He knows where I’m deficient and grants me the grace that I need to be less deficient.
David: If I remember right, I think Brother Francis is actually an Augustinian in his worldview.That is why he called his course of studies, The Saint Augustine Institute of Catholic Studies. Augustine made use of the wisdom of Plato, mostly The Dialogues, and St. Thomas of Aristotle. Brother Francis kind of straddles that fence and sits between. He had a deep affinity for Augustinian thought, but he taught whole courses on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas. His cosmology was definitely Thomistic to the core. Let’s talk a little bit about Brother Francis.
Mike: I just love him. And, having never met him, that comes from his prodigious recordings. Number one, he has what all great teachers have, and that’s a great sense of humor. He’s so happy to be doing what he’s doing. I can imitate his laugh. You can hear him breathing heavily on the CDs and you know he’s laughing, probably a big smile from ear to ear. He’s just so full of joy. To me, all great teachers are happy people. They have enthuisiasm. I don’t think you can learn much from teachers that have no enthusiasm or, worse, are snide and condescending. With Brother Francis, you get nothing but love. He ends some of his lectures by taking questions. He’d say it’s the part of the evening that he looked most forward to. He loved talking to people. He loved discussing philosophy. He had what all great teachers have, which is a deep affinity and grasp for the subject matter and an appreciation for those that really want to learn it. You can tell he loves the people in that room. It’s just oozing from those tapes.
The second thing is, his breadth and the depth of his knowledge is stunning. How can he remember all of this and just peel it off effortlessly? Of course, he did teach for forty years. He did have the benefit of repetition. Many times he will say in Latin, repititio est mater studiorum, repetition is the mother of studies. Of course he also reads directly from his sources. Yet, when he is teaching you can tell he is not using notes. He’s very thorough.
The other thing is, and most important, he has an unwavering commitment and acceptance of, a very humble and unwavering acceptance of, the doctrines of Holy Mother Church. He says over and over: “It’s not our job to question. This is doctrine. This is dogma. We know what it is. We choose to accept it and live by it or not to. If you choose not to obey it by submitting your intellect to Church teaching, too bad; you’re a schismatic, or a heretic. It was nice meeting you. I’ll talk to you again soon when you are ready.” He has this fortitude. He has such a tremendous fortitude of uncompromising acceptance of what it is that has gone before him. And you can feel his gratitude for the gift.
The great Catholic intellectual, and convert, Russell Kirk used to repeat a saying attributed to Isaac Newton, but very true: If you’re going to be a smart man, then you need to learn that you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. I think Brother Francis knows that he’s always standing on the shoulders of giants. He doesn’t mind standing on the pagan Aristotle’s shoulders. He doesn’t mind at all. He loves Aristotle. And by pagan, I do not mean an idolater. Aristotle did not believe in idols or myths.
David: He comments several times about not wanting to be original. He wants to give you what was handed on to him.
Mike: I think Brother Francis leads by example. He’s there every Tuesday night. He’s got his lecture well prepared, logically, in his mind, and he also has, sometimes, accompanying notes which he often passes out. He’s always so reverent and does not question tradition.
David: You’ve probably had the experience where you’ve learned something new and the novelty of it just inspires you because it’s so fantastic. You really dive into whatever subject it may be that you’re looking into. What would you say to someone who says: “Mike, you just came into philosophia perennis. It’s new and intriguing to you, but it’s a fad and it will die out.” In other words, you’re going on to something new next month or next year. What would you say to that person?
Mike: I would say that, number one, I haven’t completed the course. Number two, even if it is a fad, then it would be a fad that I have deeply revered and benefited from, regardless of the inordinate amount of time and effort I spent immersing myself in it. It was not wasted. However, I don’t think that once you’re exposed to philosophia perennis that you can treat it like it’s a fad. If you do, then you don’t have goodwill. Once you learn this, I think it’s with you for the rest of your life.
David: Talk to me about that. You said that you read books now or you see television shows and newscasts and you can’t see them the same way. What does that mean?
Mike: That means that you see the fallacies. You see the fallacy in their arguments. They’re invalid. They’re giving you their conclusion at the start. They already know what their conclusion is and they try to buttress it through false or ambiguous premises. You can read almost any newspaper story and you can get the conclusion of the story in the first paragraph. You can read almost any opinion column and you get the opinion of the columnist in the first paragraph. Then we get mostly lame attempts to try to flesh out the argument, without their using any part of minor logic to see whether their arguments actually stand up. Are your arguments actually valid? As soon as you start thinking about the mainstream media in those terms, you begin to realize that almost everything that is printed, that is filmed, that is recorded today is just filled with errors. Brother Francis says: “The world is just swimming with errors. Sophisms, based on false premises.” It’s swimming with errors because proud people begin spouting novelties from an erroneous thinking process or they just repeat what is currently popular. This is what true philosophy helps to correct.
David: So you’re saying it wouldn’t be a fad if it’s the truth. The truth doesn’t come and go.
Mike: There’s another thing that Brother Francis likes to say, and that is that truth doesn’t have an expiration date. God lives out of time. Time is for us. Time is not for Him. Time will end at the Last Day. Time is a unit of measure that men use in this life to measure their mutable affairs by some other thing that changes at regular precision. We’ve been talking for three hours. What is an hour? You need a day to have an hour, etc. etc. The truth is everlasting. In God, truth is eternal. He is Truth. If you learn philosophia perennis, then you’re learning truth and you learn to think in a truthful manner and then to defend it. When you get to course number four in the order that Brother Francis does it in, you get to ethics. Then you start to figure out: “Oh I see where you’re going with this.” We’re going to figure out now what are the immutable, timeless laws that must govern my actions as a man.
Someone who is in our study group contacted me privately and said: “I hear you talking about conversion on the air and you’re talking about conversion in this Facebook post. Let me tell you something, I didn’t take philosophia perennis to convert and I’m not going to convert.” I said: “Well, my friend, you’re not going to make it past the third lesson in ethics because either you’re going to convert or you’re going to be denying the truth that you just spent eight months learning. You’re not going to get out of ethics without converting.”
David: You know my story. I sent the philosophy course to one guy and he listened to the course and converted. I didn’t even talk to the man. He just wrote me one day and said: “I’m converting.”
Mike: I don’t think you have to listen to the whole course. If you make it through ethics intending to learn, you’re going to convert. By the grace of God you are going to be open to the true Faith. If you don’t convert, then you haven’t learned anything. You haven’t learned how to think philosophically, according to philosophia perennis, you haven’t learned Thomistic or scholastic philosophy, and you’re just wasting your time.
David: I know the answer to this question but I’ll ask it anyway for others’ sake. Could you be persuaded to give up philosophia perennis for a new and improved philosophy?
Mike: No. How could you improve upon the truth? Thomistic philosophy is the truth. It’s based on the truth. When you proceed from logic, the science of correct thinking, you get to cosmology. On the first day of the cosmology class, Brother Francis stands at his lectern and he says: “You can’t see this. It’s difficult to see, but on the tip of my index finger I have one little tiny grain of sand. We are going to spend an entire hour tonight talking about a grain of sand.” You’re going: “A grain of sand?” By the time you get to the end of the hour, you understand why.
David: Everything he does is based on reality.
Mike: It’s all based on reality and it’s all based on the truth. As he says, by the time you get to the end of that first hour: Sand is not just sand because a bunch of rocks break down and happen to fall into this place to build the shore. It’s put there.
David: And Abraham knew what sand was and we know what sand is.
Mike: We know what sand is. The concept, which I have now from real sand, transcends time. Sand is there to stop the ocean. You don’t think that’s the product of a Creator who knew why He put sand where He did? Sand can absorb the ocean water and it washes back out with the tide, but because it’s salt water, it comes back in and refortifies the beach. It holds the little sand crabs so the sea gulls can eat them. It gives a place for turtles to lay their eggs. The planet would not be habitable without sand.
David: Let’s try to tie two things together. Would you say that philosophy led you to the traditional Mass or vice versa, and do they go hand in hand? Why or why not?
Mike: The traditional Mass led me to philosophy for sure. I think anyone that loves the traditional Mass has a conviction that’s attached to it. Anyone that faithfully goes to a Tridentine Mass out of love for Christ is not going to return to the Novus Ordo. Which is not to say that you cannot receive graces at the Novus Ordo Mass, of course, you can. Still, there’s not only more majesty and reverence but there’s a logic behind the Tridentine Mass. It is very logical. It proceeds in a manner that is logical as well as theological and you can follow that logic once you learn the order of the Mass. A Missale can help with that, so can knowing a little bit of the history and meaning behind each of the prayers of the Mass, at least the ordinary parts that do not change, and why those prayers are where they are.
David: It’s fascinating.
Mike: It is fascinating. As one of our favorite lecturers and writers, Michael Davies, said in his two-part series on liturgy, “Liturgies don’t just happen.” They develop organically over time, the Paraclete instructing the Apostles and, a little later, their successors in the early Church on keeping things that they received from liturgical custom that were good, conforming to scripture, and passing them on. That’s why we have various Rites in the Church besides the Latin Rite, each, in essence, from apostolic origin. This is how the liturgy developed from tradition. The Mass comes first, and everything, to me, everything comes from the Mass. There is nothing that we do supernaturally, in our terrestrial lives, that is not related to the Mass and the Holy Eucharist.
David: You just restated Aquinas in a sense. One of his favorite axioms was “grace builds on nature.” Philosophy is the highest of natural sciences. Theology, of course, is the highest supernatural science. I think you stated it accurately, that the Tridentine Mass, because of its supernatural character, builds on what you’re learning naturally in philosophy through Brother Francis. Without philopsophy the Church would not have the term “transubstantiation” to describe the mystery that takes place at the consecration.
David: This is my last question, Mike. I’m going to read it to you because it’s a little bit long. The Church has claimed to be working on a new evangelization. You are evidence that the old wine is better and can still strike a chord and bring in the faithful. How do you approach sharing the good news that you discover with others. What do you think is the best means of catechizing and converting them?
Mike: I think the best way of catechizing others is by example. Again, we have to live the Faith. That’s hard to do. Let me rephrase that. It’s hard for mortal man without grace to do it. If you’re praying for and receiving graces to do it, then it becomes God’s work. Then, of course, when it’s on Him, when it’s on Almighty God and our Lord, then, obviously, if you’ve subordinated yourself in humility to His will, to the Trinitarian will, it’s going to go easier for you. There will be be bumps in the road. By example, I mean the simple things, like the way we speak, the way we dress, the way we interact with others, the way we deal with adversity. These are all things that provide a means to lead by example.
Then, most importantly,we have to know our Faith, as Saint Peter says in his epistle, “ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.” Both are necessary.
How many Catholics even know what the Latin term “Magisterium” means? It means teaching with authority. This is as important as it gets. The traditional Mass was very doctrinal; it was a teaching Mass. It was part of the Church teaching, eccclesia docens. The sermon was secondary to the holy sacrifice and the liturgy. In the New Mass there are four different Eucharistic canons from which the priest can choose. Three of them are new fabrications. It was Pope Benedict, by the way, who used that term “fabrication” in regard to the new liturgy. Where is the structure in that, the conformity with tradition? There’s hardly any conformity or structure to it. If you’re not going to have a changeless structure like the old Roman Canon, then how do you propose to build a stable, church-going society that is reverent enough to stick to the true Faith and to grow in it and share it. The Church says that the law of praying is the law of believing. The traditional liturgy comes from the Faith. It ought to express the Faith. Otherwise it should not be called “the holy liturgy.”
What I say to that is that the new Mass and the new ecumenism, which is not true evangelization, has devastated the Church. That’s not me saying it. Any person that takes an objective look at the situation that we are currently in can see this.
David: You’re evidence that the older way still attracts. Let’s apply it to real, practical, everyday things. You’re a national radio host. You spend three hours on the radio and on the phone with callers. You’re preaching this stuff in your daily existence, right?
David: What has been the response? Do you get more positive than negative or do you get more negative than positive? What is the response?
Mike: I’d say publicly that the response has been almost overwhelmingly negative. I say that because I wish to draw out a reaction that upsets lax consciences, gets people to think — and perhaps this is something that the Holy Spirit or St. Augustine is whispering in my ear, or maybe Jesus Himself. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be a thought that originated with me. I say that because I think it draws those people out and makes them want to interact with you. People are piling it on. I want to get in on that. Then it gives you a chance to interact with them.
David: So you think the resistance is actually a grace movement because they’re having to come to terms with their own thoughts and challenge you?
Mike: They have to challenge me; and they do. The challenges are bold. Many of them are not very nice.
David: Most people when they meet resistance would fold their tents up and say: “Okay, nobody loves me. I’m going home.”
Mike: The resistance is the reason to continue. The resistance says that someone has been challenged on a matter of faith. This all goes back to the beginning of philosophia perennis. Either there is a truth or there’s not. Truth doesn’t have an expiration date. Can we know that? Yes. Can we repeat it? Yes. I don’t get a vote on that. I’m willing to put my future on the line, my life for that matter, that St. Thomas Aquinas was correct, St. Augustine was correct, St. Bonaventure was correct, St. Bernard of Clairvaux was correct, St. Francis was correct, Saint Alfonso de’ Liguori, all the Doctors of the Church, they’re all correct. Who am I to say that they weren’t right? If I say that they’re all right, then what is it that I should say to someone that challenges me on some matter of faith or morals? Should I say: “The modern Church says this and I understand their point of view.” No, I’m going to go to Aquinas and I’m going to say: “I’m sorry that you feel that way.” The first thing I’m going to tell them is that it’s not my opinion. I believe it but I don’t have a vote on it. I’m repeating to you what’s been said for over a millennium now, ever since Aquinas, and, of course before that with the saints and Apostles of the first millennium from whom the saints I just mentioned learned Catholic truth in its purity.
Can it be done? Of course it can be done, and it needs to be done. What I would say to people is they should study our Lord. We started this interview talking about the humility of our Lord according to the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary. His own people didn’t believe Him either, but for a few. They condemned Him to death. They gave Him over to the pagan Romans who beat him, spit on him, put the crown of thorns on him, all these horrific things they did to him. He humbled himself. He knew it was going to happen and He allowed it anyway in order to save us. We ought to know, too, what’s going to happen to us. They are going to cast us “out of the synagogue” as Jesus warned His Apostles. They’re going to spit on us. They’re going to persecute us. They’re going to do everything they can to humiliate us. What do we do when this happens? You have to kill them with kindness and love them in spite of everything. Faith, hope, and charity.
Don’t ever deviate from or allow to creep in any thought or even a hint that there is anything other than one objective truth. We know what it is. I think as long as you do that, regardless of what endeavor you’re in or what field you’re in or however you do it, you’re going to be successful in the only category that matters, and that is eternity.
The saints didn’t have it easy. We’re not going to have it easy. Somehow we are given and granted the graces to power on through and to continue. I think you get joy out of that. You know when you’re being challenged. There may be an instance where you’ve just been not prudent and stupid and proud and maybe you deserve a rebuke. If you’re following the Magisterium and you’re saying to people what you know to be true, then you ought to be true to it. You ought to stick to it. There’s no reason for you not to.
David: Thanks for continuing to broadcast it. Thanks for persevering in the truth. Thank you for bringing philosophia perennis to a lot more people, a lot broader audience than I think have ever experienced it. I know this means a lot to St. Benedict Center and the St. Augustine Institute of Catholic Studies. Thank you for being a Catholic warrior.
Mike: I’m only doing, I think, what I’ve been called to do. To deny it would be old Mike. The humble Mike hopefully says: “I don’t need any accolades.” I acknowledge that you gave them; so thank you for that. I don’t need them. To continue doing and promoting the philosophia perennis to me is the important thing God wants me to do right now. It’s foolproof. If you follow it and you live it and you never question that truth and just spend your entire waking moments affirming that truth and asking for the grace to be able to affirm that truth, I think that you will. Brother Francis lived to be ninety-six years old. I’m sure to the very end he was probably telling his stories and his jokes about how he was not the most popular man in class. He wasn’t after popularity. When so many that were once enthusiastic fell away into superficiality, that hurt him. He mentions it is his talks. Nevertheless, he kept his hands to the plow. He lived his faith. Again, we’re at square one. He led by example.
To learn more about the Philosophy course that Mike Church spoke about, click here.
To learn more about the Saint Augustine Institute of Wisdom, click here.