Monday, February 20, 2017

Church Militant's Secret Army

The Download, one of Church Militant's Premium Programs

The title of this essay is meant to be a little provocative and designed to get your attention. It's a lesson that Michael Voris has taught me well, with his regular video instalments of The Vortex. (Thanks Michael.) It's a way of getting the reader's attention, so that you can fill them in on the real message within the article. Nevertheless, there is a certain degree of truth to the title.

While the Michigan Catholic news outlet isn't raising an "army" in a traditional sense, it does have quite a following, and while I don't have any access to their subscription list, I do personally know lot of subscribers, and a whole lot more who just access the free content.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me reveal two things about myself. First, I am a paying subscriber to Church Militant. It's the best $10/month subscription I've ever purchased, and quite and investment too. I watch their videos not only for news and commentary use, but I also access their tremendous archives of teaching and information videos as aids for homeschooling my children. There is a lot on their website which makes for good religious instruction. Second, I used to write some opinion articles for Church Militant some time back. I haven't done so recently, because of many other obligations (catechist certification, book writing, church founding, homeschooling, etc.) but it's really for no other reason at this time. I'm still pretty swamped, but after watching the treatment Church Militant has recently received from the mainstream press, I'm thinking about writing a few more articles for them, if they'll still have me. You see, I'm a person who stands by his friends. I don't run away when the weather gets bad.

I'll also tell you something else about me. Over the last couple years, I've gotten a number of emails and messages from some of my readers, who have some personal complaints or issues with Church Militant. That's fine. If you are one of those people, you're entitled to your opinion, and I'm not going to knock it. That is your right. I will say, however, that I am entitled to disagree with you, and that is my right. When it comes to Church Militant, I don't agree with every single story, and every single opinion they publish/broadcast. That too is my right, and it's yours as well. However, I'm a "big picture" kind of guy. In my evaluation of Church Militant, or any religious media outlet, I try to look at the big picture rather than the details. Is the big picture, meaning the overall message of the media, generally something that is orthodox and edifying to the faithful in Christ? That's my criteria. That's my mode of decision-making process. The truth is, there is not a single media outlet in the world (Catholic, Protestant or Secular) that I agree with 100%. Sorry, it just doesn't exist. That's because I'm an individual, I have my own mind, and I can think for myself. I don't need, nor do I want, somebody to tell me what to think about every single thing, on every issue, no matter how small. Not even the Magisterium of the Catholic Church does that! The Catholic Church recognises difference of opinion within the pale of orthodoxy. For example, two Catholic priests can have radically different viewpoints on social justice, but so long as neither one has deviated into heterodoxy (heresy), the two can simply agree to disagree, and the Church is fine with that. The same goes for laymen too. I don't agree with everything Church Militant says. I don't agree with everything EWTN says either. However, when I look at the big picture of both media outlets, I see that each has its own value in bringing something orthodox and efficacious to the Catholic faithful, each in its own unique way. Therefore, I support both on face value, even though I agree with neither 100%. As a Catholic, in good standing with the Church, I consider this a reasonable and mature way of handling various sources of Catholic news and information. I invite you to join me in this mature position, if you dare. Warning: It means you'll have to start thinking for yourself. I know that can be scary to some people, but I think it's necessary if you want to have an adult point of view.

When it comes to Church Militant, I am convinced that their overall "big picture" message is both orthodox and efficacious. Sometimes they miss the mark on a particular story, and they're not blind to this. They've admitted when they got it wrong in the past, or when they've overstated a position, and you know what? That's refreshing! How often do you see that in a news media outlet? of any kind? We need more of this kind of humility in the press, and yes, I said "humility" in reference to Church Militant. If you've never seen it, you haven't been watching.

Now, about this "army" they're raising. It's not an "army" in the traditional sense. Nobody is going to do any real "fighting" or anything like that. It's more of a collection of subscribers and readers who are satisfied that somebody in the Catholic press is FINALLY reporting on the issues they deem most important. As for "secret," well yes, it is somewhat secret, because you see, Church Militant (like any responsible company) doesn't voluntarily reveal its subscriber list. That's actually a good thing, because I'm sure that many of their subscribers don't want to be made public. I personally, don't care, because my life is pretty much an open book anyway, and that's by my own choice. I have my reasons for going public and I'm happy to do it. However, there are a lot of people who value their privacy, will remain anonymous, and this is what I want to talk about.

The remainder of this essay is addressed to bishops, and I do sincerely hope more than a few read it. If you're a bishop, please pass it on to your brother bishops, because they're going to want to know this. Church Militant has a substantial number of Catholic clergy who subscribe to their website. This includes many priests and deacons. I suspect maybe even a bishop or two. Who are these clergy? Well, some of them are in your dioceses! You probably don't know who they are, and that is by their design, because they don't want you to know. Why? Maybe it's because they fear what your reaction will be. Maybe it's because they are afraid you might discipline them for subscribing to Church Militant. Whatever the reason, it doesn't just say something about them, it also says something about you. Are you open and fair with your clergy? Do you allow them to freely promote orthodoxy within your diocese? Are you more concerned about the truth of Jesus Christ, or the fear of offending people? These are rhetorical questions of course, but if your priests are afraid of what you might do to them for subscribing to Church Militant, then maybe it's time to put the message out that they have nothing to fear.

Here's another suggestion. Church Militant is a Catholic media organisation currently being attacked by the mainstream media (New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, USA Today, etc.) with statements that could easily be seen as libel, and are clearly more of a not-so-veiled attack on Catholic orthodoxy itself, rather than just as smear-job on one Catholic media outlet. I know that a few bishops, from around the world, have enjoyed the megaphone of having been interviewed by Church Militant. I wonder how many of those bishops, and their brother bishops, will come to their defence now that they're in need. The message of the mainstream Secular media is crystal clear. They're telling the public that you Catholic bishops don't support ANYTHING they say. Is that true? Am I to believe that some of you will gladly use Church Militant's vast media reach to get your own message out, but none of you will come to Church Militant's defence when the Secular press does a hatchet job on them? Is this how you would treat EWTN if they found themselves victims of a similar attack? I'm just curious here. I don't know the answer. It will be curious to learn, however, in the days ahead, how many of you are shepherds versus politicians. Do you come to the aid of your sheep when the wolves attack? Or do you just let them get eaten when its not politically advantageous for you to help? Again, I don't know the answer to this. These are rhetorical questions. I'm not expecting an answer.

I assert that what we are seeing right now, with this media slander against Church Militant, is just the beginning of something much bigger. We saw it come out in the presidential campaign last year with Wikileaks. Leftist operatives within the highest circles of the Democratic Party have a plan for the Catholic Church in the United States. It's called "divide and conquer." The whole point is to launch a "Catholic Spring" in which the laypeople, assisted by dissident clergy, will rise up in rebellion against Catholic teaching on sexual morality, most especially the Church's teachings on homosexuality, cohabitation, premarital sex and contraception. If successful, they can split the witness of the U.S. Catholic bishops, thus neutralising their influence on American politics. In order to accomplish this, they're going to have to systematically smear all outlets of Catholic orthodoxy in America. It looks like Church Militant, small but influential, is #1 on their chopping block. If successfully decapitated, I'm sure EWTN will be #2. Once EWTN has been neutralised, you bishops will be #3. I expect this will not only happen with some media scandal against the USCCB, but also you individually. They'll systematically take you down, one bishop at a time. You know how quickly the media can work. The lightning speed at which Church Militant has been smeared is shocking.

I think we are rapidly now entering the time when there is no more room for straddling the fence. Catholics are going to have to start choosing sides, and this is true for the clergy just as much as the laity. No one of us is perfect, certainly not Church Militant, and certainly not EWTN. If you're looking for perfect allies in this new culture war, you'll never find any. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. But if we don't hang together, we'll all soon hang separately. It's a word of warning from Benjamin Franklin that is just as applicable today.

Dear bishops, please heed this parable, once given to me as a young man, by a wise old Protestant...

There was, once upon a time, a little bird that flew south for the winter with his flock. But he was not as strong as the other birds, and sadly lagged behind. Eventually winter caught up with him before he could catch up to the flock, and he found himself in the middle of a blizzard. In time his tired little wings iced over, and he nosedived directly into a snowdrift. While under that snowdrift, his little beak chattered, his little body shivered, and he thought for sure he would die. That is, until a cow came along, stood right over him and pooped on his head. The little bird was furious. "Here I am," he thought, "about to freeze to death, and on top of it all, this big ugly cow poops all over me!" But as you know, poop, smelly and nasty as it is, is also warm, and it wasn't long before the little bird thawed out, and found himself in good health again. Overjoyed with the comfort of this new warmth, the smell no longer bothered him, and he began tweeting and chirping with delight. At that point, a cat walked by and happened to hear the song. He dug through the snow, then through the cow patty. He found the little bird, and ate him.

Now there are three morals to this parable. They are as follows...
  1. Those who poop on you, aren't necessarily your enemies.
  2. Those who dig you out of the poop, aren't necessarily your friends.
  3. And if you're warm and cosy where you're at, don't go singing about it!
Dear bishops, you are the bird. The blizzard and snow is the corruption and scandal within the Church right now. Church Militant is the cow. The cat represents your "friends" on the Secular Left.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Limits of Papal Authority

Christ handing the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter
Pietro Perugino, painted in AD 1481-82

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
-- Matthew 16:18-19

Coming from a Protestant family, with 500 years of Protestant family tradition, I can testify that the issue of papal authority is a sore spot for many of my relatives. Part of the problem centres around a misunderstanding of what papal authority is, and what it isn't. It's a problem not limited to the Protestant world. Many Catholics don't understand it either.

As with most misunderstandings, there are two extremes, and they each have a name. The first is called Ultramontanism, and it is an ideology that places extreme emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the pope. The second is Protestantism, which is the opposite extreme, that is sort of a knee-jerk reaction to Ultramontanism, basically stripping all prerogatives and powers from the pope entirely. So the Ultramontanism extreme goes too far in one direction, giving the pope too much emphasis. While Protestantism goes in the opposite extreme, giving the pope too little emphasis, or none at all.

It has been my personal experience, that many of today's Catholics are Ultramontanists at heart. By this I mean they place so much emphasis on the pope, that they wait with baited breath upon every word that falls from his lips. Whatever the pope says, even in "off the cuff" remarks in a jetliner press conference at 30,000 feet, is considered "infallible." Of course, I've also found that these same people are often selective with their Ultramontanism, depending on whether they like the pope or not. I've run across Catholics who couldn't stand Pope Benedict XVI, but absolutely adore Pope Francis. Likewise, I've run across Catholics who feel the same way, only vice versa. Personal preference of popes is not really a problem, so long as one approaches them with a proper understanding of papal authority. It is quite inconsistent, and hypocritical, to regard one pope's "off the cuff" remarks as infallible, and then dismiss another's as irrelevant. I confess, that when it comes to recent popes, I do have my favourite, but I do so with the understanding that even he was fallible from time to time, and occasionally spoke about things to which his competency was limited.

To get a better understanding, let's roll back the clock a bit. Let's take it back to the 1940s and 50s, when a certain pope, by the name of Pius XII, reigned from the Chair of St. Peter. During this time, a certain Catholic priest, by the name of Georges Lemaître, was working as an astronomer and physicist. He developed what is known today as the scientific understanding of cosmic inflation, otherwise known as the "Big Bang Theory." Prior to Lemaître, most scientists assumed the universe was eternal, and in a fairly static condition. Using physics and mathematics, Lemaître proved them all wrong. The universe had a definite beginning. Initially, Professor Albert Einstein opposed his proposition, but when confronted with empirical evidence from Edwin Hubble, Einstein immediately called for a press conference and gave all the credit to Lemaître as the man who cracked the cosmic code long before Hubble's astronomical observations. Thus Father Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest and scientist, discovered cosmic inflation (the "Big Bang") and scientifically proved this universe had a definite beginning, and is not eternal.

Now once Pope Pius XII got wind of all this, he immediately began pointing to Father Lemaître's theory as scientific proof that God created the universe, and the universe had a definite beginning, like it says in the creation stories of the Bible. Not that anything Pius XII said was wrong, it wasn't, but Father Lemaître opposed the pope's public statements and begged him to stop. Eventually, the pope agreed, and he did.

Now why is that? Why would Father Lemaître oppose the pope's support of his theory in the propagation of religious truth? The answer is twofold...

First, Lemaître was an old-school Catholic priest, who firmly believed in the separation of science and religion. It's an old Catholic principle that goes back centuries, and one that Galileo frequently ignored, which is what got him into trouble with the Church. So long as religion and science are kept as separate disciplines, there is no problem. Once they cross paths however, problems can arise very easily. Theologians are generally not scientists, and scientists are generally not theologians. So when scientists start making theological statements, that is fuel for heresy. The same is true vice versa, once theologians start making scientific statements, that is fuel for scientific error, and sometimes even "junk science." In other words, the Catholic Church decided long ago that scientists should stick to science, while theologians should stick to theology. Never the twain shall meet, but if they do, it better be prefaced with the disclaimer: "this is my private opinion."

Second, Father Lemaître, being an old-school Catholic priest, firmly understood the limits of papal authority, and ultimately the pope did too. You see, the pope's only authority is over matters of religion and morals. The pope is not a scientist. This is why, in history, some popes were heliocentric (believing the Copernican theory that the earth, and other planets, orbit the sun), while others were geocentric (believing the Aristotelian theory that the sun, planets and stars orbit the earth). They were all popes however, and they all had equal authority over matters of religion and morals. What they believed about science simply didn't matter. It didn't matter then, and it doesn't matter today. If a modern pope said he believed in little green men on Mars, we might laugh, but when it comes to a matter of religion and morals, he's still the pope, and if he makes an infallible statement regarding religion or morals, we must obey. His scientific belief about little green men from Mars would be irrelevant. It's just a private opinion, and has no bearing on us. If the pope says there are little green men on Mars, I don't have to believe that, and neither do you, because it's not a matter of religion and morals. It's just his personal opinion on a scientific matter, and as I stated above, it really doesn't matter what the pope believes about science.

Would it matter, for example, if a man were elected pope today, who happened to believe in the geocentric theory? There are still some Catholics who hold to that you know. I'm not criticising it at all. I'm just stating that they do still exist. Though small in number, they're out there, and the few I know are actually very good Catholics, and relatively smart people too. So what if one became a priest, then a bishop, then an archbishop and cardinal, then was finally elected pope. While pope, suppose he made some "off the cuff" statements about the sun and stars orbiting the earth. What would happen? Would that shake your faith? Of course the news media and Leftists will try to use it to undermine the papacy and the Church. That's what they always do. Atheists and agnostics would scoff. A few hardcore geocentrists (what few remain) would immediately run to the pope's defence. What would you do? I'll tell you exactly what I would do. I would do nothing -- and by that I mean absolutely nothing. The pope's scientific beliefs don't matter. The cardinals didn't elect him to the position of "chief scientist." He was elected as the pope, and the office of the papacy is a religious office, dealing specifically with religion and morals. What the pope thinks about science doesn't have any significant bearing on that, or at least it shouldn't.

You see, when Jesus gave the "keys" of authority to St. Peter, he promised that he (and all his successors) would receive the "keys" to the Kingdom of God, so that whatever Peter and his successors bind on earth will be bound in heaven. In other words, God himself is going to support the pope in all matters related to religion and morals. That, in part, means protecting the pope from making a serious error in faith and morals. Most specifically, he will not allow the pope to ever teach a heresy as if it were infallible. Jesus never promised that the pope would be a science expert. Likewise, he never promised that the pope would be a good historian, or an expert on human behaviour. For that matter, he never promised the pope would get anything right, except for doctrinal matters related to religion and morals. If the pope said the sun and stars orbited the earth, I would simply shrug my shoulders and say; "Wow! We haven't had a geocentrist in the Vatican for centuries." Then I would carry on with my business as if nothing happened. If the next day, he issued an encyclical with some important religious and moral message, I would listen and obey, as well I should, without giving much of a thought to his scientific beliefs, because as I said, they don't matter.

The majority of Catholics today still hold to the position of Ultramontanism, which is to say that they cling to every word that falls from the lips of the pope, as if it were inspired by God. Granted, I find that most Catholics are selective about which pope they want to hold to this standard, but it's pretty obvious when they do. This of course fuels the position of Protestantism, which holds to the exact opposite notion that nothing the pope says really matters at all.

The official and authentic Catholic position is right down the middle. When the pope speaks authoritatively, he does so on matters related to religion and morality alone. Topics outside of this are not as important. So when Pope Francis tells us that man-made climate change is real, he is of course free to say that, and in response, Catholics are free to ignore it. This is because man-made climate change is a scientific theory. Whether it's true or not doesn't even matter. What matters is this. Does the pope have the authority to make it part of religious doctrine? The answer is no. It's science not religion. The pope can talk about man-made climate change all he wants, but when it finally comes down to it, he's just speaking his personal opinion and nothing more. The same goes for history. The pope's infallibility does not extend into the realm of history outside of the gospel. So if the pope tells us a tale about the American Revolution, it doesn't matter if it's true or not. He's not a historian, and even if he were, he can't elevate American history to the level of religion and morals. We can enjoy his opinion on such matters, and we can choose to agree or disagree with him, but we are not religiously obligated to ascent to his private opinions as a matter of faith. That would be Ultramontanism, and that's not Catholic.

I know some Catholics who have told me that I must believe in man-made climate change now, as a matter of faith, because Pope Francis is a believer, and he has taught it in an encyclical. To which I must respond that while his personal opinion about a scientific theory may have been included in a papal encyclical, we are certainly not obligated to believe it, because that is a scientific theory, not a religious or moral truth. Now, in that same encyclical, the pope did speak about a Catholic's moral obligation to conserve natural resources. That is different, because the pope is now talking about morality. When he says this, I do have a religious obligation to believe, and try to obey, to the best of my ability. Why? Because conservation is an issue of good stewardship over God's creation. Catholics have a moral obligation to do our best on this, regardless of the reason behind it. You can call it man-made climate change, or an impending meteor strike that's going to cause another mini-ice-age. It doesn't matter what the scientific reason is, because as I said, the pope's scientific beliefs don't matter. He's not a scientist, and even if he were, the cardinals did not elect him to the office of "chief scientist." He was elected pope, which means we must listen and obey his religious and moral teachings, but we are not obligated to give mental ascent to his personal belief about science, history, sociology, or anything else.

I think if we can keep this principle in mind we can avoid the errors of both Ultramontanism and Protestantism.

I've got a whole lot of Catholic friends and readers who've been upset by the teachings of Pope Francis on matters that have nothing to do with religion or morals. To which I must say to them, check your papal beliefs. Are you dabbling into Ultramontanism? Are you giving too much emphasis to the pope's prerogatives and powers? Have you moved into a realm of belief about the pope that is more than what the Church requires? If so, you may want to back off a bit. The pope is not inspired in everything he says. In fact, the only time he is truly guarded from error by the Holy Spirit is when he makes an infallible statement ex cathedra. In other words, he has to actually say something is infallible, before it must be regarded as infallible. The last time a pope actually did that was in 1950, when Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary an infallible dogma of the Church. No pope since then has exercised his papal authority in this way.

Since then, popes have issued many encyclicals and apostolic decrees. These bear the weight of his normal authority. They may not contain infallible statements, as in an ex cathedra decree, but nevertheless, they do carry weight and must be taken seriously, especially the parts about religion and morals. If we remember this, we need not worry about falling into the error of Ultramontanism, and we need not give fuel to the knee-jerk reaction of Protestantism.

Lastly, we delve into the area of religious and moral doctrine itself. Exactly, what are the limits of papal authority on this matter? Can a pope just wake up one morning and decide to completely change the teaching of the Church? Well, no. He can't. Here's the reason why. All popes are equal in authority. A newer pope is not "more authoritative" than a previous pope. Being newer does not make one more authoritative. So all popes are equal in authority, on matters of religion and morality, going all the way back to the first pope -- St. Peter. This means that no pope can contradict a previous pope. New popes can, of course, expand on previous papal teachings, or the teachings of Scripture, or the teachings of an ecumenical Church council. However, no pope can expand or elaborate on a teaching in such a way as to completely contradict what was previously taught. This is why infallible decrees from the pope have become less common over the last 2,000 years. Why? There is just less to say with each generation. During St. Peter's time, he was making infallible decrees left and right. However, in our era, an infallible papal decree hasn't been made since 1950. There simply hasn't been much need. Why? because almost everything has already been defined. So each successive pope is burdened by less and less teaching necessity on infallible matters.

The problem arises when a pope teaches something that APPEARS to contradict previous papal teachings. What to do in these situations? First of all, we need to remember that appearances can be deceiving. Something can sometimes appear to be as plain as the nose on one's face, but in fact, it is really not what it seems at all. In these situations, the Church has a process for inquiring and dealing with these matters. Such processes need to unfold on their own, without us getting too worked up about them. Remember, no pope can contradict the infallible teachings of a previous pope, council or the sacred deposit of faith found in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, and then attempt to bind such a contradiction onto the faithful. So we must let the process work its way out, and always pray for the pope, that he may do God's will. In the mean time, while we are waiting for a clear explanation, we simply default back to what was always previously understood. Because you see, since previous Church teaching cannot be wrong, then it is never wrong to defer back to it, until the pope's newer teaching becomes more clear or better explained.

When I was a Protestant, I believed that all Catholics were Ultramontanists. I didn't understand that word at the time. It's doubtful I had even heard of it back then. But that was my belief. I was convinced that the pope could say whatever he wanted, even deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and Catholics would blindly obey and follow. I was wrong. Even the most ardent of Ultramontanists within the Church wouldn't go that far. I was right about one thing however, many Catholics do place too much emphasis on the pope, and do spend far too much time fixating on every word that falls from his lips. I think in this age of modern media, and instant communication, it's easy enough to fall into that. We Catholics have also been spoiled in our lifetime, with two previous popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) who were superb in so many areas. We've forgotten what it's like to have a "regular pope" who is not as well articulated and scholarly. The important thing to do is check ourselves, and make sure we're not placing more emphasis on any pope than what the Church requires. This is not only for our own good, but for his as well.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Ozarks: A Good Place for Catholics

Hawksbill Crag, Ozark Mountains
AR Nature Gal, Flickr

I know there are many Catholics out there thinking of "getting away from it all." Maybe you live in a big city somewhere. Maybe you're tired of the traffic, the smog, the crime, the noise and the general rat race. Maybe you've been thinking about getting away, but you just can't imagine any place different. Maybe the Catholic Church isn't so healthy where you live. Maybe you're dealing with some liberal priests, innovative liturgy, and catechises that just doesn't cut the mustard. Maybe you're thinking about getting out, but you just don't know where to go.

I know what it feels like, because 25 years ago, that was me.

I came to the Ozarks as a naive Californian, having no idea what I was getting into. In fact, I originally had no intention of staying. My plan was to just help my parents move, and then look around for a job. If I couldn't find one, I had a one-way airline ticket back to California already paid for. Surprisingly, I found work, then I brought my wife out. Then we settled down. The first couple years weren't an easy adjustment. We both had been born and raised in Southern California. The slower pace of life here originally irritated us, and we initially made the mistake of moving to a small town with a population of under 3,000 people. We never fit in there, and that's okay, because we eventually moved closer to Springfield, Missouri, and that's when everything started to take a turn for the better.

We were both Protestants at that time, but the Catholic Church in Springfield was growing and vibrant. It was enough to attract us and we converted. It was then I learned what a great place the Ozarks are for Catholics.

Click to Enlarge
I want to call your attention to Greene County in particular. It's in the lower left corner of the state. The largest city is Springfield, with a population of only 164,000. This is really the perfect size insofar as a city goes. It's large enough to have all the major medical and entertainment facilities a family might need, but small enough to minimise the problems often associated with cities in general. In addition, Springfield is within a 3 hour drive to Kansas City, and Tulsa. It's also only a 3 1/2 hour drive to Saint Louis. So if you need a really big city for something, you have three to choose from, and they're not that far away. The two most favourable counties to live in this area are Greene County and Christian County. In both of these places, you'll find plenty of smaller cities that function much like suburbs of Springfield, except they are usually separated by miles of wooded areas and farmland.

Springfield, and the surrounding cities and towns, are situated at the top of the Ozark Plateau, which is an outcropping of small limestone mountains which is partially disconnected from the Appalachian Mountain chain. Think of the Ozarks as an "island" of Appalachian Mountains disconnected from the rest. The description is accurate both geographically and culturally. Because of the disconnect from the rest, the Ozarks are considered their own unique mountains. The area around Springfield is pretty flat, but when driving just to the south and east one is quickly reminded that it sits on top of mountains.

Springfield, Missouri
It is in Springfield, however, where most of the Catholic churches are, and the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the Ozarks live in Greene and Christian counties, Missouri. Now the Catholic population of this region of the country is extremely sparse. In fact, the Catholic population of Springfield is currently at only 3.65%, compared to the national average of 19.69%. The Catholic population outside of Springfield is considerably less than that. That's because the Ozark Mountains rest squarely within the Bible Belt of the United States, which is primarily Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist. However, it is that small number percentage that gives Catholics their strength in this area. For the most part, Catholics are much more educated about their faith, namely because they have to be. They're surrounded by people who don't understand Catholicism, might have lots of questions, and usually have a whole lot of misconceptions. Catholics need to deal with this regularly, and it is in dealing with that, they get their sharpness. This is why Catholic churches in the Bible Belt are growing while Catholic churches everywhere else in the United States are shrinking. All over America, particularly in the traditionally Catholic northern regions of the U.S., parishes are merging, and old chapels are being sold off. Here in the Bible Belt, however, the exact opposite seems to be the case. In fact, in Springfield, Missouri, not a single Catholic parish has ever been closed, and more are being added in surrounding cities regularly. Just in the last couple decades, brand new parishes have been erected in the "suburban" cities of Ozark, Nixa and Republic.

If you're a Catholic who's not used to the whole Bible Belt thing, there really is no need to worry. Most of the non-Catholics in these areas are harmless. They usually don't bother Catholics. They leave our churches unmolested, and generally find us more of a curiosity than anything else. The Ozarks has a high population of Amish as well, and so most of the local Baptist, Pentecostals and Methodists (who make up the majority of Christians in this area), see Catholics like Amish, in that we're a kind of "cultural enrichment" to the area. Most of the time we are respected, and Catholics have achieved many prominent positions here in business, medicine, law, public service, and the arts. Yes, of course, ignorance does exist. And every once in a while you'll run across some zealous Fundamentalist who will tell you you're going to hell, and you better stop worshipping Mary. But to be quite honest with you; I've met more people like that in Southern California than I ever have in the Ozarks. I'm not sure why that is, but I'm being very honest with you when I say that. For more information on my experience as a Catholic in the Ozarks, I recommend you read my essay: Living as a Catholic in the Bible Belt.

The Interior of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Springfield
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Now there has been an interesting trend developing among Catholics in the Ozarks. A good number of younger Catholics have been moving in a more traditional direction. By that I mean there has been a renewed interest in the Traditional Latin Mass, and the Traditional English Mass (Anglican Form). Both, of course, are approved by Rome, and both have an "old school" high-church kind of feel to them. Currently, the diocesan Latin mass is celebrated at St. Joseph the Worker in Ozark, just south of Springfield. Likewise, there is an SSPX chapel on the north side of Springfield. (I mention that because it is currently being reported that full reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome is now imminent.) Finally, to the southwest of Springfield, there is an Ordinariate parish recently formed in Republic, called Saint George, which offers an "old school" high-church mass in traditional English. It is fully Catholic and approved by Rome. Any Roman Catholic may become a member and fully participate in parish life there. That's a whole lot of traditional Catholicism for such a small area with such a tiny percent of the population being Catholic. In Southern California, for example, there might be one traditional parish for an enormous number of Catholics. Yet in Southwest Missouri, particularly the greater Springfield area, we have THREE traditional parish options for a tiny number of Catholics (less than 4% of the total population). Outside the immediate area, there is also a traditional Catholic retreat. Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey is a traditional (all Latin) Roman Catholic monastery open to visitors. It is about 3 hours southwest of Springfield, in eastern Oklahoma near the Cherokee Nation. Those seeking an "old school" traditional Catholic getaway, have it available to them relatively nearby.

Christmastide at Silver Dollar City
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The Bible Belt culture of the area has a whole lot of perks for Catholics too. For example; Baptists and Pentecostals are fearless when it comes to defending traditional Christian values in our increasingly Secular culture. The churches of Springfield successfully put down a so-called "anti-discrimination" ordinance in Springfield that would have allowed men into women's bathrooms and lawsuits against churches that refused to hire "out and proud" homosexuals. The Christian character of Springfield is obvious with its numerous churches, and religious businesses. Any trip to Branson, Missouri, (40 miles south of Springfield) will reveal a Christian culture so thick that Bible verses can be seen on billboards, entertainment shows end with a gospel theme, amusement parks unashamedly announce the gospel at Christmas and Easter over loudspeakers, with Scripture verses and nativity scenes everywhere, as well as religious colleges that have a strong presence all over the place. This kind of an environment, so I have found, does not in any way threaten Catholics or their sensibilities, but rather insulates them and protects them, from the encroaching advance of militant Secularism in all places of the Western world. Catholics can find ready allies among these Bible Belt Christians, and we have many times, in our fight against the march of militant Secularism and moral relativism.

Any Catholic coming from the north will immediately find the Ozarks to be a much more tempered and mild environment compared to the harsh winters of greater North America. Those coming from the Southwest and Gulf Coast will of course have to make an adjustment. I grew up in Southern California and found myself completely ill prepared for the colder winter weather here. While the Ozarks are not nearly as harsh as areas north and west of us, they do have some cold winter days. My family ancestry is primarily Scandinavian, so I had to embrace that. I've since learned that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I've bought some good winter clothes and find myself braving the elements like a champ now. It almost doesn't phase me anymore. The good news about the Ozarks is that snowfall is usually measured in inches not feet, so the roads are almost always manageable, and I've never needed to invest in chains or snow tires. I don't even own a truck! An economy car and minivan have been all we've ever needed here.

If Catholic schools are what you're looking for, Springfield has plenty of them, as well as a growing Catholic homeschooling community. There are a few Catholic schools in smaller towns throughout the Ozarks, but because of the overwhelming non-Catholic population they're spread out and few in number. Protestants have their own schools too, and I hear they are of good quality. My wife and I used a small Protestant academy for one year with our oldest child. The experience was overwhelmingly positive, and they made no attempt to convert us.

The richness of the Ozarks is found primarily in the geography and culture. The geography is one of heavily wooded small mountains with lakes, rivers and streams. The culture of the Ozarks is unmistakably Christian and very patriotic. Employment is plentiful, especially in and around the Springfield area. Housing costs are lower than the national average, and this is a very big plus if moving in from a more expensive urban area. My parents sold their 1,000 square foot, two-bedroom, bungalow in Southern California, and were able to buy a 3,000 square foot home on 5 acres of property just outside Springfield. Yes, that kind of a trade-up is very doable here. The house I currently live in is three times larger than anything I could have ever afforded in Southern California, and I can't beat the location. I'm situated right next to a forest on the side of a hill. Such property would be nearly impossible for me to obtain in California, and still be able to commute to work in reasonable time.

So if you're looking for a place to get away, and start over with a whole new lifestyle, you may want to give the Ozarks a look. Greene and Christian counties are a pretty good place for Catholics to settle in with a family. They're also good places for Catholics to retire as well. It's not perfect, and I'm not trying to give you a sales job here. Yes, we do have our problems in the Ozarks, but in comparison to what I dealt with in Southern California, well, there really is no comparison. My standard of living has improved, as well as my quality of life, and I would say that the Catholic presence was strong enough here to get me to convert. So overall, I think it's a winner.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

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