Thursday, August 25, 2011

Michael Voris in the flesh

So now I've seen him. You pick up a lot more from seeing someone without the mediation of an internet video, and editing. Voris is just as energetic as he seems on his website, but not as carefully scripted.

Michael Voris is not a particularly good speaker. I don't say this as a criticism, it is just a fact; we all have different talents. I've given lots of talks and my concern is always to make a coherent, structured case; I don't know if I always succeed, but for all his charisma Michael Voris didn't. His talk meandered; at one point he made an aside and never got back onto the main point, as far as I could tell. Nevertheless he had lots of interesting things to say. He spoke without notes, with urgency, making points of principle and relaying some helpful and amusing anecdotes.

He is clearly not theologically trained. A number of times I thought: 'No, that not quite the right way to make that point': he's no heretic, but gets betrayed into saying things which aren't exactly right, he doesn't always use the right terms or express things in the right way. He said all the other sacraments exist for the sake of the Eucharist: no, that's not quite right. They exist for our salvation. Baptism shouldn't be subordinated to the Eucharist; one could as easily say the Eucharist exists for the sake of Baptist, for the sake of the Christian people brought into existence by Baptism. (And how does Matrimony fit in?) However he was making a point about the importance of the Eucharist; we knew what he was driving at and I'm not going to be reporting him to the CDF.

The fact is that the people who are theologically trained, or most of them, have left it to an enthusiastic auto-didact like Michael Voris to defend the faith, in its fullness, in an appealing way to a mass audience, addressing issues of immediate concern and relevance. Yes this has often happened in the Church before. The theologians, priests and bishops who don't like Voris' style should get off their backsides and do what he is doing, better. Frankly Voris is a hero for taking on this apostolate, all the more because of his limitations; that doesn't mean he shouldn't be criticised, but he should also be appreciated.

The overall impression was good. The audience loved it. And to show my appreciation I'm going to criticise (yes, that's my way of showing appreciation) what I take to be his central point: that we should all focus all of our energy on 'being Catholic', to the exclusion of things like (his examples) stamp collecting or football.
I wish more Catholics spent less time on frivolous matters, but there is an opposite worry too: that of religious mania, obsessiveness. As Catholics we see the value of artistic and cultural things, of friendship, and of simply playing games, in themselves. They aren't the most important things, but neither are they excluded from a well-lived life. It is interesting and can be useful to relate these things to Catholic history or culture where applicable, but we don't need to do that in order to justify them. Michael Davies used to say (I think I read this somewhere, someone who knew him can correct me) that Traditionalists needed sometimes to take some time off. Davies was a rugby fan. It is actually necessary for our mental health that we aren't always wound up in a state of religious enthusiasm--even if we do try to be aware, always, of the presence of God. We shouldn't see the state of spiritual fervour as an ideal to which we only sometimes attain, but as a part of a life of varied mental states, a life which includes playing with our children, reading a trashy novel, going for a walk, having a cup of tea... and maybe even collecting stamps.

As I say, I wish more Catholics put aside their video games or gossip columns to read up on the faith, to attend devotions, to get involved in Catholic activities of all kinds. But there is a different message to be given to the kind of people who were attending Michael Voris' talk last night, the 'generous souls'. As Voris said, Catholics believe in the goodness and the salvation of the body as well as of the soul. Live a complete life; religious observance and Catholic activism may be the most important things in your life, but they shouldn't be the only things. Otherwise, you'll get burnt out and then you'll be no use to anyone. Yup, religious mania can be a danger to the Faith: your own, and other people's.

This is difficult today because everyone under the age of 60, if they care about their faith, is desperately trying to catch up on the religious formation they did not have as children and young adults; and the situation in the Church and the World is just so bad it can feel like living in a war zone. Do you take time off for pleasant excursions when the enemy is fighting their way in to your front room? Well, if you know the war is going to last at least for the rest of your life you have got to.

So! Talking of devotional activities, I'm now off to Walsingham. Look out for my live blogging from the road.


  1. Andrew Witcombe-Small11:47 am

    I was there too. Spotted you on the other side of the hall and didn't get a chance to come over and say hello.

    I agree entirely with the point you make about the need for recreation. Getting the balance right in this way is where things like rules of life and spiritual direction come in, and I thought it lamentable that he didn't highlight the urgent need for both of them.

  2. Dylan Parry (A Reluctant Sinner)7:42 pm

    I whole-heartely agree...

    Like you, I noticed that the talk didn't really go anywhere, even if it was inspiring for many of those who were present. All I could come up with when trying to describe the speech was that it seemed to be a Catholic "pep talk".

    Yes, the theology seemed dodgy - or not very systematic. As you said, no real heresy but a few gaffes.

    Hope you have a nice time during the Walsingham Pilgrimage.

  3. Ioannes1:59 pm

    Well written, Joseph Shaw. I agree, especially with the following:

    <p><span>"The theologians, priests and bishops who don't like Voris' style should get off their backsides and do what he is doing, better."</span><span></span></p>

  4. catholicgadfly7:23 pm

    I noticed this post a couple of days ago and instead of barging straight in I thought I'd have a think about it. I admit to liking Voris. I also wish to see some Latin Masses re-introduced in every parish, I understand that there is a need for training but, I see no reason why we could not have access to at least one Latin Mass a week. I tell you this so you do not think that I am in any way against you.

    I will cut to the chase. I am under no illusion that Michael Voris is perfect by any stretch of the imagination however, I see no reason why you would criticise him (even if it is well thought out criticism). You need all the help your organisation can get. You are 'up against it' with the Bishops and I see no clamour for a return for Latin masses by the majority of the Church goers I come across. I would have thought that with his high profile you would have considered him an ally. I have gone through some of his back catalogue and he certainly seems to be supportive of your cause.

    Have you shot yourself in the foot with this post? Just a thought. I'd like to know what you thought.

  5. Christine11:55 pm

    <span>"The Blessed Eucharist is THE Sacrament. Baptism exists FOR it, all the others are enriched by it."</span>
    <span>--Theology For Beginners, by Frank J. Sheed.</span>

    I think you may have misunderstood the point of Voris's talk. He never said give up ALL recreation; he explicitly said consider an activity you do daily, or frequently--an activity that takes up much of your time--and then offer it up as a sacrifice. Yes, it was a challenge, a bold challenge to many of us who already feel as if we are devout Catholics doing the best we can. It forced me to examine my own life and ask--am I really doing the best I can?

    Voris spoke of the apostolic zeal of the early martyrs--do we have such zeal today? He talked about the purpose of a candle--to be entirely spent, expended, consumed in producing light. And our souls--are they not created to be expended wholly and entirely to save souls? A very direct message--but one repeated by countless saints, who did indeed exhaust themselves for souls. Are we doing the same?

  6. Joseph Shaw10:10 am

    Interesting Sheed was the source of this idea. It doesn't sound any more plausible in Sheed's mouth. However Voris' way if putting it was was less nuanced and more clearly erroneous.
    Many saints wore themselves out with apostolic work. I'd be interested to hear that any of them said that the laity should do the same. Certainly many of them said that they had been excessive in their penances and warned others not to overdo it. We don't all have the same vocation.

  7. Joseph Shaw10:12 am

    In many ways he is an ally. So he needs carefully considered criticism from basically friendly sources, like everyone else.

  8. Christine1:13 pm

    I agree that we are not all called to go out preaching the faith to thousands. Evangelism can take many forms; for most of us, it involves going faithfully about our daily duties at work, home, school, what have you, and sharing the love of Christ with whomever God sends our way. I'm sure it's something you are already doing, as is clear from this blog.

    As a mother, I don't have a vocation to travel the world and preach--but I do have a vocation to raise my children, to teach them about the faith, to offer my sacrifices, interior and exterior, for souls, to pray, and simply to be faithful in my daily duties. I think one can save souls this way just as effectively as the greatest preacher in the world.

    I was grateful, though, that Voris challenged me to try to be even *more* effective; his message was not one of "Work more!" It was one of "Love more!"--love those souls who don't know Christ, and do what you can to save them. Surely, this is something you are already doing in your desire to propagate the extraordinary form mass and share the riches and treasures of our Catholic faith with so many today who have been robbed of it.

  9. Terry Carroll2:56 pm

    Just so no one is left with the impression that Michael Voris is "all work and no play," his devotion to Notre Dame football is second to none.  Michael does everything he can to attend EVERY home football game!  So he IS capable of taking a "time out" from apostolic zeal.

  10. Paul Smeaton5:23 pm

    I agree with much of what you've written. As I said on the pilgrimage, my main criticism of your post would be the suggestion that Michael is incapable of giving a coherent speech. He is. He admitted in the course of the speech that he does sometimes give what are effectively 'Catholic pep rallies'. I wanted his speech to be general so as to reach as wide an audience as possible. Of course, I'm sure Michael wouldn't mind your post as much of his talk focused on the fact that criticism and negativity are not necessarily the same thing. I'm sure he would be glad of you advice and his work would be enriched by the help of men such as yourself. And maybe our good friend Dr Lamont?