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Monday, August 29, 2022

THE CONVERSION OF SHIA LABEOUF: A Triumph of the Obvious

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THE CONVERSION OF SHIA LABEOUF: A Triumph of the Obvious

Perhaps you have never been to this website before, but were drawn here by the question “What are these traditionalists all about?”  Perhaps you were under the impression that we are a radical fringe group, the “Catholic Taliban” as some have called them—yet another epithet in an age where epithets have taken the place of reasoned discourse.

Delve into the origin and history of the traditionalist “movement,” however, and you will learn what the movement is at its core: simply and only an embrace of truth, goodness and beauty in the religion whose Founder is the very source of the transcendentals. You will find that traditionalism is nothing other than an embrace of what is instantly apparent to a mind unimpaired by pride and thus ready to receive the transcendent when suitably presented.  Quite simply, traditionalism is an acceptance of what is obvious in religion to the open mind.  As the Jewish convert Edith Stein put it after spending a night reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila: “This is the truth.” 

Take the case of another convert, Shia LaBeouf.  Born of a Cajun father and a Jewish mother, he had a Bar Mitzvah  and was baptized as a child to make both sides of his family happy. Unchurched and irreligious, his increasing fame as an actor led him down the typical path of drug abuse, the abuse of women, and petty criminal convictions.  His religious life, such as it was, followed a tortuous path from Judaism, to the rejection of all religion as senseless, to the declaration (in 2014) that he had become “a Christian man” in the process of working on the World II film Fury.  All the while, the public scandals in which he had embroiled himself were leading him to the brink of suicide: “I had a gun on the table.  I was outta here.”

LaBeouf levels an exquisite (perhaps inadvertently) ironic indictment of the “liturgical reform” of the past sixty years: It is the New Mass, not the “old” Mass, that is aridly intellectual and devoid of feeling.

Then came an offer to play the role of Padre Pio in the film biography of the saint soon to appear in theatres.  LaBeouf had a first regarded the opportunity egotistically as a way to save his career. But as he recounts in  a lengthy interview with Bishop Robert Barron, his religious study for the role, and in particular his encounter with the Latin Mass—“Pio’s Mass” as he calls it—led to his conversion to Catholicism:

Latin Mass affects me deeply—deeply. Because it feels like they’re not selling me a car. And when I go some Mass with the guitars and stuff—and I from Santa Inez, that’s where I was catechized—and there’s a lot of guitar-playing, and there’s a lot of what feels like they’re trying to sell me on an idea. 

Whereas what I felt when I went to Oakland… Christ the King in Oakland does a Latin Mass every day of the week. And it feels like it’s not being done to sell me on anything. And it feels almost like I’m being let in on something very special.

And the quiet… activates something in me that feels like I found something …. When you find it, then you root for it. It feels like this special thing that you found. And you protect it, and you hold it, and it’s yours.  When somebody’s selling me on something, it somehow takes my—it kills my aptitude for it, my suspension of disbelief, and my yearnings to root for it.

In response to this testimony, Bishop Barron made the obligatory post-Vatican II effort to cast aspersions on the traditional Mass as “too much of a theater performance” as opposed to the “full conscious active participation” supposedly ushered in by the New Mass, so that “the congregation is not just watching a show…” As if Holy Mother Church had foisted a dead liturgy on the faithful for nearly 2,000 years, only to awaken to what the liturgy should be in 1965.  Commentators like Barron never seem to notice the devastating implications of their banal criticisms of the Latin Mass.

But LaBeouf, however politely, was having none of it:

There’s a certain language where I don’t need to know the words, which is what I feel when I watch Pio’s Mass.  I know what’s going on.  I feel it deeply.  It almost feels more powerful than when I know every single word.  It takes me out of the realm of the intellectual and puts me squarely in the realm of the feeling and the beauty thing that you talk about.

Here LaBeouf levels an exquisite (perhaps inadvertently) ironic indictment of the “liturgical reform” of the past sixty years: It is the New Mass, not the “old” Mass, that is aridly intellectual and devoid of feeling; a rationalistic deconstruction of our bimillenial Latin liturgical patrimony and its replacement by a cobbled-together assembly of bits and pieces of the superficially obvious—e.g., “the Word of the Lord!”—leaving behind what was profoundly obvious in the depths of one’s soul in the encounter with the Mass of the Ages, which was “Pio’s Mass.”

Barron advocates the Mass of Goldilocks: that old Mass is too rigid, but the new Mass is too lax.  What we need is a Mass that’s just right.” 

Confronted by LaBeouf’s witness—the objective testimony of a newly arrived observer on the scene of the post-conciliar liturgical catastrophe—Bishop Barron backpedaled to an admission that, as Joseph Campbell observed of the New Mass, it resembled nothing so much as “a cooking demonstration… I get his point. It’s kind of the point you’re making.  If it becomes too obvious, too rationalized—too, ‘Hey, everybody, here’s what’s going on!”—it does take something away, from the experience, from the mystique of it….”

To which LaBeouf responded by reaffirming his polite indictment of the New Mass as a rationalistic invention versus the wholeness of the experiential encounter one has with the Latin Mass:

When you put me in this rationalistic, logical—word, word, word, word, word; plot, plot, plot, plot, plot—it takes me out of the feeling realm, whereas Latin Mass puts me squarely in the feeling realm, cause I can’t argue the word, cause I don’t know what the word means. So, I’m just left with this feeling, that feels sacred and connected. 

And really what hindered my—I was never an atheist.  I was always an agnostic, even when I was a Sam Harris, Ted Talk, Christopher Hitchens guy—which is who I was, before I fell in.  I always had a belief, but I never had like a connection. Latin Mass gave me something like where I felt connected, which took me out of [merely rational] belief into connection

Unwilling to concede the point entirely, however, Barron offered the usual neo-Catholic musing on the endless post-conciliar search for the liturgical reform the Council was supposed to have envisioned: “The challenge to me is trying to find a way to honor all these things we’re talking about. And the liturgical wars going on are often people on both sides seeing good things in their approach. But it’s trying to find the place where they can all find expression.”  

More banality, tossed off with no thought to its damning implications for the Church. Barron advocates the Mass of Goldilocks: that old Mass is too rigid, but the new Mass is too lax.  What we need is a Mass that’s just right.”  As if the Church has been stumbling around in the dark for two millennia and is still trying to find the proper way to worship God.

What LaBoeuf has encountered in the traditional Latin Mass, on the other hand, is exactly what the “liturgical reform” has spectacularly failed to achieve by mere human effort: a clear and compelling presentation of the divine mysteries.

The vulgarian dictator who now occupies the Chair of Peter never ceases to denounce the imaginary “neo-Pelagianism” of traditionalists. But nothing could be more Pelagian than Barron’s notion of the liturgy as a human project seeking a peace treaty between two sides in a liturgical war—a war that was launched precisely by a Pelagian attempt to impose upon the Church a human reconstruction of the received and approved form of Mass in the Roman Rite, a work of the Holy Ghost down through the ages and the liturgical foundation of Western civilization. 

With good reason did Cardinal Ratzinger describe the new liturgy just as LaBeouf perceives it:

The liturgical reform, in its concrete realization, has distanced itself even more from its origin. The result has not been a reanimation, but devastation. In place of the liturgy, fruit of a continual development, they have placed a fabricated liturgy. They have deserted a vital process of growth and becoming in order to substitute a fabrication. They did not want to continue the development, the organic maturing of something living through the centuries, and they replaced it, in the manner of technical production, by a fabrication, a banal product of the moment.

What LaBoeuf has encountered in the traditional Latin Mass, on the other hand, is exactly what the “liturgical reform” has spectacularly failed to achieve by mere human effort: a clear and compelling presentation of the divine mysteries, transcending mere words and reaching immediately the depths of the soul, where it has raised up generations of saints and converted the world to Christ.  (This is not to suggest that the words of the traditional liturgy are not crucial to safeguarding the mysteries they represent. And, of course, without the precise words of the Consecration, uttered by Our Lord Himself, there would be no Mass at all.)

The Church still appears in her spiritual substance in the same Mass the very sight of which converted Shia LaBeouf, even if he did not understand the words.

“I need a Polaroid picture of God. Catholicism gives it to me,” said LaBoeuf to Barron.  How ironic indeed that, in the fresh eyes of this new convert, it is the New Mass, not the old, that comes in for criticism as having obscured the clarity of the divine image in the Church.  To quote the future Pope Benedict XVI again:

I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter any more whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us.

But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual substance

We traditionalists know the answer to Cardinal Ratzinger’s burning question. For like every other proposition traditionalists defend in the midst of the post-conciliar ecclesial crisis, the answer is obvious:  The Church still appears in her spiritual substance in the same Mass the very sight of which converted Shia LaBeouf, even if he did not understand the words—indeed, precisely because he did not understand the words but rather had to enter, body and soul, into the experience of something that is beyond mere words. 

Even a theological deconstructionist like Catherine Pickstock can see that the liturgy alone is beyond human deconstruction, and is thus “After Writing.”  And so it came to pass that it fell to her to propose to Cardinal O’Connor, during a visit to New York, that he should restore the traditional Latin Mass to its rightful place in New York City.  One commentator recounts the episode:

Now, here is some history that I don't think has been put into print. For the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Cardinal O'Connor, had already heard that this phenom [Pickstock] was in town. So when we all went to Mass that Sunday, he was very excited to meet her. When they met, Pickstock and he spoke and spoke, but at some point she said gently to him: “I understand that you do not have the Tridentine form of the Missal at this Cathedral Would you consider permitting it?”

His response came immediately: “Absolutely. Consider it done.” Then...to everyone’s amazement ... it was done.

By which the author means the groundbreaking Latin Mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral that Cardinal O’Connor allowed on May 12, 1996, offered by the late Cardinal Alfons Stickler, which I had the privilege to attend with my wife, Wendy, and our children in the packed Cathedral. Behind us sat Peter Steinfels, religious affairs writer for the New York Times, whose article on the event quoted me as follows:

This is the restoration of our liturgical home,” said one worshiper, Christopher A. Ferrara, a 44-year-old lawyer from West Caldwell, N.J., who heads a public-interest law firm that aids Catholics involved in anti-abortion campaigns and other public controversies. “You can’t go into someone’s home and remove the furniture and everything else without disorienting everyone,” he said, “but that’s what happened with our liturgical home 30 years ago.”

The faithful would have wait to another eleven years, until July 7, 2007, for Pope Benedict to liberate the Latin Mass from its false imprisonment with yet another statement of the obvious: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”

Only God knows whether Shia LaBoeuf’s conversion will show itself to be real and lasting. Let us never forget that not only he, but each of us, must persevere “until the end.”

The current occupant of the Chair Peter has had the supreme audacity to overrule his still-living predecessor by “repealing” Summorum Pontificum as if it were part of Vatican City’s motor vehicle code—a supremely Pelagian act by the hound of traditionalist neo-Pelagians. But Bergoglio’s brutish abuse of power cannot obscure the obvious truth about the sacred liturgy that captivated LaBoeuf and renders the Latin liturgical tradition ultimately immune from the whims of dictators, even those who connive to ascend to the papacy.

Only God knows whether Shia LaBoeuf’s conversion will show itself to be real and lasting. Let us never forget that not only he, but each of us, must persevere “until the end.” (Matt. 24:13).  But there is no denying the sincerity of his witness at this moment in his life.  And there is no more sincere witness than that of one who comes to the Faith after having “walked out of hell,” as he put it to Bishop Barron.

Consider the conversion of Shia LaBeouf a triumph of the obvious over the obscurantism of “the insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants” who have overrun the Church at every level since the Council, to borrow the phrase of Pope Saint Pius X respecting the deluded visionaries of a brave new Church in a brave new world of universal brotherhood, which they now call “The Great Reset.”  With hope in divine Providence, we traditionalists know it is only a matter of time—God’s time—before what it is obvious to us becomes obvious to the whole Church once again.

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Last modified on Monday, August 29, 2022
Christopher A. Ferrara

Christopher A. Ferrara: President and lead counsel for the American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Mr. Ferrara has been at the forefront of the legal defense of pro-lifers for the better part of a quarter century. Having served with the legal team for high profile victims of the culture of death such as Terri Schiavo, he has long since distinguished him a premier civil rights Catholic lawyer.  Mr. Ferrara has been a lead columnist for The Remnant since 2000 and has authored several books published by The Remnant Press, including the bestseller The Great Façade. Together with his children and wife, Wendy, he lives in Richmond, Virginia.