Last week, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz retired from the see of Lincoln, Nebraska. The new bishop there will be Bishop James Conley. His Excellency Bishop Conley sounds like he will be an epicly fantastic Episcopus and Pontifex. He was a student of the great John Senior, who was an humanities professor at the University of Kansas, and a colossus of Catholic culture.
I would just like to put down my two cents about His Excellency Bishop Bruskewitz.
Ecce Sacerdos Magnus
When I was fourteen, my family moved from South Carolina to Omaha, Nebraska. I started my freshman year at the Jesuit High School, Creighton Preparatory. I had home-schooled with the Seton program for eighth grade, and had been in Department of Defense schools all my life before that. My family had always been ardently Catholic, very involved in parish life, and devout at home, but this was my first real experience of 'Catholic Schools'.
My intro-to-Catholic-theology teacher was a woman who claimed to have an interdenominational ministerial license obtained on the internet. She was a member of Call to Action, and used their materials in her course. She showed us the film, In The Name of The Rose to teach us about Church history. She once, in class, discussing the diversity of 'styles' in the Church, used me publicly as an example of 'the orthodox' style, which, 'focused on dogma and law', and contrasted that to her own style, which was more free-thinking. Unfortunately she was also our "sex-ed" teacher; a course in which she collaborated with a lay teacher who later "came out" while being allowed to give a homily at an all-school Mass. Around this time, I first heard of Bishop of Bruskewitz when he excommunicated anyone in his diocese who was affiliated with Call to Action.
Bishop Bruskewitz EXCOMMUNICATED someone! This was beyond imagining to liberals who were still more than willing to ostracize a teenage boy in a religion class.
My teacher did not like Bishop Bruskewitz. Some of the waves from his indictment of Call to Action, which rippled into surrounding dioceses like ours, was that Creighton Prep asked my teacher to no longer use Call to Action materiel in her courses. This bold, almost Inquisitional stroke didn't stop her from using charts and graphs in slide-shows in which you could clearly read, "copyright Call to Action" at the bottom. Not "teaching" the content of these papers, she would silently make them available, in case we wanted statistics to support our desires for married priests, a 'grass-roots' church with a pie-chart, rather than pyramidal, style, or license for any carnal experiment a high schooler could conjure.
I had grown up on military bases, in DOD schools. I was friends with protestants and Catholics of any race and background. Our base chapel had very active Catholic and protestant communities, and since it was the eighties and nineties, I'm sure it was theologically 'diverse'. All of us, it seemed, lacked any awkward self-consciousness about any of this. It was in this Jesuit school that I can first remember being put on the defensive over my Catholic faith. I had never really been alienated from others because of my religion before. I had been far more at home with the protestants and Catholics of my childhood than I ever was at Creighton Prep, because at Prep, while for the most part they did not hate the Faith, they did not love it.
Contrary to popular propaganda, it is not 'orthodoxy' that forms young men and women into antagonism, militancy, and polemic. It's not really 'liberalism' that does this either.
It is lack of fatherhood and motherhood that forms young men and women into antagonism. That alienates them. Love is awakened in a child not when truths are presented to him, but when the vicars of truth are present with him. A prideful mind might love truth, but a soul being made whole loves its vicars.
The problem with Creighton Prep was, yes, it's heresies. But fundamentally it was its lack of fatherhood. We had no leader in Charity. There were teachers and clergy, yes, who were good teachers and priests, but no one confronted the culture in our school that was directionless, divisive, scattering, that is, diabolical.
Pope John Paul II was, to me, an unquestionably steadfast fighter for tradition and orthodoxy, but as for the immediate Church, here in the U.S., things were bleak. Isolated priests had to work in the catacombs-- hunted and martyred by the USCCB. The old monsignor who married my parents, and adhered to the traditional Mass after Vatican II, was exiled to the desert of New Mexico, and died, alone and exhausted in his vegetable garden. Priests who preached the Faith were shuffled from parish to parish to mitigate any offense the affluent urbanites might take.
As far as I could tell, it was Bishop Bruskewitz, and later, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, my own bishop in Omaha, who were fathers among bureaucrats.
It might be easy for us in two thousand and twelve to forget the nineties. Things today are hoppin! We've got the motu proprio and seminarians who are psychologically healthy! Seminary formators who are men, not inverts.
In nineteen ninety five, Nebraska was to America what Ireland was to Europe in the Dark Ages. People all over the country knew who Bruskewitz and Curtiss were. They were hated by the editors of the newspapers in Prep's library-- all of which I read-- "U.S. Catholic," "Commonweal," "America", and, "The National Catholic Reporter." Lincoln and Omaha were growing in priestly vocations, young guys who looked up to Archbishop Curtiss and Bishop Bruskewitz, and not just because they taught what was becoming trendy under Pope John Paul II, that is, 'orthodoxy', but because they were fathers, leaders of men and leaders in Charity.
Today it's too easy for us to act as though tradition and orthodoxy are a given. We're standing on the shoulders of giants like Bruskewitz. You might say, "oh so he founded a little seminary? his seminarians wore cassocks? What's the big deal?" But in nineteen ninety five this registered on the Richter scale! Their seminarians WORE CASSOCKS SOMETIMES. Do not forget, today, how disgusting this was to so many bishops! The Nebraska bishops believed in liturgy! That they thought there were objective standards to which priests should adhere in saying Mass was tantamount, to the teachers at my school, to burning a witch at a stake.
Bruskewitz was a true bishop of the Vatican II reforms by spearheading the institution of men as acolytes for his diocese. While the reform of minor orders after the council wasn't very clear, in Lincoln Bruskewitz avoided the haphazard and ill considered way in which it was done in most places. Opening up minor orders to laymen was a good reform by Pope Paul, and I always admired Bishop Bruskewitz for being a defender and pastor of true organic tradition.
The Church in the U.S. is pretty solidly pro-life today, and very vocal-- Thank God. Lest we get complacent, it pays sometimes to remember that even 15 years ago this was not so. Even that recently, the USCCB was maliciously weak in defending unborn life. Bishops Bruskewitz and Curtiss spoke out with passion in defense of unborn children. They prayed publicly at abortion clinics! This was epic for nineteen ninetyfive. It made young men revere them, and want the Faith they had. To serve the God of these men.
Looking back now, it might seem to you: ho-hum. It seems insane today, that they were so remarkable, but Bruskewitz and Curtiss believed in something, and that was a paradigm shift. They loved the Faith! They weren't encouraging us with vacuities, like, "follow your dreams!". Even holier, they weren't demanding personal loyalty. In being courageous, they were demanding loyalty not to themselves, but of themselves!
They were demanding that those who make claims upon Christ, namely, Christians, be faithful to Him and His claims upon them. They made young men want to follow them to God. They were the Bravehearts of the American episcopacy.
Bruskewitz became hated, the boogeyman of the heretics. They mocked and despised him, but it all seemed to bounce off his armor, or fly over his head. I can't remember him ever getting bogged down by countenancing the pettiness of envious liberals.
Curtiss, too, was hated by the liberals of Omaha. The Omaha World Herald formed a lasting hostility to him, trying to dog his heels, and turn his people against him. They both were impervious to it. I think this was at the heart of what made them so inspiring to the faithful: they preached Christ, and Him crucified. They weren't about personal loyalty to themselves, although they were loyal to their seminarians. I really think this is what the liberals, to their loss, missed about these two bishops: to those who were loyal to God, they, mighty bishops that they were, were utterly loyal. They were loyal to each person entrusted to their care by their God. They didn't shirk their responsibilities by flattering us, but they never judged us, either. To judge is to seperate, and they never were anything but loyal to their people.
They were inexorable, sometimes subtle, sometimes hard, but always with this inexorability.
It wasn't until about ninety ninety-nine that The Holy Father seemed to be having an effect on seminary vocations, and the "JPII" generation of seminarians began. Some seminaries jumped on the bandwagon and marketed themselves as 'pretty conservative'. But in the early and mid nineties things, to me, looked pretty bad. Creighton Prep and the USCCB were the banal face of our persecutors.
Although I'm not one of his seminarians anymore, and I have a new home and a new diocese, I still love Archbishop Curtiss. I'm sure Bruskewitz's seminarians feel the same about him. Life is so contingent, who can say what would have happened? But I feel sure that I could have lost my faith, in a very dark time, without that Vicar of Christ, my bishop, Elden Curtiss. He wasn't a perfect bishop, but he was our bishop. He was on our side, and he wanted the Church safe, and us safe in heaven. Christ gives us each specific and therefore rare opportunities to stand up for Him, and for me, in my life, it was my chance to be a seminarian for Archbishop Curtiss.
St. Catherine of Siena, in writing to the Pope, addressed him as, "Dad." I have always felt that way about Archbishop Curtiss, but of course he never would've let us call him that. Not even "The ABC" as we seminarians called him with honor, amongst ourselves.
Bishops today, if they need us to follow them, would do well to learn from Bruskewitz. Protect our Church! Let the laity do politics, let us raise money! You must be Bravehearts like Bruskewitz.
Thank God for these great men. Oh, thank God for Bruskewitz and Curtiss. Thank you, Bishops, for standing up for us when the graces given us were being squandered by bureaucrats. Thank you for letting the greatness of The Father be present in you, for being men, helping us to be men. Thank you for being our fathers.