Waiting for the Apocalypse

Source: Veronica Chater, Waiting for the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Faith and Family (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009) 237.

The Group had the spirit of True Catholicism. The group was Catholicism. They were the phoenix sprung up from the embers of the post-Vatican II pile of rubble. And their leader was a kind of prophet; a witness. God had promised Zerubbabel, the prince of Judah, two witnesses–one religious and one political–to the crimes committed by humanity against him and his Church. Archbishop Lefebvre was the religious witness. Now Dad had found the political one: Dr. Plinio. The Crusades of the twentieth century had begun. The war cry had been sounded.

Chater’s book is about her experience growing up in an ultra-conservative Catholic family. Her father, Lyle Arnold, Jr. (see here for some of his writings), was disappointed with Vatican II because of its non-opposition to Communism, its openness to Freemasonry, its ecumenicism, its relativism, and its abandonment of traditional Catholic customs. As a result, he carried his family to Portugal and back in search of a traditional Latin mass, and he was continually warning his children about Mary’s impending chastisement of the world for the sin of Vatican II, in fulfillment of the Lady’s third revelation to the children of Fatima, which the Catholic Church had kept a secret. According to Chater, her family believed that people would revert to medieval culture after the chastisement.

The quote above encapsulates Lyle’s perspective. He viewed Archbishop Lefebvre as a hero because he was one of the few dissenters from Vatican II, against such figures as Joseph Ratzinger, our current pope. While there are Catholics who think Benedict is too conservative, this gentleman doesn’t believe he’s conservative enough, as a perusal of his writings would indicate!

Chatel also talks as if there was a militaristic aspect to her father’s beliefs. Lyle sent his two boys to a Catholic boot camp, which would prepare them to be holy warriors for the traditional Catholic faith and against Communism. The priests at the services her family attended made sure a firearm was always nearby!

The book was a fun and educational read for a variety of reasons. First, as some of you may know, I attend a traditional Latin mass, though I have yet to see a priest carrying a firearm, plus the priest at my church actually speaks highly of Pope Benedict! The object of Lyle’s search is something I experience every week. Much of the service is in Latin. The priest’s back is to the congregation. There’s no passing of the peace. The women wear head-coverings. People are lined up for confession prior to the service. The priest promotes traditional customs, such as eating fish rather than meat on Fridays. So it was neat to see a correspondence between what the book was describing and my personal experiences.

Second, I actually kind of liked Lyle as I read this book. Although he carried his family through pretty bad experiences in his religious fervor, he wasn’t at all abusive to his children. When his daughter asked him about Vatican II, he freely laid out to her his perspective. He reminded me of Patti Davis’ description of Ronald Reagan: he loved giving lectures to his kids–about history, politics, religion–all sorts of heavy topics! And, although he held a lot of conspiracy theories, he had quite a body of knowledge–about history, religion, philosophy, and other areas. When he was planning to move his family to France and Portugal, he diligently sat in his personal study (the Womb) and listened to French and Portuguese tapes! He had a lot of interesting ideas, for he was skeptical about American egalitarianism, plus he sided with the South in his analysis of the Civil War. I was expecting to read that he thought Hitler was a heroic bulwark against Communism, but (fortunately) I was wrong, for he had a falling out with a friend who had Nazi sympathies. Reading Lyle’s views made the book worthwhile all by itself!

Third, the book got me thinking about the content of Christianity. I’ve encountered different brands of Christianity. Some proclaim justice for the poor. Some criticize abortion and homosexuality and view God as a Republican. Some focus on spirituality. Some are a combination of these elements. As far as I could see, Lyle’s Christianity was anti-Communist, socially conservative, and ritualistic. He believed that God was good, for he actually said to his daughter that eternal torment in hell must be a good thing because God is inherently good. But I didn’t see much in his theology about social justice or helping the poor. He did well to oppose godless Communism, an unjust system that killed millions of people. But I was disappointed not to see the poor somewhere in his religion, especially given their prominence in the Old and New Testaments. Maybe they’re in traditional Catholicism somewhere, but I haven’t encountered that theme yet. Or maybe I have and I don’t remember.

Fourth, the personal dimension of the book was captivating: the mother’s desire to hold the family together, the kids’ attempt to adapt to Portugal, Veronica struggling to survive after her father kicked her out of the house for sexual immorality, her discovery of a God of love as she was falling out of a tree, her brothers telling her about their bad experiences in Catholic boot-camp as they smoked a joint (which I do not endorse, but that’s what they did).

Fifth, I could identify with parts of the book because of my experience in Armstrongism, or, more accurately, the experiences of people I know in Armstrongism. “You don’t need to go to college because the chastisement is soon.” That sounds awfully familiar to you ex-Armstrongites, doesn’t it?! How about having church in unconventional places, like malls and garages? Or just appearing to be all-out weird to the rest of the world! Recovering Armstrongites may or may not know much about traditional Catholicism, but Veronica’s experiences would resonate with many of them.

Now let’s turn to the opening quote about the two witnesses. It stood out to me because Veronica grasped a nuance about them: that one is a religious leader, and the other is a political leader. That’s something I first heard from Fred Coulter (an Armstrongite), who postulated that the two witnesses would be a political leader and a priest, as Zerubbabel and Joshua were in the time of Zechariah.

I could go on about the two witnesses, but I may save that for another post, maybe tomorrow. Have a nice day!

Update: The link to Lyle’s articles doesn’t work, but I found them by googling “Lyle Arnold Jr.” Enjoy!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Books, Church, History, Life, Politics, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.