ChantWorks presents Fear Not. Host Linda Hoffman speaks with Father James Altman.
Transcript: Fear Not interview. Linda Hoffman with Father James Altman. Father Altman is a Catholic priest who received attention in 2020 after appearing in a viral YouTube video. After a dispute over his comments with Bishop William P. Callahan, Altman was later prohibited from celebrating Mass publicly in 2021. This show was recorded June 30, 2022.
Linda Hoffman: What is a Catholic?
For centuries church and state have been agreed on one thing. Regular Mass attendance is a pretty good indicator that a person is a Catholic. For the state, one who professed the faith, but not publicly in worship, posed no danger. For the Church, beliefs not expressed in regular Eucharistic worship were empty.
“It is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that the work of our redemption is accomplished,” states the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows.”
Now there’s something we can all agree on, both church and state. The liturgy is a source of great power. As such, a Sabbath obligation for Catholics. It is a gift upon which much has been written and for which many have died, including only weeks ago in Nigeria.
I’ve attended Mass in places around the world where there were credible threats of attack on the worship service. Those conditions certainly change what you think about as you walk through the doors of church. They clear the mind, you might say. And it’s interesting how those particular Masses were always well attended.
All to say: Missing Mass is a big deal. A mortal sin in fact. And because the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is not of this earth, Catholics have long and regularly walked toward the fire, so to speak, placing themselves in physical harm’s way to attend because, well, the cost-benefit analysis is most assuredly weighted toward Christ’s promise of salvation. A no brainer as they say in business.
Today we speak to someone who knows about walking toward the fire. My husband and I met Father James Altman from our living room couch one Sunday morning. We were in stage five “virtual Mass” fatigue.
Suddenly from our television screen, Father Altman said the quiet part out loud. It was like getting oxygen right before losing consciousness. First, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you, to you Father Altman, for your courage. Your words were light in darkness. Welcome to the show.
Father James Altman: Thank you very much. I, people say nice things like what you just said and the only thing I can say about that, cause I don’t look at myself in the high praise that people seem to give, is that Jesus gave a parable about the unprofitable servant where he said, after you’ve done all you’re supposed to do you say I’m still an unprofitable servant because you’ve only done what you’re supposed to do. And so when you when you say those nice things about what I was doing or still would be doing, I think that’s the minimum. So, I don’t, I mean, thank you for those nice and kind words, but when I stand before Jesus our Lord, he’s going to say, “Well, alright, you did what you’re supposed to do, but are you really profitable? And so I, each day strive to do more that I’m supposed to do.
Linda Hoffman: So let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start at the beginning. You went from family law attorney to priest. Seems like a natural course to me… Fill in the blanks for us.
Father James Altman: I always make the joke that I have a lot of penance to do. So, listen, I love the law. I love law school. I taught hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits—how to do legal research. I taught—the school paid me to do this and it’s how I helped put my way through law school. And I would seem to be amongst, I counted them once, it was like 350 or so, I seemed to be the only one that loved law school. I loved it. It was because you get conflict in these cases, the most beautiful—they would choose the most representative, the most demonstrative of bringing resolution in the midst of conflict. And that to a heart of a person who tries to heal, who tries to, I mean that must be who I am.
I love reading every case as they resolve things. Well, then you get on to the real life in a practice you find out that it’s disillusioning because lawyers know that the more they stir the pot, the more they don’t resolve the case, the more money they make. And that was very difficult for me to deal with on a regular basis. But one of things I ended up having to do in this family law dysfunction area was… I had the Our Lady of Guadalupe on my wall in my office and I tried to fix—that’s a guy thing, too, I guess. We want to fix something. But it’s like Humpty Dumpty, sometimes all the king’s horses, all the king’s men, cannot put that marriage, that relationship back together again. And so then you just try and stop the bleeding, and in particularly with regard to the children, who are… For five years, roughly, I was Circuit Court magistrate for two counties, and I’d have to listen to these couples and their attorneys arguing about such things as custody, visitation and support. And then I have to interview the little kids who’d be in my office crying because they don’t, whoever they say they want to go with they think the other one’s going to hate them, right?
These parents put these kids through hell. And anyway, so what I was able to do was minimize, stop the bleeding. But you can’t really heal. You can just stop the bleeding. And then it turned out that—gosh—25 percent of the caseload ended up being a part of a contract with the county for neglect-abuse cases, and when I say neglect-abuse, I mean every kind of abuse you could possibly think of. So, I did the math once, because that’s what I do. I do my research, right? And it turns out there’s a slightly higher percentage of girls born than boys, and I applied the math to it all. Anyway, it worked out to be roughly a million victims a year.
But what I saw, the abuse that I saw, you could stop the bleeding. You could take that kid out of the house. But what I couldn’t do is, I couldn’t heal the children. And as a priest, you bring God’s healing into every broken aspect of our lives—sometimes with greater or lesser success. But some wounds are lifetime, you know, if you get into a car accident because you’re drunk and you lose an arm, let’s say, the arm doesn’t grow back. If you been abused as a child, sexually, you’re wounded for life.
You can learn to live with it, but you’re wounded for life. And it affects, for the rest of your life, such things as you have to leave a light on at night cause you’re afraid of who might come in the door. You can’t get over those things.
I didn’t know. But now I do and I know it because I worked with it for a dozen years before I entered the priesthood. And then I sit in the confessional, and you hear people, sometimes in their 70s and 80s coming in, and all the sudden they break down in tears and they say, “I’ve never told anybody this, but they know that I love them because I love my family, and they finally felt loved enough to talk to the one person who could bring healing into their lives. And that’s why it’s important to be a priest, to be a real father that feeds his children. Because when they know that you love them, they can tell you the core of their heart. And then you as a minister of Christ can bring in that that healing.
So that’s the difference between an attorney who can stop the bleeding and priest who can bring the healing—the healing power of love, the healing power of our Lord who is love.
So, I did the math once, and I’d been on the planet for 1 billion with a “b,” 300 million seconds, roughly, and so what I’m about to describe to you is less than 10 seconds. I got dragged up, against my will, to an ordination in Marquette, Michigan. So, I said okay, but I wasn’t going to drive, and a dear friend of mine who ran the adoration Chapel with me went—he is now a priest for the order of Canons Regular, same as Bishop Athanasius Schneider. In fact, Athanasius Schneider is the one that ordained him. I was down at his ordination in Brazil.
Anyway, so he drove. We went up there and got there an hour early as you have to do. And I sat there in the very last occupied pew, cause that’s where I always sat in church. I used to sit in the ushers’ chairs, you know, like you know like the pews are there, and the ushers always sit in them? So, I used to sit in them and finally they got mad at me. So, they said, “If you’re going to sit there, we’re going to put you to work.” So that’s how it all started, being an usher, then a lecture, and then an extraordinary minister, which I was never comfortable doing then—now look at me.
Anyway, I sat in the last occupied pew and then Mass began, a normal Mass, like a confirmation or anything like that. And then in the middle of it, of course, then the bishop takes a seat and he puts it right there in the middle of the sanctuary, and then there’s a homily, and then comes time for the Litany of Saints, where everybody lays flat down on the floor, right—the people who are going to be ordained. And that happened and I thought, hey, that’s just like it is in the pictures. So, I was amazed that it actually does happen.
And then, of course, there comes that moment where after that’s all done, at one point the man goes up and kneels in front of the bishop and the bishop lays his hands on the man’s head. Someone told me recently that’s an equivalency of putting the crown of thorns on your head. Well, if you’re truly, it makes sense, that explanation for the fathers who will be fathers to their children. But anyway… so, I thought, again I thought, wow it’s just like it is in the pictures. That’s exactly what I saw. But here’s what I didn’t know. And if you’ve not been to one you would know this either—that after the bishop gets done laying on the hands—by the way that’s called Semikhah. It dates back to Moses’s day in the origination of the Sanhedrin, the 70 where they laid hands on them. So it’s not some crazy Catholic thing we do. It’s 3,400 years old.
Well, anyway what I didn’t know is that right after that, that one by one every single priest present in the sanctuary comes up and he lays hand silently on the priest and prays. And I was blown away. And then all the choir started in at this point with that great Taizé Chant called Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit. And if you’ve ever heard that, it’s profound. I think sometimes it’s German and… Then the trumpet, we have the greatest Cathedral choir, the trumpets started coming, and right there in this moment—and here comes the 10 seconds or less—as I’m stunned by all this, I felt a great weight come down on me. Just a crushing weight. Now I don’t know how else to describe it except a crushing weight like you’re crushed. And then heat, an intense heat, so much so that my whole soul cried out, What!
You don’t, you don’t know what’s happening, and then I heard a voice of Divine Love say, just as we spoke—you know when God speaks to you, he’s going to speak in words that you understand. He’s not going to speak to me, well, at that point, Latin, I wouldn’t have understood, or Swahili. He said this to me: You’re supposed to be up there. That was it. And when you hear the voice of Divine Love, there are no, again, there’s no words.
All I can say is Pentecost. Between the weight, almost like the tongues of fire, and then this voice of Divine Love and in that less than 10 seconds, after being on the planet for 1,300,000,000 seconds, I knew my life was over and I was… I started to cry, you know like the tough old lawyer, there I am, crying in the back of the chu… All my friends are like, what’s wrong with you? I still don’t know why. I knew, well, that’s what it would have taken for me to suddenly alter course. To, to go to this, which was… it wasn’t even a neutral.
This was a negative because it meant no intimacy, no children. So this was like a big minus. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me the seminary. But the voice of Divine Love for less than 10 seconds could. So that’s why I entered the seminary.
The short story is simply that.
Linda Hoffman: It’s said that the Ten Commandments are the world’s best summary of Natural Law. Do you agree and why is this important?
Father James Altman: Right. Somebody said, one of the great things that I’ve experienced is that a lot of people send me really helpful things like memes. Memes are, you know, a picture, sometimes just words, sometimes both pictures and words. And they just sent me one—oh I wish I had it with me. It’s on my phone somewhere. But it said this: A man makes like millions of laws, but until we go back to the only ten God made, we’re just toast. That’s the essence of what the meme was. You gotta get back to the original 10. All these other laws aren’t going to matter one bit.
They encompass the natural law in those 10. Something so simple as, honor your father and your mother, which anyone… I’m 63 now, right, and my parents, I’ll always be their baby. Right, that’s what, well, they say that to all the kids, my brothers and sisters. You know the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus gave, right? Do you know that’s not the way it ended in the original Jewish parable? Do you know this? So, okay, so you know, we teach kids, parables are teaching things, right, teaching tools. So, we teach kids not to lie, we use the parable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, right? Cause he lies, and he keeps lying, suddenly they don’t believe him anymore. Then the wolf comes and he eats him because the townspeople don’t come because he’s the boy who cried wolf.
Well, the Jews had a parable about—I don’t think they called it the Prodigal Son, but it was… because prodigal means an overabundance of like love and giving, so it’s really the prodigal father. But anyway, this teaching parable was to teach kids to honor your father and your mother, and the consequences if you don’t. And so when Jesus started into this parable every Jew there that day knew how the story was going to end because in the original parable that son, who takes his third of his father’s wealth, which was his retirement basically—you don’t take it until he dies because that’s what he’s going to live on. So, by the way, when I was little, I thought killing somebody was the worst thing I could do. And that is pretty bad, right? But it’s the fifth commandment. Almighty God put the fourth commandment before the fifth commandment—honor your father and your mother, which is really telling what he thinks about this commandment. Well, the Jews would try to teach their kids, they used this parable, the son takes his father’s money and he goes off and he spends it on wine, women and song. And then he, you know, the story goes, he’s, suddenly, he’s bereft of all and he doesn’t even have enough food to eat. So he goes back to his father and he says I’ve, at least if I’m a slave for my father I’ll get something to eat.
So he went back for imperfect contrition, right? Not fear of heaven, pains of hell. Loss of heaven, pains of hell. Not because he loved his dad. So he comes back, he goes all the way up to his father, falls on his knees and says, “Father, I’m not worthy of you. I’ve sinned against God, against you. I’m not worthy to be called your son. Let me just be like a slave on your property and at least I’ll have something to eat.”
And in the Jewish parable then, notice the son came all the way to the father, and then the father looks at the son and says, “Son.” He didn’t say, “Son.” He said, “You are dead to me. Get off my property and I never want to see you again. Don’t darken my doorstep again.” So the lesson to the little Jewish kids was, don’t dishonor your father and your mother, or, you know, out you go.
Watch when Jesus starts telling this parable, and they know how the story ends. And then all of a sudden, you know in Jesus’ parable, the father’s standing on the porch and he looks way down the road and there he sees the son coming and the father runs to the son, right away. The Jews know, hey, wait a minute. There’s a change up here. That’s not how it goes. Because in their culture, the lower person ran to the higher person. In order to even run, when you’ve got the big robes on—like I understand this, just try to walk up the stairs in a cassock. You’ve got a kind of lift it up. You have to hitch it up so you can run, so, for the father to run to the son, he had to lift his robe up so he didn’t trip as he runs to the son. This is completely off the charts in the Jewish culture for him to do this. And the Jews are immediately thinking, that is not the way the story goes.
So then, so he gets to his son, right? And the son tries to start the apology, and the father cuts him off. He doesn’t even let him finish it. He says, “New ring on his finger. Shoes on his feet,” which meant that he could go into, you know, when your parents, when you’re going to, hey, take off your shoes, take off your muddy shoes, leave them at the door. Don’t go trekking through the house, right? Well, the kids could, in the culture could, were the ones who could come into the house with their shoes on; slaves, whatever, servants had to take them off. “Put new shoes on his feet, clothes on him, and let’s throw a major celebration here. Kill the fatted calf because—now watch—my son who was dead now lives.” It’s completely opposite to what the father in the original parable said.
So, remember, the older brother there gets all mad, right? He won’t even come in the house and the dad has to now go out to the other son. And he says, “Son, everything I, don’t complain, everything I have is yours,” which is what God is telling us. Everything—paradise is mine and it’s yours, right? If you just turn back—metanoia—to turn back to me and say you’re sorry. I wouldn’t let you get the whole apology out, just say you’re sorry, right? And then he says to the son, to the older son, “Do not understand? Your brother was dead, but now he lives.” You see, that’s what confession does for us. We’re dead to sin, but now we live. That was the whole lesson that Jesus tried to teach that day—the infinite love of the father, in his infinite forgiveness, even for imperfect contrition.
He didn’t use a murderer, number five. He didn’t use an adulterer, number six. Although that son certainly did some stuff he shouldn’t have been doing. He didn’t use a bank robber. He used somebody that dishonored his father and the mother, which was to the Jew, then the greatest sinner you could be. And he flipped it on its head. Turned it all around, and said, “No, you just come back to me and you’re forgiven,” right?
So, if we just followed those 10 commandments, like we’re supposed to—it’s not like we don’t know what it means. I mean, the gospel answers every question to every commandment. It answers it, so we only need the 10. If we would just live up to them and the spirit of what they mean, that’s the real spirit of our Lord, the real Holy Spirit. If we just follow those 10 commandments, but we’re not, so what we do is—you know who said this really good? It was Cardinal Newman. He said, “We spend most of our lives trying to please ourselves just enough to not displease God,” like we’re pushing the envelope, right? I’ll do this. God’s only going to get this mad. I don’t want to get him this mad, cause then, you know, then he might punish me. So, I’ll only get him this mad and I’ll indulge myself up until the point where I think he’s really gonna get mad. That’s not the approach.
If you love somebody, you don’t say, well, I’m going to please that somebody this much. You know, and please myself the rest of the way. No. You’re prodigal in your pleasing of the one you love, as our Father’s prodigal with us. But most people don’t do that, and so, you have to have all these laws that regulate our behavior because we have proven through 4,000 years of human history, we aren’t capable of following the 10.
Adam and Eve had one. They couldn’t even follow that one. They had everything, right? They were in the garden, they had everything, except one thing. Just don’t eat the fruit of that one forbidden tree there. They had everything. They had dominion over all creatures, right? So I like to make the joke that if I want to lay down and take a nap and this a lion over here, which I knew wouldn’t eat me because I have dominion over the lion. Let’s say he was roaring as lions do, and I could tell that lion, “Hey, get out of here. I’m trying to take a, I’m trying to sleep here.” So remember when God came? They knew it was God. They knew… they feared nothing, right, because they had dominion. I don’t care if it was a T Rex coming at them. They weren’t worried that the T Rex was going to eat them like in that movie, but when he heard God coming, they knew it was God, and they ran and hid, which tells us a couple things. One, that that is not the first time they met God. Right? Cause they knew it was him coming. They didn’t think it was T Rex or a rhinoceros or an elephant or a great blue whale. They knew it was God.
And then they ran and hid because they knew—they had one, one commandment and only one. And they blew that. So now we have 10. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that we violate the ten. So, all these millions of laws that man have. They are of no avail because we can’t even follow the 10. And in fact what we try and do is we try to pretend that the writer of the 10 doesn’t exist, right? Can’t have God. Can’t have those 10 commandments.
Do you know, for the first hundred 174 years of our Republic, it was Constitutional, 100 percent, to have prayer in public schools, to have the 10 Commandments displayed? One hundred and seventy-four years, completely Constitutional. All of a sudden, these godless, diabolical people on Supreme Court, unelected, their opinion, and that’s all it was. It was an opinion. Oh, the Constitution, no, that’s not Constitutional. Says who buddy? It was Constitutional, from the greatest minds in the American founders, and Supreme Court for 174 years. Who do you think you are?
We let them get away with it. We didn’t tar and feather them and run them out of town, did we? We let them pull that stunt on us. So, now the 10 Commandments—out of sight, out of mind. Right? This is completely diabolical. Satan is cackling with glee that there’s no more 10 Commandments anywhere. You can’t even… look at what the Supreme Court just did, what, this week. The court said, “No, that guy can pray with those kids.” You darn right he can. That’s perfectly Constitutional. Anyway, sorry I…
Linda Hoffman: The trail that we have, look at the, it’s no wonder, speaking of the law and faith—it’s no wonder we have so many Catholics on the Supreme Court. Things are straightening out.
Father James Altman: I was on the, what is it, Lifesite News yesterday I think it was. And I think it was Jett Massey, may it was Elizabeth Yore said, “Let’s not think of it so much as, well, they’re Catholic because then, of course, the majority of people are Protestant and anti-Catholic, and they’d say, yeah, it’s just those darn Catholics.” What they had was a, rather than being, approaching it like, I’m Catholic, therefore I’m going to rule in this way. What they said was, this is what the Constitution actually says, and we’re going to follow the Constitution, which has preserved and protected our rights, and made us a strong Republic for 200 and, or whatever it is now, 76 and 20… well, 89 was the Constitution, 1789, so that’s 211 and 20, 240 years roughly, 242, forty-three—that they were Constitutionalists.
You can be a complete pagan and still follow the Constitution and say what it says. And so they, thanks be to God. It’s not this person who sits as a—in essence, they like to put themselves out there like they’re almost like an infallible god themselves. You see, that’s the error, isn’t it? That’s the Russian error. Government is god, not God.
Linda Hoffman: That is a wrap. Great show. I hope we can have you back, Father.
Father James Altman: Thank you. Anytime. Well, anytime I can. As long as you still have electricity.
Linda Hoffman: Thank you. Well, it is California. Mass attendance is down 14 percent and falling since COVID lockdowns. Lest we forget, in 2004 then Cardinal Ratzinger foresaw a “Catholic Church that would become smaller, lose more privileges, be more humble and authentic, and find energy for the essential.” Pope Francis recently referred to Pope Benedict the 16th as a prophet of this church and of the future.
I truly look forward to getting to a place where we find energy for the essential. Thanks for joining us today. I’m Linda Hoffman. Look for our next exciting episode of Fear Not.
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A ChankWorks Production
Host: Linda Hoffman
Executive Producer: Andrew Nicks
Guest selection and coordination: Linda Graber and Diana Silva
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