Monday, August 18, 2008


I've been thinking about Mark Shea's Inside Catholic piece from last week about angry traditionalists, especially given today's post following things up.

It's not that he doesn't have a point. I've encountered angry traditionalists, too, though clearly not as many as Mark has (and not as potentially violent, either). I've also encountered smug traditionalists, supercilious traditionalists, Novus-Ordo-trash-talking traditionalists, and almost-more-Catholic-than-the-pope traditionalists (though never more Catholic than the pope; those would be the sedevacantists).

But I know plenty of nice traditionalists, sane traditionalists, happy traditionalists, part-time-Novus-Ordo-attending traditionalists, peaceful traditionalists, and kind traditionalists.

In other words, the very word "traditionalist" doesn't necessarily conjure up images in my head of wild-eyed firebreathers ready to fight to the death over the number of inches of lace mandatory for the sleeve of a surplice, or of people who insist with a straight face that St. Peter prayed the Tridentine Mass, or of irrational types who really believe "their" Mass is better than "our" Mass, and who won't even take communion at Mass if there's any chance it was not consecrated by the TLM priest, but reserved from the earlier Novus Ordo Mass. It may mean any of those things, or it may mean none of them; it will depend on more information than the word alone gives me.

Because to me, the word "traditionalist," while descriptive, isn't a pejorative label.

I'm not going to say we shouldn't use labels in discussing people. We do it all the time. We refer to people by their relationship to us, by their religion, by their sports-team preferences, by their voting proclivities, by their reading habits, by their chosen way of life, and by so many other qualities that I can't possibly list them all. Labels are a kind of shorthand, a quick way to form a connection with someone or at least to understand where they're coming from. And most of the time in casual conversation, "Catholic" is one of those labels, as in, "My friend's cousin, you know, the Catholic Republican Yankees fan who reads philosophy books for fun and lives a block away from the Carmelite monastery--you know, the one with the funny glasses, who hates bean sprouts..."

And all of that is fine.

But what isn't fine, what troubles me, is that sometimes these labels seem to be used as a wall to keep us from seeing the humanity of the people on the other side of the words. I do it myself, on occasion. I say "Democrats," a bit sneeringly, though if I'm talking strictly of the party's operatives I hope I can be forgiven; but if I mean voters, then I mean people. And some of them, sure, are every bad thing I mean when I sneer: pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-government and heavy taxation party affiliates who hate unborn babies and the handicapped and traditional families and want America to be at the mercy of foreign governments and who think open borders is the answer to immigration and...but many, perhaps even most, of them aren't. Some of them pull that "D" lever because their family has always voted Democrat, and that's that. Some of them disagree strongly with the social issues but feel despair at the thought of voting Republican; some of them don't really understand the social issues, or believe they can ignore them in good conscience for some erroneous reason. And all of them, even the caricature ones, are people, immortal souls created in the image and likeness of God and for whom Christ would have died had they been the only ones on Earth.

And someone says "Angry traditionalists," maybe not sneeringly at all, but still in such a way that the words become a wall behind which the humanity of the Other is completely obscured; and someone else says "Happy-clappy N.O. Catholics" and the wall goes up again, until we can't see each other as fellow human souls at all, but walking billboards plastered with ugly labels that tell us Everything We Need to Know about the person on the other side.

Except they don't.

We don't know that the angry traditionalist is really still angry over the Scandal such that he can't set foot in a Novus Ordo parish without seeing in his mind's eye the horror of the abuse of children he knew by a guitar-playing priest he used to serve at the altar; we don't know that the Happy-Clappy N.O. Catholic almost had a nervous breakdown when she used to direct the choir, because the weekly fights over the music selection tore her down inside and made her feel diminished, as if her failure to realize that some song or other was going to be seen as an evil-heretical-agenda choice by a vocal group of parishioners somehow made her less than human, and less than worthy of God's love. We don't know from the labels that the woman who insists on chapel veils and looks down at women who won't wear them almost left her husband; we don't know that he doesn't know that, either, and that her radical submission to him on the matter of the veils is a symbol of the suffering she carries silently in a loveless marriage. We can't tell from the words that the man who closes his eyes and weeps a little whenever the priest uses Eucharistic Prayer Two is remembering his deceased child, who always loved the "easy to read" Canon in his little Mass-book, treasured by his father who misses him so much.

When we use labels to identify people, that's one thing. But when we use them to stop thinking of the people as people, that's something else entirely. The one helps us focus on the individual; the other shuts out individuality and shrouds people in the suffocating packaging marked "People We're Allowed to Despise."


Daddio said...

"...a symbol of the suffering she carries silently in a loveless marriage."

Wow. Do people really think that? It would have never crossed my mind. Now I'm paranoid that people assume I'm a dictator because I "force" her to wear a veil and my kids are perhaps "too" well-behaved...

For what it's worth, the veil was her idea and hers only.

I know that's not where you were going with this post, but you're making me nervous.

Anonymous said...

Finally, definitely agree.
Some of us prefer not to talk about issues inside, and thus let appearances 'seem' to do the talking.

Anonymous said...

It is easy to not like Mark Shea. It is easy to overlook the books and the good he has done/is doing for the Church. In my opinion, his blog and articles like this hurt him. Because there is the underlying issue of HE REALLY Doesn't CARE about the WHY..he just wants to poke fun at what he thinks is the obvious.
It is sad. And the way he continues to incite Traditionalists is even sadder.

freddy said...

I haven't commented on this tempest; it seems rather futile. My biggest problem with the whole thing is, in fact the labeling.

I agree that we need descriptions and distintions to make speech clear, but I really can't put my finger on what a traditionalist (or Traditionalist) is supposed to be.

Red, you describe yourself as, "I'm Catholic. Period. Not to be confused with "I'm Catholic, but..."

So am I.

The fact that I'm a member of a Latin Mass Community as well as a Parish, per our Diocesan instructions, does not add, subtract or divide anything from my Catholicism. I don't consider myself a "traditionalist." In fact, I'd have to ask, "As opposed to what exactly? Traditionalist or ... Normal? ... Non-traditionalist?...Everyone Else?

Aren't we all Catholic? Aren't we all responisble for leading each other to Christ? If one suffers, don't all mourn? Does one hand really have the right to scold and berate the other for its dirty fingernails?

I really like Mark Shea, and you know, he's right. Anger is a sin. Anger does drive people away.

1. Mark doesn't hear prayers. He's not omniscient. He makes a huge assumption that nothing's being done. That's frustrating.
2. Mark's comments on his site and on Inside Catholic have devolved into a fair amount of sniping. He's frustrated and it shows. Understandable, but not the way to win hearts and minds.

There have to be more important things to talk about!

Anonymous said...

I agree, Red. When people dismiss Traditionalists saying, "they think they are more Catholic than the Pope" it comes across to me as uncharitable. Traditionalists are Catholic too, with many valid concerns about the Church, with many sins on their own soul, with personal struggles and most of all with feelings. I hope that a fruit of the Moto Propio is that it makes room for everybody - all the types of Traditionalists you mentioned!

Tony said...

The only way to address a problem is to identify the problem. This necessitates identifying groups of (usually anonymous) people who share the problem.

My blog was first crafted to outline and discuss the differences between those "rad-trads" and the "kumbaya Catholics". Mostly to identify to the different groups the common ground we all share as Roman Catholics.

I understand that people are different. They approach their chosen liturgical expression partly because of the baggage they carry (I know I do). But finding common ground. Avoiding crazy improvization and being flexible to licit change is what's going to be required if we are going to reform the reform to the point where "tradtionalists" and "Novus Ordites" will want to worship together.

This is my dream. I don't believe I'll see it in my lifetime.