Friday, June 12, 2009

A Terrible Witness

A very pious and orthodox priest that I knew confided to me recently that he had been very upset by the uncharitable behavior of some fellow Catholics. This is nothing new, but he stressed that these Catholics were traditional, orthodox Catholics - the kind who really shouldn't be offending by their lack of charity.

He told me two very interesting points: first, he said that when traditional Catholics behave in this cold, uncaring manner, it makes him have more sympathy for the liberals and progressives. Coming from him, this was very shocking, but I can see his point. A happy progressive is more pleasant to be around than a stuffy, frowning, kill-joy trad (not to say all trads are stuffy or all progressives are happy).

Secondly, and more I think to the point, he said that traditional Catholics who are cold, uncaring and rude seem to be of the opinion that the fact that they hold the correct faith and have the proper bonds with the Church somehow excuses every other defect or flaw in their lives. This is hitting the nail on the head: being a traditionalist or orthodox or faithful or whatever you want to call it is not the end of faith - that is simply the faith. It is not as if you have arrived by simply believing what every Catholic is supposed to believe. The end of the faith is holiness, holiness "without which no man will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). If trads think they can get off being arrogant, vindictive, uncharitable and downright unpleasant just because they are trads, then they are sorely mistaken.

I say this from first hand experience, and many of you who have been around traditionalism for a long time can verify this. I have known trads whose faces are stuck in perpetual frowns. I've met some who couldn't muster up a sense of humor about the littlest thing, who a perpetually looking for something to criticize. It is worst when priests are dragged into it - when a priest tries to do something traditional for the first time, like celebrating ad orientam or having a Corpus Christi procession, and instead of being thankful they complain that he is not doing it good enough or to their specifications.

If trads complain when priests are trying to be traditional but are still learning, what are our pastors to think about trads in general? We all have to be holy, and holiness is charity. While I know there is a time for rebukes (which are always to be mild, according to St. Paul) and for boldly proclaiming the truth (in love, again Paul tells us), we ought not to go around in a perpetual "attitude of rebuke," where we simply live to rebuke and chastise, like the woman one blogger wrote about who sits in the Church with a stack of pamphlets on why it's sinful to talk before Mass and just waits for some person to violate that point of etiquette so she can rush up, tell them to be quiet and hand them a pamphlet, which she always has on hand.

Humility. Humility. Humility. St. Bernard said these were the three greatest virtues. If we are privileged to know and believe the truth, it is because God in His infinite mercy chose to extend His grace to us, like Xerxes extending the golden scepter to Esther even though she merited death by entering his chambers unbidden (Est. 5:2). It is assuredly not because we are better than anyone else. Many of the saints who were religious, when asked if they thought they were better than others who didn't do as rigorous penance, said that on the contrary, they were worse sinners and needed the extra penances and disciplines imposed by the religious life because they were so weak that without them they would fall away. That ought to be our attitude: if God gives us any special grace at all, whether it is to know and love the traditional Mass or whatever, it is because we are so weak that we needed it to stay faithful. Therefore, we have absolutely no grounds for boasting.

Interestingly enough, I have noticed one very important but unlikely factor that is present in all pleasant, well-rounded traditionalists that tends to set them apart from irritable, wet-blanket trads. It is very simple: G.K. Chesterton. Those who love G.K. Chesterton always tend to have a more balanced, humorous and common sense approach to things, even things pertaining to God and the liturgy. Those "stuffy" trads who are frumpy, frowning and complainers cannot seem to tolerate G.K.C. and don't understand why so many people like him. This is just an observation that is far from scientific, but what do you think? Do you know any mean-spirited trads who are Chesterton fans? I don't. Chesterton seems to keep things pleasant and put people in their proper place in a humorous sort of way.

Any how, in conclusion, just because you are traditional doesn't mean you have a blank check to be a jerk.


Anselm said...

What?!?! I've never met anyone who doesn't like Chesterton!

Perhaps I should get out more?

Anonymous said...

Any prayers for Chesterton's canonization?

Anonymous said...

I know people can get out of hand with the liturgy, especially tinkering with the Novus Ordo. However I've been attending the TLM each Sunday for over 5 years, and I really don't see the stuffy trad's I hear described so often. It can be intimidating to attend a Latin Mass, when you enter the church and sit in the pew people are usually praying silently rather then taking the time to get to know you, and once mass starts, it seems everyone but you is on the same page and no one is offering to help. But after mass everyone is very friendly, sure maybe the couple with the 7 kids under ten don't have as much time to talk as you might like, but everyone is polite.

To the second point, I think sometimes correction can be perceived as arrogant, and the "anything goes" attitude can be perceived as charitable. For example, if a trad were to correct someone on living with his/her fiance prior to marriage that would be seen by many as arrogant or pushy, while the liberal "I'm okay you're okay" attitude on the surface would seem much friendlier. I think it can be difficult for most people to communicate the church teaching in a warm way.

I've heard enough stories that I believe this is something that us trads need to work on, but it is interesting to note that at most trad churches with the "we have the correct faith" (real or perceived) attitude, they also tend to have the longest lines for confession. I would conclude from this that the average trad is aware of his/her own shortcomings.

CO said...

Well here's a different view: conditional acceptance. Am I stuffy? I hope not.

In the area of faith and morals, Chesterton rightly earns our respect.

In economics, I respect his sincerity, but reject his conclusion.

Hey, no one is perfect.