(Wherein I reveal whose side I am really on)
I have read many recent posts on other pages on the Internet about conversion, ecclesiastical factionalism, and general religious in-fighting. Reading my own blog, I could really ask myself, “what does all of this qualify as”. Truth be told, I am writing and thinking more and more explicitly about Catholic topics. This goes against my past admonition to myself and others not to write about theology, for theology is something we should not take lightly. While I hope to keep some sobriety when it comes to discussing religious topics, I have also come to the conclusion recently that, even if I am not the most qualified person in the world to discuss some theological topics, all the same I am certainly more qualified than some people who seem to make a living and a reputation off of it. That being said, I am still well aware that I am a “nobody” when it comes to all of this, but my experiences and readings into these topics have, in the language of the streets, “earned me stripes”. The work has certainly been put in, and I do no one a service by pretending otherwise.
So, again, the question: what flavor is this blog? For those non-Catholics reading this (to tell the truth, I am most proud of my non-Catholic readers, since that means I am writing something that transcends the party line), I am speaking here of what type of Catholicism this blog is pushing. For many bloggers and writers, the cop-out answer is, “I am Catholic, period, without labels or other allegiances”. That sounds like a good answer, but it fails to articulate the identity crisis that is at the heart of the Catholic question in this country. For those Catholics who write about the Faith publicly, there are inevitable questions that arise as to the shape of liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, history, and theology, to name a few. There is no straight party line in this country since our Church is divided, and anyone who would disagree with this only need to see how more orthodox Catholic pundits react when Cardinal Mahoney pulls off one of his more “creative” liturgies.
So again, on what side of the line do I stand on? The safest one for most orthodox Catholics is the one that says, “the Pope is always right, no matter what”. Too much dissent on the left makes any dissent by anyone else unthinkable. Too much apathy towards ecclesiastical authority amongst most Catholics means that those Catholics who are more committed must commit even more to magisterial authority. In a world of relativism, the only real solution is Magisterial absolutism. And so on and so forth.
Of course, there is the right-wing solution, one that is affectionately known by those who like it about as much as a toothache as “rad-tradism”. This can range from anything from the light criticism of those who prefer the Fraternity of St. Peter Mass to the unordained nutjobs on Traditio.com who have now taken to refering to every priest ordained after 1969 as “presbyter” instead of “Father”, and everything else in between. I guess in a lot of ways, I am more squarely in this category, if only by formation. Three pleasant years in the SSPX means that I instinctively want to trust them more than I want to trust the “official” Church with which I have had a far more ambivalent relationship. It’s somewhat akin to having lived with a crazy but affectionate uncle who believed that the government was out to put computer chips in our brains to control our behavior. If you feel that your parents were a bit negligent and distant, you might not dismiss his opinions as being as absurd as you know deep down they are.
So how much of a “trad” I am depends on a number of things: who happens to be standing around, what I was reading that morning, what I had for dinner the night before, among other things. I agree with their critiques, yet for a number of reasons, I really don’t go to the traditional Mass that often (I still think calling it the “Extraordinary Form” a little funny). I am not committed enough to go to my designated “liturgical watering hole” to get my liturgy of choice. I just feel it far from natural. It would mean having to drive passed about twenty Catholic churches on a Sunday afternoon (a non-traditional time) to be with a bunch of other people who have self-selected themselves to go to that church. And the worst of it, there is also a whole group of people who go to the same church just to have the regular Catholic Mass (in Latin and with Gregorian chant) just how they like it a couple of hours before the traditional Mass. It’s just bizarre all around.
So if I am going to pick a flavor of Catholic, I am going to follow AG’s advise on this one:
I hate when Catholics label themselves as traditionalist or neo or liberal or rad or whatever else, as if the Church is a political party and there are certain planks that define your position.
For Heaven’s sake, if you are Catholic and feel you MUST label yourself, at least choose something that makes spiritual sense – something resonates with the rhythm of your heart and the melody of your soul. Say, “I’m in the beat of the Carmelites, to the melody of St. Teresa of Avila”or “I move to the rhythm of the Redemptorists, to St Gerard Majella’s resounding baritone.” Otherwise, you’re just talking about the ideas that bind your mind. (And the debate between Thomists and Molinists cannot slide in this way).
So in reflecting on this, I came to the conclusion that my Catholicism, indeed my entire system of seeing the divine, is viewed through the prism of the feminine. A lot of this has to do with the structure of my family growing up. In my family, as in most Mexican families, the religious head of the family is always a woman. My father is not religious. My grandfather on my mother’s side is devout, but even then, it is my grandmother who leads the family rosary. The first great Christian soul I knew personally outside of my family was also a woman. So if I were to give my ecclesiastical allegiance: liberal, conservative, etc., I would have to give: Marian, period. If I am looking at God, I am always looking at Him from under the mantle of His Mother.
I think if there were more devotion to the Mother of God, everything else would fall into place. I think that regardless of what doctrinal elements that enter into it, the feminine softens the human heart, it grounds it and prepares it to love. The saddest Catholic churches are those that do not have a beautiful image of the Virgin to warm the place up. Of course, that is the great thing about Byzantine worship: it is Marian par excellence. And at least in my own experience, that is why I have a warm spot for the “rad-trads”: people who love Mary that much can’t be that bad, right? Most traditional Masses I have gone to have been preceeded or followed by a rosary. All of our classes in seminary were followed by a “Sub Tuum Praesidium”, all of our tasks preceded by an Ave Maria.
So when people speak of allegiances, that is mine. Not the Pope (though I acknowledge his authority), not a particular party line, or interpretation of history. Quite frankly, I find it hard to regard anyone as Catholic who does not have a sincere allegiance to the Mother of God. If you do have one, you must be doing something right.
At this point of my life, my “liturgical preference” would be to go to Mass early on Sunday in a church with a beautiful statue of the Virgin. Preferably, it would be in the old rite, but if it is a low-key regular Mass, I would be okay with that too. I would go on foot. It would be close enough to walk there. And after Mass, I could pray briefly in front of the Virgin, to offer to her all of my sighs, mourning, and weeping, but also my joys and thanksgiving, and quietly leave under the shade of trees and the rays of the morning sun. That is a far more ancient, far more human joy that is more traditional and edifying than anything else I can think of. Indeed, that is what I did as a youth growing up, and I learned more about the love of God through His mother in that silence, in that low-key affair, than I have in all of the ecclesiastical battles that I have been a soldier in ever since. Even if we cannot return to that innocence, the least we can do is invoke it time and again.