On Ecclesiastical Allegiances

23 08 2008


(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.



21 responses

7 09 2011

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2 09 2008
random Orthodox chick

Sorry if this is a digression, but to address “byzantinzation” in the West –

Plenty of beautiful western cathedrals have “byzantine” icons, for example. One Catholic parish I recently visited had an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help beneath their statue of The Christ Child of Prague.

Maybe the West doesn’t care about staying “truly western”…?

There is one “byzantinization” I’m thankful for in WRO – the uniform pre-Communion prayers said at the Mass. It’s like they predicted I would be nearly lost on everything else and they decided to throw me a bone.

2 09 2008
The young fogey

Thanks, random Orthodox chick – I should have remembered and noted that AFAIK 1950s American Anglo-Catholicism is more or less what most of WRO does (but they’ve byzantinised).

2 09 2008
random Orthodox chick

Well, there are plenty of WASPS at my parish. I’m the only black chick there, though.

The young fogey’s account of “1950s-style Anglo-Catholicism” reminds me of a recent visit to a WRO parish. I love the addition of the coffee hour both at that parish and mine — good donuts.

2 09 2008
The young fogey

The question that still remains is how can we create an “authentic” American Catholic culture that isn’t a retreat back to the immigrant ghettos, but doesn’t involve guitars or liturgical dance?

For a historical model look at 1950s-style Anglo-Catholicism, once practised by Episcopalians in the upper Midwest and something you might have caught a glimpse of in your stay with Continuers, Arturo: Tridentinish in English; theologically not Protestant but connected to the great cultural traditions of American Protestantism from Gothic architecture to singable hymns to sonorous prose to coffee hour after Mass (very un-RC that).

Neither the old ghettos nor the modern(ist) mainline churches, nor too foreign like Eastern Orthodoxy arguably is.

But considering how Americans have changed since that period – the old denominations are like dying city department stores or dying mall-anchor ones; today the big-box stores of Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are where the white middle-class church action is (yes, American religion follows a consumer model, very Protestant) – you can argue they no longer can really relate to good old WASPness and one might as well start from scratch and just be Orthodox or something like that.

(Then there’s longstanding RC resistance to good old WASPness, historically understandable – what Thomas Day describes. The Irish hate the English. That’s why Vatican II didn’t result in 1950s Anglo-Catholicism for RCs but bad guitar music.)

And have a look at classical liberalism as in libertarianism (no monarchist fantasies) – the best of political America (not what’s in power now) is rooted in it.

1 09 2008

In response to Arturo:

I would say that the problem is that many Catholics are trying to do too much with the mass. As you said, 60 or 90 minutes of spectacle can’t make up for the fact that most of us have the spend the bulk of our time in a culture that’s not only non-Catholic, but non-theistic. Religion becomes an afterthought that one goes to only after doing the 100 other things that take up your time during the day. As tacky as it is, I would say that the evangelicals have done a much better job in creating their own culture. I would bet that a mega church like New Birth Baptist Church (to take a local example) does a pretty good job in creating an alternate subculture for their members; it has its own school, gives away cars to single mothers, it has activities for every age demographic, an active Latino outreach program, pays off the debts of members, tutors kids who need help, a health program, buses to bring in people from out of state, an excellent gospel choir, etc. Frankly, I don’t have any doubt that if I did join some black Protestant mega church or one of the historical black churches in the Auburn district that I’d be a much happier person in many ways. They seem to provide a cultural framework (for me, at least) that seems to be lacking in many Catholic parishes.

It’s foolish to think that we (assuming that the “we” in question are Americans) can just de-Protestantize our existence as Catholics. America is a culturally Protestant nation that is heavily influenced by Enlightenment-era liberalism and we unconsciously accept many tenants of those philosophies. There are very few American Catholics who would question the idea that the development of liberal democracy is the “end of history” or that the Bill of Rights is sacred. Even the monarchists our midst accept this order tacitly, since there are no serious movements to create an American monarchy. Our heroes must be Protestant to some degree, because those were the individuals who made up the leadership of the country. Like it or not, the heritage of the Pilgrims, the Great Awakening, and the Asuza street revival is ours whether we want to claim it or not.

The question that still remains is how can we create an “authentic” American Catholic culture that isn’t a retreat back to the immigrant ghettos, but doesn’t involve guitars or liturgical dance? Maybe American culture is antithetical to the development of such a thing. Based on my own observations, the black Protestant church seems to be aping much of the “bling” aesthetic that it’s supposed to be criticizing.

1 09 2008

Well, Arturo, the Divine Liturgy is usually credited with the survival of Greek Orthodox Christianity under many centuries of Ottoman rule…

1 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

It really hit home to me at Mass today how “this is all the Catholic culture” I am going to get. That is, the reform of the liturgy has nothing to do with Catholic revival, but with Catholic survival. That is, the fathers of Vatican II, in their strange wisdom, thought that they needed to reform the liturgy because that is all the “church” their faithful were going to get. Gone were the Catholic societies with their processions in the streets, the roadside shrines, and the hegemony of the Church over all aspects of society. I think the question then becomes: is it appropriate for the Mass to become a theological/catechetical Swiss army knife that can pass on Catholic life in an hour flat? Or are traditionalists being naive in thinking that one hour of sacred spectacle can make up for a week of secular real life? The question is a tough one, and not one I am prepared to answer.

29 08 2008
random Orthodox chick

Only when I’m praying the rosary with my Catholic friends do I get to forget the meaning of the word “schism”.

28 08 2008

“Under the mantle of the Virgin”. Yes!

For all of us pre-reformation types, regardless of affiliation, loyalty to and love for the Most Holy Theotokos is an integral part of our faith. May her prayers and interventions lead us safely home.

25 08 2008
Fr. J.

If I had to use a label on myself, I guess it would have to be neo-Cath–though that is political speak. I was raised an ultra liberal Catholic then had a major conversion as a transitional deacon. So, I am a true neo-Cath in the sense that the term is patterned on neo-conservative which is liberal turned conservative.

In the non-political sense, I have to say my personal spirituality is centered on the Cross. The cross is the lens through which I understand myself and the world. I dont think that makes me very special as this is the fundamental lense of the Catholic faith. I love the saints, too, particularly Francis, Elizabeth of Hungary, Mother of Sorrows, Max Kolbe. Lately I have become enamored of the simple things like offering flowers at the Mary altar–which is complete departure from my former grand scheme save the world liberation theology preoccupations. I am tired of making the Gospel into an action program with many bullet points. To live simply, to pastorally care for the person right in front of me and to offer everything to God is all that makes real sense to me these days.

25 08 2008

I concur, very good post. Being the sort of person who likes to categorize things and people, I can never figure out where I fit into these various Internet Catholic “cliques” (for lack of a better word). I guess I’m Marian in the Montfordian sense and Benedictine at times. I hope that’s not too “cafeteria”…

25 08 2008

Beautiful! Yes, I could not live without my images of Mary. De Maria numquam satis.

25 08 2008

Monstra Te esse Matrem

25 08 2008

I thought it was a good post. It is good to remember that all the issues debated back and forth should be focused on Jesus Christ.

I don’t have any problem with labels per se, so long as they’re not taken as an end all and be all. I don’t mind being labeled a Traditional Catholic, or even identifying as one, as long as one doesn’t make that the end of Catholicism and anything is simply apostasy. That’s what I have a problem with.

If I identified as anything it would be Benedictine.

24 08 2008
Fr. J.

Arturo, this is a very beautiful and challenging post. Beautiful because it is not often you find a gentleman saying publicly that he sees his faith through the feminine and challenging because you ask many of the questions which for me until this post remain rather pregnant thoughts. I have not been blogging for long, but just long enough to have run through all my favorite topics and pet peeves. It is time for me to ask myself the same questions you have written here. You have given me much to ponder.

You have also explained why it has been difficult to “peg” your blog. Shame on me for trying to peg anyone. But, alas, as see as you have said, I was missing the point. God bless, Arturo, and thanks for you comment over at TBC.

Fr. J.

24 08 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

If you haven’t already, you need to get a copy of “My Penitente Land” by Fray Angélico Chávez. You will probably find a kindred spirit in the author. The book is marketed as a history book, but it is more religious in nature.

23 08 2008

I just found your blog through Serge’s. This post is very good while I would also add the Pope to my personal label of Catholicism, it all begins with Nuestra Señora.

23 08 2008
Sarx » Blog Archive » Reditus

[…]  » Whose side you on?: Arturo nails it, I think, for any of us who call ourselves Catholics. […]

23 08 2008
Phillip F.

Excellent. Thank you.

Holy Mother of God. Pray for us.

23 08 2008

Thank you for this. As only 5 years into the Church, and 7 years studying her, I can honestly say it’s been Mary that has drawn me out of the cynicism that has come from our ecclesiastic gymnastics. For a year I’ve been trying to figure out where I stand. Recently, I decided that there’s something so simple and trusting to say I stand with Mary.

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