When Catholics Play Tug-of-War, the Church Loses

I’m glad I had to step away from the blog for a few days. It’s allowed me some time to watch things unfold, through Facebook and Twitter, without jumping in.

The first night Pope Francis was our Pope, I clicked over to Rorate Caeli and read the combox with horror, shock, nausea, anger, etc. I wasn’t happy. I was so pissed at those rad-trads I couldn’t see straight. I’ve learned my lesson about blogging when angry, though. I didn’t want to repeat the hasty, juvenile tirade that left me so unsure of my own motivations that I considered giving up blogging altogether.

I was pleased to see Larry D’s response. In the days that have followed, though, I’ve become less and less pleased to see this game of tug-of-war drag on. I found that I had started keeping mental tabs on who’s on which side (Fr. Z and Taylor Marshall, yay, they’re on the Francis side even if they’re big fans of the TLM; Pat Archbold, though, he’s going rad-trad, that actually surprises me...). Tonight I read the Crescat’s post and found myself trying to figure out where even I stand, anymore. I’m no fan of Latin, that’s for sure. My inner Protestant screams, “Give me the vernacular or give me death!” anytime I step an unwary foot inside a Tridentine Mass. But I adore stone walls and stained glass, shudder a little at copious gold, love Gregorian chant, and cringe when I hear sappy songs from my Protestant youth murdered inside a Catholic church, (because let’s be honest, y’all…Protestants do Protestant so.much.better.). I also confess to having bounced from parish to parish in Vegas because the Ogre and I didn’t like the cry-rooms and the unruly effect other children were having on our children. Looking back, I want to kick myself for that kind of pious Puritanism, but at the time having children who showed proper reverence was more important to us than having a regular place to go see God. Then again, on the flip side, the only time I’ve ever seen Catholics be truly, outright cruel to their fellow humans was at a Tridentine Mass.

It was right then that my internal debate stopped. How stupid is this? I thought. Catholicism isn’t a religion where you have to make a choice between the NO and the TLM. It isn’t about who loves which Mass or who thinks helping poor people is more important than incense and Latin, or vice versa. What’s beautiful about Catholicism is that we don’t have to choose. We get it all.

As I understand it, the liturgy after Vatican II blundered into chaos and irreverence. Having attended a few horrific Masses myself, I really understand the frustration with irreverence and Protestant-style “rock band” Masses. But after the lesson my 5-year-old taught me two years ago, I always, always try to remember that Jesus is there too, because he loves us in spite of our awful taste in music and liturgical irreverence, and he’s the reason I’m there. When faced with a Tridentine Mass, I inevitably find myself so nervous and distracted by the glances and glares I get from fellow parishioners when Liam drops a hymnal or Lincoln tries to dive down the neck of my shirt that I can hardly focus on why I’m there. But Jesus is there, and so I stay, and try to receive him with humility instead of just humiliation.

I’m more comfortable at Novus Ordo Masses, and I probably always will be. I’d prefer if incense and Gregorian Chant were mandated church-wide, but I understand there are other Catholics who actually like those campfire-guitar songs that make me want to hurl, so in deference to them, I’m glad resigned to the fact that there hasn’t been a ban on all guitars ever. See, that’s the great thing about the Catholic Church. It means universal, because it’s for all of us.

Benedict gave us Summorum Pontificum, which was really important. The changes he’s made in the liturgy have reminded a Church that had forgotten just what this is that we’re doing. Who it is that we’re consuming. What it really  means to be Catholic. Eat my flesh, drink my blood. There’s no overstating the importance of the Mass. It is why we’re Catholic, why we believe what we believe, why we do what we do. It’s all for Christ, present to us in the Eucharist. The people who support the TLM and battle to protect it are some of the strongest Catholics I know. Whenever I’m really in need of some prayers, I always try to ask one of my TLM friends to pray for me, because they pull out their rosary beads and pray right then. And I know they’ll keep praying later, too.

Then there’s people like my sister-in-law. Not so big on the Latin, not hung-up on the rubrics of the mass, but she has that unsettling compassion that’s so unique to Catholics who truly have a heart for social justice issues. I can get so haughty sometimes, and she never fails to call me out right then and there, in the kindest, most non-judgmental way. Just a few quiet words, and she drops the subject and goes smilingly on with her day while I spent weeks agonizing about just how prideful I really am, to have thoughtlessly said what I did and meant it.  God gave us Francis, I think, to do that to us on a Church-wide scale. To unsettle us with his compassion and example. To make us less comfortable in our ways, to make us question whether we’re really living Christ’s commandments or just talking about them.

We had Benedict because we needed him. We have Francis now, I think, because we also need him. We need beauty in the liturgy. We also need to help the poor. These two forces seem so ludicrously opposed to each other in American Catholicism. Either you’re a conservative, rad-trad, pro-Liturgy Catholic or you’re a liberal, social-justice, pro-guitars-and-holding-hands-during-the-Our-Father-Catholic. And anyone who takes the blogosphere as an example probably thinks we Catholics spend all our time hunkered down in our trenches, lobbing carefully-worded-blog-post-bombs at each other, waiting for the other side to go over the top so we can mow them down and cleanse the Church of that crap for once and for all.

We’re waging a pointless and counterproductive war on each other. Both sides are defending deposits of the faith. Good, beautiful, true things that we have learned through our mutual faith, things which our faith needs equally in order to flourish. Can you imagine what might happen if we stopped haunting each other’s comboxes, accusing each other of heresy, and instead spent that energy working together to make the Church better? Maybe we could even *deep breath* try and see what’s true, good, and beautiful about the other. Like, maybe I could go to a Tridentine Mass and viciously repress my inner Jan Hus and really, really try to see the beauty in that ancient liturgy that bequeathed to me the faith I hold so dear today. And maybe whoever runs Rorate Caeli could go to a Novus Ordo Mass in Spanish in Immokalee, the town down the street from me, and instead of being horrified at the abuses in the liturgy really, really try to see the beauty in these migrant workers shuffling into the pews after a day of back-breaking work in the Florida sun, sweaty and dirty and wearing jeans, but resisting the urge to go home and collapse until they’ve seen Jesus.

Our faith is so multi-faceted. That’s why we have a gazillion saints. They’re all doing something different, giving us different examples to follow. Not everyone can be Francis of Assisi, living in blissful poverty, fasting and praying. Someone had to be St. Thomas Aquinas, puzzling out the finest points of theology while remaining very very well-fed. And our Church would be infinitely poorer if Francis and Thomas Aquinas had spent all their time arguing over whose way was better instead of just doing the work God had set before them. We all have different work to do in the Church, and God wants all of us to help make his Church complete. But we can’t very well do that if we’re busy tearing each other to shreds.


  • http://awomansplaceis.blogspot.com Cam

    This is an awesome post Calah. And this so sums up what I feel like has been going on lately:

    “And anyone who takes the blogosphere as an example probably thinks we Catholics spend all our time hunkered down in our trenches, lobbing carefully-worded-blog-post-bombs at each other, waiting for the other side to go over the top so we can mow them down and cleanse the Church of that crap for once and for all.”

    I’m ready for these weeks to be past. I’m excited about our new Pope and looking forward to the future, but I’m hoping people simmer down a bit… fast. I know our family fits the “trad” stereotype (as much as I dislike the term) and after reading some comboxes, for the first time ever, I’ve felt seriously embarrassed by that fact (and have felt embarrassed for the people writing those comments!).

    Anyways, another great post!

    • calahalexander

      Aw Cam, don’t embarrassed that your family fits the “trad” stereotype! WTH does that even mean, anyway? Cause you like skirts and veils and Latin? There’s nothing AT ALL wrong with preferring the EF; in fact, I have so much respect for people who do and wish I could cultivate a love for it. I think that will have to wait until after I have children crawling all over me during Mass, though. Some trad-types have said awful things about the Pope. Some social-justice types have said awful things about the Pope. A lot of us in between have said awful things about each other. You, on the other hand, are a shining example of grace, charity, compassion, and everything lovely and good about Catholicism. So don’t feel embarrassed at all. Those people are in no way a reflection of you, no matter how many things you have in common. They’re just reflecting what’s bad in all of us-the urge to self-righteousness, merciless condemnation, and pride. It’s a reminder to take a look in the mirror, is all, and make sure we’re not part of the problem. And you, my friend, are not. I hate the term “trad” too, because it paints so pejoratively with so broad a brush. I’m just not sure what other word to use. It bothers me to use it, though. Doesn’t seem right or just. Loving the traditions of the Church shouldn’t automatically associate a person with pride and condemnation of others, and I really dislike that it seems to in the blogosphere. The traditions of the Church are a gift to all of us.

  • http://pursuingparenthood.blogspot.com Lisa

    Well said, Calah. The Church is big enough for all of us.

  • http://www.ironiccatholic.com IC

    “We need beauty in the liturgy. We also need to help the poor. These two forces seem so ludicrously opposed to each other in American Catholicism.”

    Amen. I read over here sometimes and this post has convinced me I need to more often.
    I think we’re going to have a VERY interesting few years.

  • Moonshadow

    I’ve yet to encounter a “rock band” Mass that even begins to come close to services in Alliance churches. Really, we aren’t there yet.

  • midwestlady

    Actually, as long as it doesn’t get really vicious, it’s a good thing that people are struggling–and even struggling in public. It’s a wake-up call on all sides. I’m Catholic, but I think most Catholics need a giant wake-up call. The Church isn’t about politics and habits and all the silly stuff we get totally wrapped up in. RATHER, it’s about the Gospel. This new pope has everyone watching to see what he’s going to do next, and he’s preaching the Gospel. And he’s even talking about the devil. It’s about time!

  • midwestlady

    I’ve heard over and over again that “the source and summit of the Catholic faith is the liturgy.” What exactly does that mean?

    • calahalexander

      As I understand it, the source and summit of the Catholic faith is the Eucharist, the real Body and Blood of Christ, which is at the center of the liturgy. The liturgy and the Eucharist are inextricably intertwined, unless I’m much mistaken.

      • midwestlady

        Okay, but what does that say about other activities, like studying the Scriptures or personal prayer outside mass, for instance?

        • calahalexander

          Well, those things are extremely important and necessary aspects of the Christian life if one desires to grow in Virtue. And Christ can be encountered in a spiritual way there. But it’s only in the Eucharist that we encounter him both spiritually and physically. That is why it is the source and summit of our faith.

          • midwestlady

            But that’s not what I’m seeing out here. I’m seeing people reductively equating the liturgy and the faith. And I happen to know that most Catholics don’t read scripture. In fact, according to reliable research 40% of Catholics don’t even believe that a person can have a relationship with God. The researcher, Sherry Weddell, is a Catholic teacher and she says that many of them are parish ministers that she comes across in her work*. I’m also Catholic and this astonishes me.
            *from Sherry Weddell’s book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus”

          • calahalexander

            I’m sorry that’s what you’re seeing. It’s what I’ve seen too. All I can tell you is that the Church is full of humans who most of the time don’t get it right. The Eucharist is the source (beginning) and summit (pinnacle), not the totality of the faith. The Church teaches that a personal relationship with God is extremely important. I think you shouldn’t fault the Church for the mistakes made by the parishioners, but instead gently point them toward Church teachings so they can learn and grow.

          • midwestlady

            “Reductively equating” means saying that:
            The Liturgy = the Faith, and The Faith = the Liturgy in an exclusive fashion.
            So that you get everything in the Liturgy and bang, you’re good to go.
            Particularly if that Liturgy is done in the flavor that you like. Because it’s all about the warm fuzzies, apparently.

        • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar

          midwestlady: prayer and scripture are good and helpful things, because they are able to help us obtain a better appreciation of the Eucharist, and to reinforce it. The Eucharist is the Body of Christ. It is Christ’s gift of Himself to us, the means by which He makes us part of His body the Church, and the means by which He helps us partake of His divinity, and helps us become part of His divinity. The Eucharist and the Church are *both* the Body of Christ, and we must have both to be part of it. The Bible is important, for it is God’s words, but it is not the Word made flesh, which is Christ. The Word we must have is the Word made flesh, and we must eat and drink it. Read the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 again. You will note that when Jesus told the Jews that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they assumed He meant exactly that, not something figurative, metaphorical, allegorical, or symbolic. And when they left Him because the Law told them that they must not eat and drink human flesh and blood, He did not try to change or correct their understanding.

          My apologies for being so disjointed, but this is all a great mystery, the greatest mystery of God. There is no end to what we can learn about it, for it is as infinite as God Himself.

          • midwestlady

            So, according to most Catholics, you can just cut to the chase, stand in the mass for 45 minutes and be good to go. That’s what I’m seeing and hearing. I’m astonished. I mean, I had seen some of this before this week, but I’ve never seen it in such stark contrast before. No wonder when you leave the Church, you risk getting killed in the parking lot. :/ What a mess!

          • calahalexander

            I’m a little confused at this point. I’ve clarified that I do not think you can just “stand in Mass and be good to go.” No one has said that in this combox. That is definitively NOT Church teaching. I understand that you’ve seen that at some parishes, as have I, and I don’t approve of it, and it makes me sad. But that’s not Church teaching, and no one here is defending it. I think that basing your opinion of Catholicism on the actions of “most Catholics” is probably not the right way to go about it. Rather, we’re called to understand the teachings of the Church and the lessons of Scripture and use those things as a rubric when we deal with the humans that make up the Church.

          • midwestlady

            And I’m not saying these things from a progressive or conservative viewpoint. They’re BOTH doing it for Pete’s sakes, each in their own way. It’s awful.

          • midwestlady

            I think I understand what you’re saying and we agree: This reductionism is not the teaching of the Church. But after that, I’m confused and dismayed, because this reductionism is all I see all around me.
            I’ll tell you what I really think. I think Catholics need to be evangelized. There are a lot of Catholics who aren’t Christians. That’s what I honestly think.

          • calahalexander

            You know, I don’t disagree with you. I think Catholics need to be evangelized just like everyone else. Catholicism has, like many faiths, become cultural in some places. The truth and meaning of it have been lost in many ways. But I think the internet gives us a great opportunity to do this. I’m seeing so many faithful, well-formed, good-hearted, enthusiastic Catholics online that I’m hoping it points to a resurgence and a revival in the Church. And I think we lose a lot in the new practice of parish shopping. All the “faithful” Catholics tend to find one good parish and stick to it, and the others are left to flounder about without a really strong core. I think preventing a concentration of vital, well-formed members in one place and a subsequent dearth of them in others is why the parish system was set up in the first place. We would do well to return to it.

          • midwestlady

            I hope a revival and a new evangelization is beginning in the Church also. And yes, one of the great problems now is that many Catholics don’t know each other and can’t talk to each other. I agree with you there. Part of it is exactly because they’ve been yanked around by each other so badly, for literally years, that trust is missing in a lot of cases. This is so sad.

            I’ll tell you what I think is going on. I may be wrong, but I hope I’m not. I think God wants this Church of his revitalized at this point in time, and he’s doing this on purpose. The last three popes are all part of a “matched set,” each of them with a different focus and a different personality and a different charism, but each given part of the job to jump-start this revitalization or new evangelization. I think we’re supposed to be churned up, not acting badly of course, but put on our guard in order to shake us out of our little nests and get us thinking. It wouldn’t be the first time the Church has looked like this; it wouldn’t be the first time God has put us on notice to “listen up.” And I don’t think it will be the last either. I think he’s going to keep shaking our trees until we get the point. It might take a long while, by the looks of the Internet this week. ROFLOL. Have faith. Nice to talk to you, Calah.

  • http://crane-corner.blogspot.com/ ashley.elise

    Amen! Well said, Calah!

  • Angela Lessard

    Your post, Calah, reminds me of the words I heard at the funeral of a friend, a man of deep faith and devotion who had died at the end of a long, fruitful life. It was a beautiful occasion, but the wise and holy priest warned that though Christ was present in our gathering, the devil likes to make an appearance on these occasions and see what trouble he can stir. Apparently that is true around the death/resignation of a pope as well.

    I attend the EF nearly every Sunday, in a parish that would welcome your noisy and nursing children. I attend the OF on many (wish I could say most) weekdays, and I value both. It did take me years to love the EF — it was my husband’s passion, not mine, and it wasn’t easy to love its cadences in the years when I was bouncing my own babies. But I always try to have sympathy for the older advocates of the EF mass, and remember what wrenching times they went through, with very little understanding from a clericalist clergy that switched from doing things dogmatically one way, to doing things dogmatically a very different way, labeling those whom these changes pained all kinds of unkind names. That could cause some bitterness.

  • Erin

    “We all have different work to do in the Church, and God wants all of us to help make his Church complete.”
    This has long been on my mind. But I think one huge difficulty in our current polarized society is to be able to visualize what this would look like. I know I can’t, not really. I want to . . . I’ve been praying for leaders to be raised up who show us the middle ground, the Catholic walk, beyond politics and sound bites. And then we were given Pope Francis, and I am so happy.