Monday morning I swallowed hard when a post popped up on a small internet discussion group I run: Latin Mass trouble in Texas. I don’t need this. A flame war over this could get my group shut down.
I didn’t ask the original poster to delete. I did ask that we refrain from discussing the situation until the purloined letter could be authenticated, and the diocese had time to issue a counter-statement. Meanwhile, I did a little poking around to find out what might be going on behind the scenes. What I learned saddened me, but it also affirmed me in some leadership decisions I’ve made over the past year.
The Tale of Two Organizational Structures
When I asked our pastor if we might form a parish homeschooling group last summer, I presented him with a set of proposed policies for his approval. I tried to keep it short, and stick only to the most important rules. Among them: Our group activities would be open to all parishioners, regardless of where their children (grandchildren, etc.) attend school.
When I e-mailed him my proposal, I said, “I know some of these may sound a little heavy-handed. But I know Catholic homeschoolers. Nothing is on this paper without a reason.”
In our meeting, he asked what I might be hinting at. I was frank: It is very easy for a group of enthusiastic Catholics to get insular. Extreme. Out of touch.
I knew from day one that our very survival as a group of conservative, Latin-loving, tradition-delighting, parental-rights-asserting Catholics depended on as much sunlight and openness as we could beg off our fellow parishioners. When you’re in the minority, it’s easy to go off the deep end, fast.
So, in the same way, when I made a private lay-run, internet discussion group for Catholic homeschooling parents in my diocese, the first thing I did was add a handful of diocesan employees, who happened to be personal friends and who had legitimate reasons to be in touch with us. I added some non-homeschoolers, and a few non-Catholics of varying stripes. Each of these “guests” had an ostensible purpose for their presence, but each also serves a second role: They keep us sane.
By all accounts, what’s happened at Fisher-More is just the opposite trajectory: Sincere, enthusiastic lay faithful seeking to do something very, very good, but gradually withdrawing from the oversight of others. Gradually drifting away from the moorings of sanity that sunlight and accountability bring.
Big Brother versus Christian Brother
I’m all for eccentricity. I like traditional Catholic stuff so much that when I hear “Tridentine Rite,” my first thought is, “But it’s so new! Barely tested!” Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort to learn Latin, because it’s such an innovation in the life of the Church. As much as 13th century Paris is, aesthetically, about my speed, I can’t help but think St. Thomas Aquinas is a bit of an upstart compared to the Church Fathers. And Gothic manuscript . . . shudder . . . Carolingian for me, thank you.
To be deep in history is to be very, very strange. I’m good with that.
So when the purloined letter showed up in my discussion group, I died a little death. I liked what Fisher-More was doing, even though I knew it wasn’t for everybody. I was disheartened to see it to come to such an end. And I was glad, very glad, to have outside eyes to keep any discussion of the topic in my little fiefdom from going off the rails.
Did I fear I’d get a nasty phone call from big brother because some member of our group had tattled on us for bishop-biting? Nope. Not in the least. I was grateful that frank and faithfully-Catholic conversation was par for the course, but that we’d all temper our lowest instincts out of charitable concern for others.
The Disinfecting Powers of Sunlight
It’s one thing to discuss the faith, including the beauty, dignity, and worthiness of the traditional practices of our faith. Likewise, there is no merit in pretending sin is not sin, or mindlessly ignoring the real problems in the Church today.
But it’s another thing entirely to descend into paranoia, or to vilify every guitarist who ever attempted a Veggie-Tales wannabe-show-tune excuse for a liturgical hymn. Bad taste is not the unpardonable sin. I can disagree with my fellow Christians and still respect them for the sincere and loveable people that they are.
The honest opponent, the outside eye . . . these are necessary for our sanity. In being questioned, in being doubted, we learn to scrutinize ourselves. All the fluff that surrounds the core of our faith is poked and tested, and the nonsense gets gradually brushed away. What remains is the good, the true, and the beautiful.
I firmly hope that the late unpleasantness in Texas resolves with reconciliation and renewal. I hope that sincere and faithful Catholics will persist in fighting against the sin of respect, and refuse to be party to the errors that plague the Church today. But the fight for truth is, at its heart, a fight for charity. The more light we keep on that fight, the more we’ll succeed.