Unless you’re familiar with Catholic internet culture, this article probably won’t make sense to you the reader. But if any of you ever remember watching a favorite television sitcom, there’s usually an iconic joke that defines the show. If you’ve heard phrases such as Sargent Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes with his back-stepping, “I see nothing! I know nothing!” or Steve Urkel’s nasal apology, “Did I do thaaaaaat?!” then you already understand how a running gag works. It starts out hysterical, but then slowly (and painfully) become less funny and overused to the point of beating a dead horse.
In Catholic culture (particularly in North America), there are plenty of running gags that somehow retain nostalgic humor such as genuflecting in a movie theater or talking to your mother for decades (a reference to Mary and the rosary). One of the most recent and recurring satirical personalities on Catholic social media is none other than Susan From The Parish Council.
When I first started following Susan, I thought she was an absolute riot. She is the embodiment of everything in a nutshell that made me cringe about certain baby-boomers who try too hard to be cool. Her bumbling antics are reminiscent of similar personalities I’ve encountered in the Evangelical community who care little for rubrics, place an overwhelming emphasis on loving everyone and JUDGE NOT. Susan’s zeal for radical change, attempts at youthful relevance and lack of technological savviness are most evident in her patronizing statements, CONSTANT caps lock emphasis, liberal piety and frequent spelling and grammar errors. She’s the stereotypical, progressive modernist who demands those rigid ‘proTRADestants’ to shove their missals up their butts and JUDGE NOT or else NO BLESS.
The problem with Susan’s exaggerated caricature is it presents itself as an over-generalization of what Novus Ordo parishioners are like in reality. Even her so-called ‘rival’ pages Chad From The Parish Council and Fr. Youngtrad (who might be run by the same person or group) portray themselves as flawless, heroic saviors of truth and orthodoxy against the dark forces of a liberal, modernist boomer-dictator.
As I find myself identifying more as a traditionalist in practice, I also find how Susan contributes to partisanship truly abhorrent. Her posts seem to be progressively more exaggerated as real-world Church politics intensifies, especially in light of the Amazonian Synod. Her constant mockery (especially towards those in the Catholic blogosphere who make legitimate observations of racism in the Church) only minimizes the experiences of these fellow Catholics and encourages her followers to become desensitized and dismissive of the issues at hand.
The real-life ’Susans’ that the site pokes fun at are certainly not making Catholicism better as far as modernism is concerned — but neither is the satirical Susan, nor the ‘Chads’ or the ‘Fr. Youngtrads’ with their backhanded approach to making Novus Ordo-attending Catholics look like a group of bumbling oafs. Like most caricatures seen on social media, the most negative attributes of specific groups are forever encased in memes and pollute the internet, yet the positives are rarely acknowledged. Similarly, I may have observed some horrendous practices in some Novus Ordo parishes, but overall I have found truly reverent Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo and embody the very imitation of Christ – in spite of what the ‘chadtrad’ figures like to portray them to be.
For the record, I happen to believe there is a desperate need for a return to traditional reverence. I long to see people kneeling for communion and receiving it directly on the tongue instead of in the hand once again. I highly favor the Tridentine Latin Mass with Gregorian chant, incense and bells and the priest facing the tabernacle rather than guitar masses and cheesy, contemporary liturgical additions. But it would also be lovely for a parish to have a reverent, traditional liturgy as well as an active involvement in social justice. The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive from one another, and yet here we are as Catholics pitting the Susans against the Chadtrads in a Mortal Kombat-style faceoff where there are no winners.
But like the aging boomer population, this running gag will eventually pass away. It only makes me wonder how the upcoming generations will make fun of millennials…