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In a Church in Chaos, Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good Enough October 17, 2019

Posted by Tantumblogo in asshatery, blogfoolery, Dallas Diocese, error, foolishness, General Catholic, Latin Mass, pr stunts, sadness, self-serving, Society, the struggle for the Church, Tradition, Virtue.
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An article appeared at the generally strong Federalist a few weeks ago, which surprisingly centered on a disgruntled TLM-er – or former traddie – listing the manifest failures of the TLM parish from their point of view.  It seemed to me a rather strange choice for The Federalist, as they normally do politics from a reliably right wing perspective and most often are out there excoriating Never Trumpers, and rightly so.  But, whatevs.   You should read the whole thing.  I’d appreciate your insight on it.

Now, a few things up front. I happen to know the author.  Not really, but I’ve seen him.  He’s been around pretty regularly for several years.  I think he was in one of the choirs at one point. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him. And, the parish he was criticizing was my own, or, at least, given that he regularly assisted there off and on for years I’d tend to think it figured largely in his thinking.   I say that out front to let you know that I have a bit of a vested interest in this matter– this is the parish I have chosen to plight my troth with and raise my children in.  I am well aware of the limitations of traditional Catholicism generally in this time of unprecedented crisis, and of the priestly fraternity that operates the parish I attend, and of the parish itself.  The author, Auguste Meyrat, repeats many of the shopworn criticisms of traditional parishes – an ostensible lack of charity, the people are “weird” or “extreme” (but that tattooed, plate-lipped RCIA instructor at Our Lady of Feelin’ Good is groovy), not enough involvement or social outlets for single people in particular, etc.

All this could be taken as a given.  Virtually any parish, anywhere, that has not been led by Saint X, has suffered general lack of virtue.  That is our human nature. Even the parishioners of St. Jean Marie Vianney were the objects of constant, stinging rebukes from that great Saint, and his people were, especially after the first few years, souls who had been formed and influenced by someone virtually all the parishioners knew would be canonized someday.  This is the nature of any moderately sized grouping of people.  Souls gonna sin.  It’s our nature.  That doesn’t mean we don’t constantly strive for improvement.  Of course we do, and we need to hear correction from time to time, especially from our priests, who know our collective and individual failings far better than any layman ever could.

But that’s not my principle problem with this piece criticizing my parish.  My principle problem is the tone, the overall nastiness of the criticisms, the sense of entitlement, and the overweening lack of gratitude present.  To take a few examples (my comments):

………….TLM parishes can sometimes become unwelcoming places that feel more like strange cults than normal Catholic communities.” [oh?  What does a “normal” Catholic community feel like?]

……….This stance often makes some traditional Catholics weird, for lack of a better word. In their minds, countless Freemasons lurk in the shadows, the South really will rise again, monarchy is the ideal form of government, all music after 1700 is sinful, and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is the greatest work of literature after the Bible. [Huh.  I find Tolkein boring.  Sorry.  I got 50 pages into The Hobbit and quit.  Funny the author just quoted Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration (I did not include), and now drops this remark about Freemasons.  The South will what?  Monarchy?  Music what? What the heck are you talking about?  Speaking of, the author quotes Father Ripperger lovingly, and yet Father Ripperger has a lot negative to say about virtually any 20th century music.  So which is it?]

They believe the mainstream church is a disgrace, and everything outside the church is an apocalyptic wasteland. In response, they hope to create isolated, self-sustaining communities to buffet the tides of immorality and impiety surrounding them. [Yeah. Exactly.  Seriously, that’s one of the best descriptions for why I’m a traditional Catholic. It’s like the first rule of medicine – first, do no harm.  Protect what you have.  Defend your family.  Most of us find we have more than enough to fill our time doing just that. But some of us do occasionally make efforts to convert the wider culture.]

The more normal traditional Catholics at these parishes often go to great lengths to contain the nuttiness. [Really. Explain how.] Depending on the parish and the priests running it, they may succeed, or else they may find themselves falling into the same patterns. Without occasional outside contact, there is no reality check. [We live in a time where “outside contact” is practically unavoidable.  Be it radio, TV, internet, co-workers, neighbors, family, shopping, etc, the most insulated Catholics of today probably encounter 100 times as many people in a year than the most outgoing villagers and isolated farmers – the normative Catholic of 1700 – did.  This is silly.  Note also the author siting himself with the “normals.”  In this time of rampant sodomy, four year old transvestites, baby murder, drug addiction, unconstrained usury and rapacious capitalism, etc……..is that what’s being called “normal?”]

I could go on, but I’ll desist (in fact, I left out some of the harshest stuff).  I think you have by now gotten the tenor of the piece, and why I take exception to it.  It’s painting with a very coarse brush, and does not give anywhere near the exculpation for supposedly strange Trad behaviors that people might rightly deserve – such as the trauma at seeing friends and loved ones consumed and destroyed by this culture, the hatred and vitriol directed at them by the institutional Church, the destructive errors emanating from virtually every Novus Ordo pulpit every Sunday (let alone Rome and this pope, which the author essentially ignores or downplays to a level of insouciance) that lead souls to destruction in this life and in the next.  Again, I could go on and on.  If some Trads are extreme, if they tend towards a bit of strange behavior, perhaps they could be forgiven, for the damage they’ve incurred and the treatment they’ve been exposed to.

My real riposte to Meyrat, however, would be compared to what ideal are the current afficianados of the TLM so deficient?  Compared to some other parish?  Some Novus Ordo parish, perhaps?  If that’s the case, I’d say there is much more going on here than just a bit of concern about bad attitudes evidenced from time to time.

Or perhaps the comparison is to some hypothetical ideal that exists only in the author’s mind?  I suspect that’s the more likely.  Certainly, compared to some real Catholic communities that have existed, led by exceptional souls cooperating with grace in superhuman ways that have been the ideals towards which all Catholic communities have pointed for 2000 years, every Trad parish falls short.  Of course, so does every Novus Ordo parish, and to a remarkably greater degree.   Those past communities were led by people who now have “Saint” in front of their names.  These saintly communities rarely had to deal with both a culture and a Church in such utter, deplorable crisis and moral depravity.  But, nevertheless, if this is the ideal the author, strongly influenced, it seems, by Father Chad Ripperger, holds, then so be it.  This is rightly the ideal towards which all Catholic communities should aim.

But I still take exception to the type and manner of criticisms made.  I don’t think it’s helpful for people to be made fun of or made to seem ridiculous for failing to live up to the very highest standards of Catholic formation and community life of the past 2000 years, and I think to some extent that’s what’s going on here. In addition, the piece as a whole had far too much of the sense of an almost anthropological examination of some strange tribe, some “other” to be analyzed and criticized, but not joined or properly understood, rather like the author viewed himself as somehow above or separate from the community.

And that’s another point.  Our family has been very involved in this parish for 10 years.  My wife, particularly, knocks herself out, especially with regard to the high school co-op.  I’ve done a thing or two myself.  This is my biggest problem with Mater Dei.  While the parish has grown from 300 to 1800 in 10 years, the same 30 people seem to do 90% of the labor at the parish.  That’s not entirely true, speaking totally extemporaneously, out of every 100 new parishioners about 1 or 2 will come on board and really help out.  It’s a lot easier to just sit back and criticize and find fault, than to join in and help out and build up.  What?

The author was worried that weirdo trads are going to keep the TLM phenomenon from growing.  I think his analysis is quite off here, too. First, we can only plant, God alone gives the increase, but I think these pieces excoriating wide swaths of the TLM movement as strange, mean, and ugly do far more to keep souls away than the behavior of the 3 or 5% of stereotypical angry old Trads.  While I wouldn’t exactly describe this piece at The Federalist as being another circular firing squad amont Trads, it comes close, and does probably more harm than good, certainly more than the author intended.  In fact, I think broad criticisms like this are singularly unhelpful, especially published in a secular venue where lack of nuance can easily lead large numbers of people to develop the wrong idea.

I would also add that it is remarkable that for such deficient community, it is amazing that Mater Dei has managed to grow 600% over the past decade.  If the souls assisting at Mater Dei were anything like the author describes, that growth would have been impossible.  Virtually any other parish, Novus Ordo or TLM, would love to have had such growth over the same timeframe.  I don’t think that is accidental, or would have been possible with such a toxic community as described in the piece.   The same goes for the other regional TLMs in Tyler, Fort Worth, Houston, and Oklahoma City, to varying degrees.

Alright, I’m done defending my parish.  It’s not that I think this parish, or TLM parishes in general, are above criticism.  Certainly, I’ve had some things to say in the past, but generally much more specific and to the point.  It’s more that I think this particular criticism was off base, and may have said a bit more about the author than it did the parish.  Naturally, in matters such as this, your mileage may vary.  If the author had other parishes in mind when crafting this piece, my analysis still applies, though somewhat less forcefully and specifically.  I think the trope of “mean old trads” and traditional Catholic moral deficiences – as a group, as opposed to individuals – needs to die, or at least be something we see far, far less of.  Or of which we see far, far less, for the English teachers out there.