Sunday Notes on Traditionalism

Traditional Catholicism, a magical land that appears to be home to a growing number of the faithful, has once again come under attack from no less a prelate than the Ordinary of Rome, Francis the Merciful. The outrage is palpable. As those who have bothered to pay even a smidgen of attention to Francis’s oftentimes reckless reign knows, he harbors little-to-no love for the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and finds traditional Catholics to be, well, weird—or, according to his most recent interview on the subject, rigid. To some extent, he’s right. Compared to the Modernist-inspired contemporary Catholic that Francis extols, any member of the Body of Christ who upholds the Church’s indefectible teachings has to come across as not only rigid, but extreme and fundamentalist. Francis, interestingly enough, has far less to say about conservative Catholics (or, as some prefer, neo-Catholics). Perhaps it’s because he knows that they are willing enough to play fast-and-loose with certain teachings to still be tolerable. Also, it doesn’t hurt that two of the central features of conservative Catholicism for the past 50+ years are defending the Novus Ordo Missae and the integrity of the Second Vatican Council. Sure, neo-Catholic fealty to the legacy of Pope John Paul II, specifically his teachings on family issues, might be a bit of annoyance, but it’s a small price to pay for winning the allegiance of quasi-universalists intoxicated with neo-ultramontanism.

I imagine the reason traditional Catholicism has been on my mind today is because I opted to skip the Divine Liturgy this week in favor of attending traditional sung Mass at St. Mary’s in Kalamazoo, MI (a parish I am wholly unfamiliar with). It occurred to me that it may have been only the second TLM I have been to this year that wasn’t low. Regardless, on the long, gorgeous drive home through rural Michigan under an unseasonably cloudless, sunny sky, I was bothered by small but noticeable sense that despite the advances made in expanding access to the TLM since 2007, it could all be taken away in an instant—and most Catholics would go along with it. That is to say, if Ecclesia Dei was abolished tomorrow, Summorum Pontificum repealed, and all talks with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) halted, traditional Catholicism would largely disappear. Those who claim to love the old Mass and only the old Mass would seek out the least-worst new Mass available in their diocese. Some might poke their heads into an Eastern Catholic parish or two (assuming there are any near by), but really that would be that. Traditional Catholicism outside of the confines of the SSPX and a few pockets of (clandestine) diocesan resistance, would be effectively dead.

Some might object here and say that traditional Catholicism is more than the TLM and they’re right. It is. The problem, however, is that many attached to the TLM aren’t deeply invested in messy doctrinal matters. Dignitatis Humanae, for example, may not be consonant with tradition, but who cares? The Catholic state is never coming back and besides, if it wasn’t for religious liberty, wouldn’t Catholics living in an increasingly secular West be the ones to suffer? Similarly, while the Novus Ordo Missae may be abused, banal, and lacking the same doctrinal depth as the TLM, it’s valid. Why get worked up over “licety? I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Speaking personally, I feel quite divorced from this potential disaster and yet quite concerned. I believe Greek Catholics—indeed all Eastern Catholics—should hope and pray for the Latin Church to uphold her tradition in toto, even if it may not seem to be in our immediate best interest. Because while traditional Latin Catholicism is a mansion with many rooms and innumerable treasures, it also tends to store more than a fair amount of junk in the attic. Latin chauvinism has had a deleterious effect on the life, integrity, and mission of the Eastern Catholic churches for centuries, and it is largely thanks to certain mid-20th Century historical, theological, and doctrinal trends that Eastern Catholics have found sufficient room to be themselves in a Latin-dominated ecclesiastical environment. (To be fair, many of these trends have thoroughly traditional roots; they just took on a certain intensity after Vatican II.) Add to this a fairly nauseating tendency for certain traditional Latin Catholics to absolutize their tradition over all others and what you have is a certain, but resolvable, tension between Latins and Easterners.

I say “resolvable” because in the end there are more convergences than divergences between traditional Latin Catholics and faithful Eastern Catholics. There is also a lot of room open for mutual understanding and enrichment, not to the extent of blindly (mis)appropriating one tradition and trying to fuse it with another, but rather gaining a fuller understanding of what it means to be Catholic. To say that most of us have lost this understanding would be a gross understatement.

Ephemera XII: Donald Trump Edition

Unless 2016 has another surprise up its sleeve, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States in January. His victory, which has left liberals weeping and gnashing their teeth, has to come as a surprise, even to some of his most ardent followers. While popular polling is often far from what some hold to be “scientific,” and even the best assumptions can be seriously flawed, the “sense in the air” is that Trump would not be able to pull in the requisite number of voters needed to overtake Hillary Clinton, particularly in states that had gone for Barack Obama during the last two elections. While various theories have been posited about why the pollsters were wrong and Trump was able to draw more support from black and Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney in 2012, it seems to me that up until the zero hour, there was still a significant contingent of Americans unwilling to publicly voice support for Trump. Coupled with that was the fact that a number of Bernie Sanders supporters, along with undecided moderates, simply could not buy into the Democratic Party’s open willingness to foreordain Clinton. Sure, other factors no doubt played a role, not the least of which being that the Democrats have glibly ignored the “uneducated white male” (read: blue collar) population for years—and now it has come back to bite them. It bit them most visibly with the election of Trump, but keeping Congress red sends an equally powerful message that the alleged achievements of the Obama Administration—domestic and foreign—were not unmitigated blessings for all Americans.

I do not follow contemporary American politics closely enough to predict confidently what Trump will do when he gets into office. However, it seems that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) will be an easy target, as well nominating a fresh conservative to the Supreme Court. Should Trump follow through on his promise to reform (or scrap) the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we could see Trump doing something no Republican has even tried for decades, namely cultivate strong union support (and, by extension, support from those Democrats with large union constituencies). While I do expect to also see some immigration reform, such as increasing the budget for border security and imposing higher hurdles for entry into the country, I don’t think anyone seriously expects Trump to build a giant new wall along the U.S./Mexico border. With respect to foreign policy, I think we can rest assured Trump will not follow Clinton’s antagonist rhetoric toward Russia, but what that means in the concrete remains to be seen. If Trump can keep Putin happy by staying out of Syria, then so be it. Ukrainians, on the other hand, ought to be doing everything they can to curry favor with Europe; we won’t be doing anything in the immediate future to curtail Russian incursions into their land.

Many conservative and traditional Catholics are, naturally, overjoyed at news of a pending Trump presidency. This is largely because they believe that Trump will uphold religious freedom and take forceful steps toward curtailing abortion-on-demand access. Maybe. Catholics should keep in mind that Trump is not a true conservative, and he certainly isn’t a cultural warrior. If he does make good on his commitment to appoint pro-life federal judges and bring the abortion issue back to the states, that’s probably as good as it will get. Despite the Republicans controlling two branches of government, it is difficult to imagine that the party will be willing to risk serious blowback by defying the courts with open legislation and other regulatory measures intended to slow down abortion access. I am not getting my hopes up, but we’ll see. If anything I think Trump’s reign will help relieve some of the pressure that has been placed on Catholics and other conservative Christians since Obama took office. Maybe that’s enough for now.

In closing, let me say that while I did not vote for Trump or Clinton on Tuesday, I am less concerned about Trump holding the highest office in the land than Clinton. And yet I remain disgusted with those Catholics who attempted to bully their fellow faithful into believing they had a moral duty to vote for Trump, just as I am nauseated by those limousine liberals and champagne socialists who flatter secular democracy at every turn—until they don’t get what they want. This election cycle, like so many election cycles which preceded it, provided more than enough evidence concerning the shortcomings of democracy and the failures of liberalism. I hope and pray that my fellow Catholics who are pleased at Trump’s victory will not use it as an opportunity to draw closer to a liberal order the Church forcefully condemned in the past. If Trump’s presidency offers us a bit of a reprieve from official and open persecution, then let us take this time to strengthen our bonds and stand against the demonic spirits that still rule this age.

2016 Presidential Election

While I harbor no illusions that Opus Publicum, a modest personal web-log authored solely by yours truly, has the power to influence that ghastly spectacle known as the 2016 United States Presidential Race, I wish to make clear that on Tuesday, November 8 I will be writing-in Michael Maturen and Juan Muñoz of the American Solidarity Party (ASP) for the Presidential and Vice-Presidential offices.

This decision is not an endorsement of the ASP as a whole. Although I have written favorably about its platform before, I believe the ASP has significant work left to do, particularly at the national level. However, I cannot in good conscience vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Additionally, I have come to find that many of the other third-party choices available this year are equally unpalatable. It has taken many months of reading, reflection, and internal debate for me to make this choice, and as many know, my initial instinct was to refrain from voting altogether. (This is a position I have defended before.) While I will not begrudge a single soul for opting to conscientiously refrain from participating in our woefully corrupt political system, I believe the time has come for Catholics in particular to look for ways to make the voice of the Church heard once again, even if it must start out as a faint whisper.

To my fellow Catholics, particularly those who do not agree with me, all I can say is please vote your conscience on Tuesday as informed by the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church and her doctrinally sound theological tradition. If you are uncertain about what that means, let me suggest you click over to The Josias and give careful attention to the recent article entitled “Catholics and the Ethics of Voting.”

If possible, make a point to attend Mass tomorrow and implore Almighty God to have mercy upon the United States during this tumultuous period in her relatively brief history. Spend some time with our Eucharistic King in the Tabernacle and find a way to do some small penance for the innumerable officially sanctioned sins committed throughout this country every single day. And above all, do not give into fear. Do not despair, but recall instead one of the opening petitions of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and pray fervently for the peace that can only come from Above and for the salvation of our souls. Господи Помилуй.