Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Traditionalist Movement
and the Works of the Flesh

As you can see on the upper right corner of my blog, I have posted an excerpt from the dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, n. 14. Recently, at the Chrism Mass, a colleague and I were discussing the tendency of traditionalists ("Trads") and ultraconservatives to be intentionally uncharitable and purposely polarizing. We discussed specific examples. In one case, a cleric from the Archdiocese of New York wrote disparagingly of Archbishop +Annibale Bugnini, comparing him to "his namesake" Hannibal. Slander aginst Archbishop Bugnini has not abated and many Trads still accuse him of being a Freemason. One wonders whether the testimony of the conservative Silvio Cardinal Oddi to the contrary counts for anything.

Another paradigm example comes from the popular blog of an indefatigable (and apparently parishless) demagogue cleric who finds it necessary to preface any reference to the jounalist John Allen with "the nearly ubiquitous fair-minded correspondent for the dissenting [or "ultra lefty"] National Catholic Reporter." In a recent posting on an editorial by Fr John Langan in America, this blogger-cleric has shown himself incapable of dialogue, let alone decent conversation. Instead of responding with truth and charity, his ecclesiopolitical fascism spews out statements like "mournful bayings of desperation." In yet another article by Fr Richard Mc Brien, the blogger mocks the disturbed conscience of the person who is the subject of the author's reflection. In response to the comment that "people are grieving for their church," the blogger responds with "ROFL!" and suggests that the Trads' grief is more credible than those who do not identify with any clique. Curiously, the blogger-cleric adds that "People in the same camp as Pope Benedict are striving to heal that division" (emphasis original), thus perpetuating the "us-versus-them" mindset. I am not convinced that they are "striving to heal that division", especially since they find it necessary to peg each Catholic somewhere on the ecclesiopolitical spectrum, thus driving a wedge between different members of the one Church. Constantly labelling people as "lefty," "left-wing," "leftist," "liberal," and so forth only serves to create and perpetuate division, not heal it, because it calls attention to a label and not to the article of faith which is being dissented. What is most revealing is that when his opinions or ideas are called into question, or when he is treated with the same respect that he affords his ideological adversaries, I.P. number of the disagreeing party is identified and he is thus blocked from his website. So much for dialogue.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not a fan of the National Catholic Reporter, nor of Fr Richard McBrien. By conviction I adhere to the pro-life cause; I have even resolved to abstain from Holy Communion and to go to confession because I voted for President G. W. Bush during his second campaign, thus having "materially cooperated" in a war that is unjust. But I refuse to play the silly game of "Who's More Catholic" because it scarcely never avoids being reduced to creating polarization and rivalry.

St Paul the Apostle would have had a field day:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before, those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).

In other words, creating and perpetuating the "us-versus-them" mindset, be it from the right against the left or vice versa, is gravely sinful, so sinful that St Paul teaches that they belong to the same group of sins as fornication, drunkenness, and licentiousness. In other words, traditionalism is a work of the flesh. Perhaps, then, we should call a spade a spade and say that the Trads are scarcely better than fornicators?

She then recited from memory the text from Lumen gentium, 14:

The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart." All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

What a relief it was to discover that others, too, have reached the same conclusion. The brilliant Mark Shea in his article "Those Angry Traditionalists" had this to say:

But that is often the impression I have gotten from many (though certainly not all) Traditionalists. Like it or not, discourse among a great many Traditionalists is filled with anger and contempt for Catholics who do not share their burning interest in traditional forms of piety.

So while I've never seen a Clown Mass, I have encountered lots of angry Trads who have compared the Paul VI rite to a Black Mass, made clear that "Novus Ordo types" are second class Catholics, spent a great deal of time obsessing over Jews, sneered at John Paul II and Benedict "Novus Ordo Popes" who have compromised the Tradition, threatened people in my parish physically, smeared good priests with nasty rumor campaigns and generally made their claims to be the Guardians of True Catholicism so repellent that I wouldn't touch the Faith with a barge pole if they were the True Apostles of it they claim to be. And that experience is not just mine.

What is especially disturbing is that the Eucharist, that very Sacrament of Unity, is made to be the point of division. Since the unity of the Church is the res tantum of the Most Blessed Sacrament, I wonder whether taking the Mass as one's battleground and dividing the Church into the "TLM" and the "Novus Ordo" types is actually more blansphemous than showing desecrating the sacramentum et res.

As you know, I'm working on my postgraduate thesis; part of my research requires going through the canons of the Council of Trent. What is especially surprising--and refreshing--is how much respect the Council Fathers gave to Luther and to the other Protestant reformers. In fact, the Council tries to parse the personalities of the Protestant movement from their own views, lest the Council Fathers misinterpret their writings and thus villify their persons. If only the Trads would be so courteous.

If only the Trads could be...Christian. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Ps 133:1).

But, as in the past, I'm sure some Trad will call me a neo-Protestant for citing the Bible.

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