Y MOTHER USED TO TELL ME the old cliche, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Her implied corollary was, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.” FUN FACT: the implement pictured to the right is known as a “Brannock Device.” My wife and I tossed around what we thought it was called (“Shoe Sizometer” was the front runner), and learned that.
Traditionalists have gotten a bad shake for many years in the Church. They’re always getting lumped in with dissident and schismatic groups, even when they are no such thing. For this reason, along with being unable to celebrate what is now called the Extraordinary Form in many places, Trads (a term I use not derogatorily, but with affection) tend to be a bit defensive about any criticism against them. I’m asking you to let down those defenses for just a few minutes, and consider the following:
Traditionalists have a reputation problem. Some of the criticism against them is perfectly justified, some not, and some is just collateral damage because the critic is recalling previous bad experiences with trads. As a semi-Trad myself (note that, in my effort to escape a label, I’m just creating more labels), I have some suggestions for behavior, especially online, that bastion of rational discourse without any hyperbole or extremism. Ever.
NOTE: I am obviously not addressing all Trads here, hence the title of this post. I am guilty of some of these myself.
One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed with online Trads is that of tone. This is a pretty broad statement to make on a medium like the internet, which has all the subtlety of a chainsaw. What I particularly mean in the case of traditionalists is the tone of superiority. Many comments and posts I read are laced with disdain for the Great Unwashed that are part of the larger Church. Simply put, we don’t need that superiority. If the truth is really on our side, rhetorical bombs just aren’t necessary. Furthermore, that kind of tone acts more to drive people away than to win them over. I know that it’s easier to write another person off because they prefer guitars to polyphony, but condescension certainly doesn’t help the guitar lover, and it will also bleed over into anyone else who reads that discussion later. Remember this the next time you want to call Guitar Guy a heretic. Speaking of which…
Don’t assume the worst in others. I do this one all the time. If a liturgist or a politician is out of line with the norm, I’ll assume, even inwardly, that he truly desires the destruction of the Church. How much more likely is it that that person is taking a different approach, in a different spiritual state in life, or simply uncatechized? As I wrote in one of my first entries, many times a person, even an opinionated one, just doesn’t know. We do a lot more for the cause of tradition by speaking the truth firmly but gently and leaving the person with a good taste, so they remember The Kind (Even if Wrong) Trad instead of just That Jerk. A variation of this approach is…
The desire to see others kicked out of the Church. Some will defend this approach by saying that Benedict XVI predicted a smaller, more faithful Church. Please understand that this was not a desired scenario, but a facing of reality in the postmodern world. If Benedict wanted to rid the Church of the riff-raff, he could have. He didn’t, because that’s not what the Church is for. It’s for all of us, especially the ones who screw up on a consistent basis. I’m not saying that we should change the proclamation of the truth, just that seeking to purge the Church of dissidents is not going to happen, nor is it a Christian solution. Worse yet, I see Trads (only online, never in person, thank the Lord) hoping others end up in hell, either explicitly or implicitly. There is an accurate label for such people: sociopaths.
Overall, what the Trad community needs is a sane public face. No one wants to join a group of angry, bitter reactionaries (just ask most LCWR communities). They want to be a part of something that fulfills them and makes them happy. Also remember that Tradition is a means to an end: the salvation of the whole world through Jesus Christ. If your approach to forwarding the traditional practices of the Church and her liturgy gets in the way of that mission, then you’re doing something wrong.