Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All things to all people.

I recently overheard (actually, I was stuffing my face with shortbread cookies at the same table) yet another conversation lamenting the divisions between so-called Traditionalist Catholics and, for lack of any term, Non-Traditionalist-but-still-Totally-Orthodox Catholics (NTTO--"orthodox" here meaning obedient to the teaching Magesterium of the Church). The particular case in question was a refusal on the part of Traditionalists to participate in the same homeschooling cooperative as the NTTO's. The divide seems particularly silly given the dearth of passionate Catholics in our area.

As an NTTO who often contemplates turning Traditionalist (usually when I hear the strains of "Sing a New Church" or "Rain Down" or see those "boy briefs" shorts at Mass), I have friends on both sides of the divide. At our previous school, there was a sort of understanding between the two. Women who never wore skirts above the knee happily taught alongside women who were (!) lectors at Mass. Head-covering Catholics happily received instruction from those who served hamburgers for dinner on Fridays. Once in a while, some bad feeling would erupt (usually over the interpretation of Humanae Vitae or Gaudium et Spes or whether or not John Paul II is a saint), but it was a working relationship.

The reason it worked there and does not work here seems simple to diagnose and harder to fix. The way I came to think about it was in three pieces.

1. We have to know the difference between what is essential to and what is merely a help toward salvation. There are some things that are absolutely necessary for a professed/believing Catholic: belief in Jesus Christ, following the Ten Commandments, fidelity to the precepts and moral teachings of the Church, including visiting the Sacrament of Penance if you sin. These are the basics. Then there are things that are merely aids toward holiness or salvation: the scapular, Daily Mass, chapel veils, certain hymns, Gregorian Chant. Even the liturgy of the Church, which is not a thing to be fabricated or created by man, is a changing, organically growing aid to bring us to heaven. But it is not essential to salvation that we hear that liturgy in English. The Church and various saints sometimes prioritize these helps (for example, Gregorian Chant is said to be a better form of praise than popular hymnody), but they remain outside the category of "essential to salvation." We need to cultivate a healthy sense of what is and is not necessary.

2. We must not take what merely helps us toward salvation and make it an absolute. Women who do not wear headcoverings at Mass may yet be saved, and those who do may yet not. Heaven, if we look at the lives of the saints, is already peopled by those who attended Mass in Latin and at least one who attended the Novus Ordo. This principle goes both ways: NTTO's can sometimes seem to Traditionalists like they're compromising with the world, while the Traditionalists come across as reactionary. Both Traditionalists and NTTO's need to be sure that they are making these non-essential choices for the right reasons: as positive lifestyle choices (oh, ack) rather than rejection of other valid ways of practicing the faith.

3. We have to cultivate a respectful sense of humor toward all these (sometimes wacky) helps toward salvation. You have to admit. From a non-Catholic point of view, some of these devotional practices are a little crazy. Scapulars? Novenas? Doilies on our heads (as some say)? But each has its own reasoning, its own tradition, and its own lovable-ness. The Church is a big family, replete with the odd cousin who always shows up an hour late, the sincere aunt who gives you an applique sweater every Christmas, and on and on... Even if you don't personally like the flavor of Latin, the tinny sounds of modern hymnody, or those denim jumpers all seven Jones girls wear to Mass, all these various practices make up the delightful (sometimes delightfully funny) family of the Church. Both Traditionalists and NTTO's should assume the best: We are all striving mightily for holiness. (There are days when the best I can assume is that my interlocutor is a victim of invincible ignorance.) We must speak to one another as best we can, using each other's vocabulary to encourage one another to holiness:
"I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (St. Paul, I Corinthians)

Which brings me to...


There is not one of us who can fulfill The Requirement for salvation: Total abandonment to the will of God. The Law of Love is so very demanding that, in the end, for all our practices and devotions, we are simply going to have to cast ourselves on his mercy on our last day. I'm not saying, "Do whatever," here. I have my own very pointed opinions about the liturgy, devotions, female dress, and song. The point is that, after having taken care of the essentials and choosing the very best for our families and ourselves, we need to assume that everyone else is doing the same. The thoughts of all will be revealed in the end, and our hope is that all thoughts, both NTTO's and Traditionalists and the Rest, will be pleasing in the sight of God.


NB: Mark Shea's piece on the Theology of the Body is precisely the kind of peace-making I'm talking about. Give it a gander! Thanks to Wine Dark Sea...


Amy said...

I love this post. I'm not a homeschooler and haven't been in this debate. I see more of the NTTO vs liberal Catholics.

I'm an NTTO I guess because I converted in 1996, so all I've known is post VCII and my first pope was JPII. If I were to lean left or right it would be right (I'll cover my head and have only male priests thank-you-very-much).

I agree with your point that some things are essential and some are extra.

Alishia said...

Makes me think of (something I'm sure you've heard/read):

in essentials, unity;
in doubtful matters, liberty;
in all things, charity.


Annita, Mom2Seven said...

As always, an excellent and thoughtful post! Have a nice evening. +JMJ+

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur said...

Well said. I'm going to post a link to it on my blog.


Mary B said...

Can this go in the newsletter?

LP said...

This is such a needed topic - I was surprised myself by the tender place in my heart it touched! It seems to surface in every circle I find myself in, so I suppose that's the reason why. We can never exhaust the need for much mercy and goodwill! Thanks, E. Such a wise lady you are!

Jess said...

I love, love, love this post. I've been lurking on your blog for a long time now, probably a year or more and I think this is the first time I've commented. Thank you so much for your insightful, concise writing.