Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Third Way

Call me crazy, but I have a vision of the church --a mental portrait of the renewal that will have to take place to recapture the essence of what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. It will require boots on the ground and in the field, lots of hard work, a willingness to take risks, look foolish, and get one's hands dirty, creativity and out of the box thinking, deep lives of prayer and service, a docility to the Spirit, associating with sinners, a thirst for souls, and a willingness to suffer. This is not a program, nor an apostolate or religious order--it is simply people embracing the "both/and" ethos of Catholicism and refusing to settle for anything less than full-throated "lives fully lived" for Christ. I don't want to be a cafeteria Catholic; I want the whole buffet.

But because this is a tall order, I'm taking as a mission statement the adage, "be the change you wish to see in the world." We can only change ourselves and live authentically as God calls us. Since we are called as disciples to put our hands to the plow and not look backwards, there's no way of knowing who is following us when our eyes are forward-looking, focused on Christ. And that's a good thing--movements come and go; but Christ remains. 

Why is this important? St. Paul sought the unification of the Church when dealing with factions, those who say "I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos" (1 Cor 1:12; cf. 1 Cor 3:4). The early Christians were also identified in the public square by their love (Jn 13:35)--not because they wore a chapel veil or had ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday. They were also willing to go to their martyrdoms singing joyfully, knowing their reward was in Heaven. They were not SJWs, but shared what they had cheerfully with the poor and those in need. Many worked miracles by faith, and tended to the sick and dying. In short, they believed and lived out that belief in the pagan streets of Rome and beyond.  

When I see factions in the Church today, I see weakness; a missing the forest for the trees, and a forgetting of one's first love. The potential for a formidable bloc of believers which transforms our fallen world is vetoed in favor of a comfortable country club of card-carrying dues-payers, or a degenerate squabble-fest, fiefdom against fiefdom. We pour into these little projects and kingdoms rather than deferring our wages to the Divine Architect to fund his master piece. 

Tradition is the best kept secret in the Church today. What I see is people being fed and fortified by it in their liturgical lives, having found a vessel worthy to hold their offerings of worship. It may be branded as "Traditional Catholicism" but really it is simply authentic Catholicism believed and lived out. I also see people wary and suspicious of this "brand" and instead of embracing it, hold it at arm's length and not giving it a chance. Or finding their first experience or two were negative ones and so refusing to return. I see caricatures, avatars of "trads" invoked as the rationale for keeping distance from this authentic Catholicism--sometimes valid, other times not.  

But Tradition is not the end goal, our raison-d'etre. It is a formidable means to an end to fortify us, but not the end itself. For in the New Covenant there are not one, but two Great Commandments: “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. ' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ' There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). While the ornate chasubles rustle and the sun reflects off golden candlesticks on the altar, the more muted orders of charity sit outside the sanctuary door waiting to be filled: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and prisoners, bury the dead. The doubtful await counseling, sinners need admonishing, our enemies demand forgiveness, the ignorant live in darkness. While traditional Catholics are busy griping about liturgical abuses and turning down their nose at the Novus Ordo ad nauseum, their counterparts in their local suburban parishes are carrying out these works of mercy day in and day out in anticipation of their judgment: "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink (Mt. 25: 35-40). 

Take as way of example these two vocation trailers: the first for the Discalced Carmelites, the second for the CFRs. Both are powerful and moving; both inspire devotion and service to Christ. One order is traditional and contemplative; the other, more charismatic and active. Both are authentically Catholic.

And so, like a naive babe or a misguided fool, I see these two seemingly disparate blocs of Catholics and think to myself, "Why not both/and?" If lex orandi lex credendi is a proven law (and it is), and if we will be judged on our charity, why are we shutting down one lung in the body of Christ to breathe with the other? Is a joyful, evangelical traditionalism that is committed to being the hands and feet of Christ in the world a contradiction in terms--or is it a third way forward that leaves nothing on the table and no room to doubt that we are, in fact, Catholic Christians through and through, known by our love?

Yes, I see a Third Way of living out my life as a Christian...but not as much around me. This is the change I want to see in the church and in the world. I am not interested in movements or factions or joining a tribe; I am a laborer, and I want the whole package. If I'm alone, I'm content to be alone. But if there are others, I would welcome the company. Call me crazy...but call me hopeful as well.