I was going to title this post “Schism and Mental Illness” because my latest encounters with schismatic trads have left me wondering if there isn’t some kind of intrinsic link. For instance, why is it that every schismatic I meet wants to be my spiritual director? I have a spiritual director, thank you. The last straw was when one such fellow, clearly no saint, finally got around to telling me that his own suffering (much of it self-inflicted) is really for the salvation of other sinners like me. He wanted me to thank him, I suppose.
But then, of course, it must be acknowledged that schism does not always lead to religious insanity (Bishop Bernard Fellay of the SSPX seems to be genuinely sane), and that the company of non-schismatics contains no shortage of lunatics either. So this post will have to take another direction.
Recent discussions around the Catholic blogosphere have concerned the off-putting attitudes of some traditionalist Catholics. I think it is only right to acknowledge that such attitudes really do exist, even if they are sometimes condemned by those who suffer from precisely the same problem. (“The proud hate pride — in others”, according to Poor Richard.) Here’s my theory of what lies behind the problem:
There is certain pharisaical personality that seems oblivious to its own faults, but is nevertheless out to fix everybody else. He is sincere and well-meaning, and by correcting you he believes he’s doing a good deed. As one such person told me this morning, “Be quiet, I’m trying to witness to you!” These personalities have a difficult time among worldly people who are content with themselves, but they thrive among earnest religious people who are striving to live up to the tenets of their belief. Therefore, the pharisaical personality tends to gravitate towards religions or philosophies that claim to have answers and that believe right answers matter. They can be found among the most rigorous Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Fascists, and Communists. They are also found among the most dogmatic liberals and secularists. The point is that such people are less driven by Truth than they are driven by their need to demonstrate their own Correctness.
As someone who dearly loves the old Mass and the old Faith — and who wants everyone else to love them too — it grieves me when people say, “I might attend the Tridentine Mass if it weren’t for those nasty judgmental angry self-righteous traditionalists!” What accounts for this? I think that in many cases traditionalists are their own worst enemy. There are, indeed, some kooky traditionalists who think it is their duty to correct everyone they meet in matters of religion. There was a story circulating a few years ago about a woman who was forcibly evicted from a traditionalist chapel because her forearms were exposed. This story, like so many others, may have been a complete fabrication, but judging from some of the personalities in the movement it has a certain plausibility to it.
Now my experience with indult-goers has not been anything like this. Most traditionalists of my acquaintance understand the place of legitimate “fraternal correction”: that is, we don’t have the right or obligation to issue our “fraternal corrections” willy-nilly. For the most part we should keep our mouths shut about the faults of others (whether real or perceived) unless our particular station or extraordinary circumstances give us license. And most of us do keep our mouths shut, most of the time — because we understand that if everyone was supposed to correct everyone else in everything there would not be two friends left in the world. Beyond merely keeping one’s mouth shut, it seems clear that there can be no spiritual progress without overlooking, in charity, the imperfections of others.
With respect to the perceived “anger” of many traditionalists, I think the complaints are coming from two directions here. First, it must be admitted that some traditionalists are, indeed, perpetually angry Johnny-one-notes who can’t ever seem to calm down or change the subject. This must recognized as a personality disorder that is common in all sorts of groups. Second, I hope that every Catholic is angry — indeed, mad as hell! — about the catastrophe that has befallen the Church in the last forty years. That anger needs to be there and one should not be surprised to find it expressed from time to time. Those who are content with the current state of affairs will undoubtedly be offended because they understand (quite rightly) that such anger is partially directed towards them.
John Bianco made the point elsewhere that when traditionalist Catholics are given access to the sacraments in the old rite, in union with their bishop, on at least a weekly basis, the anger tends to dissipate and a normal parish life resumes. Mr. Bianco speaks from experience because he has experienced Sacramento. Our conversations after Mass are far more likely to involve work and family and parish life than the latest liturgical outrage. We are now so infrequently exposed to liturgical abuses and heretical homilies that we seldom talk about them anymore