On 2 March Bp. Robert Barron issued an apologia at Word On Fire: “The Evangelical Path Of Word On Fire”.
He spends his first several hundred words talking about his own efforts to battle “beige” Catholicism through a “missionary spirit of Vatican II”. Then he puts his foot wrong, in my opinion: he starts up a cartoonish caricature of “traditionalist movement” with vocabulary like: fiercely, ferocity, anger, nostalgic (that damned chestnut… again?!?), antipathetic, radically, self-devouring, spitting-mad. His word choice calls to mind defamatory propaganda posters of yesteryear: unappealing characters marked with recognizable evil logos loom over all that is good and true. The Beige are on the Left! The Trads are on the Right! We must battle the forces of evil to protect the Middle!
I like Scott Hahn’s description of traditionist leanings as mad trads, rad trads and glad trads. The first two possible categories, which can overlap, are growing less and less prominent while the “glad trads”, with the influx of young people in the traditional movement, are growing. Barron is a little behind the times. That could be corrected if he would personally – not through surrogates – reach out to them instead of further marginalizing them with his obviously tilted vocabulary.
In a huge surprise move, Barron “nails his colors to the mast” of Word On Fire! He thinks it is middle ground between the beige and the nostalgic self-devourers. He goes on to say that he has “tried to situate Word on Fire on the path of an evangelical Catholicism, the Catholicism of the saintly popes associated with Vatican II, a living Catholicism.”
The Olympian Middle.
Never mind that Summorum Pontificum assured that traditional expressions of liturgical worship are in the warp and weft of living Catholicism. Bp. Barron has never – to my knowledge – made a positive step in the direction of what is unquestionably the most marginalized group in the Church, a growing community primed and ready to be activated in the service of the New Evangelization, a group of determined, smart, well-catechized Catholics, giving good examples with stable marriages and large families: traditionalists.
Bp. Barron: It is impossible to have authentic, living Catholicism without that which Summorum Pontificum made possible.
Please correct me if I am wrong. I mean that sincerely. If Bp. Barron has celebrated a Pontifical Mass in the Traditional Roman Rite, I’d like to know.
If I were a bishop – thank you, Lord, I never will be – having seen what is going on in the traditional movement, I’d want to get involved with them FAST, no matter my own inclination and give them guidance, support and channel them at something: evangelization, works of mercy, etc. This group is NOT going away. An policy of hostility toward them is not going to go well in the future for priests and bishops.
MIND EXERCISE: Imagine for a moment. Imagine a diocesan bishop shifting around his time and energy allocations toward the traditional side of things. That doesn’t mean ignoring the other end of the spectrum… even though the traditional end has been ignored. This isn’t about getting even. Imagine, a bishop turning his energy to support the traditional movement in a diocese as a priority, rather than just as a begrudged concession, that occasional handful of dirt tossed in their direction. Imagine.
Were some bishop to do that, I think people would absolutely explode into the traditional movement and embrace a warm and fervent outward expression of the Faith. I think that bishop and his parish priests would wake up to find increasing numbers of people ready to go to the wall for what the bishop aims to do.
Am I wrong?
At Crisis Eric Sammons responded to Bp. Barron.
Sammons says, in a nutshell, that Barron doesn’t seem to understand who and what the traditional community is. Worse, Barron has become part of the “beige” that he says he wanted to convert. Hence, the title of his piece, “The Beiging of Bishop Barron”.
Sammons indicates, as I have pointed out, that the traditional movement indeed on the move. It is growing and succeeding where it is given a little TLC.
Young priests are learning the traditional forms of sacred worship and the knock on effect is palpable.
I say that a demographic sinkhole is opening up under the Church in these USA. The beige and the virtually un-catechized are going to drop through this hole never to be seen again in our churches. Senior Catholics, often generous to the Church, will because of the steady tick tick tick of the “biological solution”, inexorable time, will dwindle in numbers and they will take their generosity with them. Their un-churched, un-committed children and grandchildren will no longer pretend to embrace the Faith of their families. They will be gone even on Christmas and Easter. We will lose properties and social standing as a Church.
Why? Barron rightly talks about “beige” Catholicism. No question. For a long time, that’s what the Church has presented: beige, a color so neutral that it is neither to be seen as interesting or uninteresting. Sammons thinks that Barron’s attempts to do the same thing we have been doing for so long, but just do it a little better, is, in effect, to become the very beige one seeks to battle.
Sammons, my emphases:
There lies the irony of Barron’s negative views of traditionalism. Catholics are fed up with beige Catholicism, but they don’t want the half-measures that Barron recommends in response. Instead of replacing felt-banner 1970s liturgies with slightly less gauche ones, they want liturgies that give all the glory to God. Instead of substituting heretical teachings with orthodox yet oh-so culturally-relevant homilies, they want unadulterated, politically-incorrect, and unapologetic proclamations of the Faith. And instead of a half-hearted, cover-your-*ss response to the abuse scandal, they want a deep cleaning of the hierarchy, from top to bottom. They see that Catholicism as practiced since the 1970’s is far worse than beige, and Barron’s response itself has lost all color. Give us that ol’ time religion, they say.
It’s clear that Bishop Barron is far and away one of the most talented members of the American episcopate. Unfortunately, it’s also clear that he’s missing the new pulse beating within the Church: the strong and joyful beat of traditional Catholicism. Instead of considering it his enemy, he should recognize it as the fulfillment of what he’s been striving for all along.
I suggest that simply doing what we have been doing, but maybe a little better, isn’t going to slow the sink-hole’s expansion or pull from its depths those who fall in. Repeating the failed strategies of the past, won’t work. Furthermore, to continue down this same old path is what is “self-devouring”.
BUILD BEIGE BETTER
Something Sammon wrote struck me.
An improved beige is worse than beige.
Let’s add orthodox and traditional elements to the beige and it is worse than it was before, not better. Why? Because hearing some better preaching and seeing a few little hints at tradition here and there will make people think that they’ve got it all, when in fact they have neither one or the other.
I am reminded of the masses in the Inferno’s Canto 3, the fore-hell where the tepid run in a circle chasing a meaningless unmarked banner. The tepid.
The sooner priests and bishops wake up to the potential of the traditionalist movement, the sooner we can battle the inevitable declines in the Church and seek a new way forward. I am convinced that, as the various factions drop out of sight, we will be left with committed Catholics in several seemingly disparate groups, converts who come from Evangelical background, those who lean charismatic, and traditionalists. These groups will, per necessity, find each other. They will have conflicts and frictions, but something amazing could grow from their “mutual enrichment”, to borrow a phrase.
Summorum Pontificum was a gift to the whole Church, not just a slice. It is what makes possible an authentic “living Catholicism”.
If we are going to talk about “a living Catholicism”, then it is absolutely imperative that traditional forms of worship be integrated as widely as possible. How is “Catholicism” even to be imagined it it is not rooted in tradition? Summorum Pontificum reminds the world that you can’t have a living Church without tradition.
Further, when you trash tradition, you kill what you say you want.
Continue to marginalize traditionalists and you will only slow, harm and hobble any efforts of Evangelization.
Anytime His Excellency Bp. Barron wants to have a Pontifical Mass, I’ll happily contribute in any way I can, as a sacred minister, or by sitting in choir and praying for him, or … whatever. Perhaps he will one day get interested in a positive way about a growing number of young Catholics who are his natural allies.
I’ll turn on the moderation queue and get ready to see thoughtful comments.