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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tea with the Curate

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Tea with the Curate
An unexpected conversation

For years now I’ve been presented with a complex challenge that I don’t know if I’m really equal to. All Traditionalists face it eventually: explaining why we are Traditionalists, and what the difference is between that and a “normal,” that is, Novus Ordo, Catholic. I’ve tried in blog posts and in articles here and there to clarify it, but I think I still haven’t really done a thorough job.

The other day I was again confronted with this problem – and my inadequacy to address it – in the form of an extremely unusual event; I got a pastoral visit in my new home from the local priest! Whoever heard of such a thing in our times?! Fortunately for me, our curate speaks excellent English and seems to be an extremely nice chap. I was completely delighted when he just turned up one Sunday shortly after the early Novus Ordo Mass I’d just attended in the church next door (the next place over, but still half a mile away across the fields and vineyards.)

The reason for the visit, however, has got me thinking. He had seen a post of mine on Facebook – “We have mutual friends,” he said – and objected to my saying there was next to no sacramental life here in the summer. I had said the Masses in the summers were cancelled. Turns out I was mistaken, happily. There are still daily Masses said in the “pastoral area” that covers several villages in this valley, only the times have changed, and I’m happy to correct the record.

But I’d also said that the dominance of the Novus Ordo – as well as the complete absence of regularly scheduled Confession times – was the equivalent of slowly spiritually starving the people, and I’m afraid the things he told me confirmed that opinion. The Faith still survives here, but it’s on life support. Saints have said the spiritual health of a people can be judged by the frequency of Confession. He told me that he no longer mans the confessional box at scheduled times because, for two years, no one came. Of course the fact that no one goes to Confession doesn’t mean we are living in an age of saints. If the practice of Confession has all but died out, how’s the practice of sin going? How many people around here are living together without being married? How many married couples are contracepting? We had a baptism a few weeks ago in the local parish, and everyone was overjoyed, but how many have there been in the last 20 years? There’s a reason Italy has a total fertility rate under 1.4 children per woman.

You can imagine that the conversation in the kitchen that morning was quite lively. We covered quite a lot of ground in a short time, but I came away frustrated that I had not been able to make clear what my objections were to the Novus Ordo regime in the Church and my reasons for identifying as a Traditionalist. Father wisely declined to try to convince me not to be a Traditionalist, but he clearly did not understand why I was one, and why I would insist that everyone who wants to be Catholic needs to be one too.

I have been thinking about that encounter – which was, for me at least, very pleasant and happy – and thinking about the ways I could be more clear. When one is talking face to face it’s often difficult to remember details and the conversation can often range around too much to really make a clear point. (And I was so happy to have someone to talk to in unobstructed English that I may have been too excited to be clear.)

But I have this blog space on the Remnant. So I emailed Michael Matt and said I would like to devote some time to answering the objections and questions that Father – and others – brought up in a more systematic way. We agreed that the time has really come for this kind of apologetics work. Many, many people have seen with this pontificate that there is something seriously wrong and they’re asking questions. So Michael agreed to a series for the Remnant blog, taking each of the usual objections and problems one at a time. He said we could call it “Tea with the curate.”

Any landing you can walk away from…

First, a little background about why I was attending the Novus Ordo to begin with, which I’ve had people emailing about, as well as generally what’s up with Hilary. I’ve had several people asking why I have shut down my own blog, “What’s Up With FrancisChurch?” I assure readers that I’m not backsliding and that it’s only out of strictest necessity to fulfill my Sunday obligation. After many years of making sure that I always lived in proximity to a regular traditional Mass, circumstances have flung me into the same boat as many, many tradition-minded Catholics around the world. And I’m feeling the pain.

After the quakes in Norcia I sat about quite depressed in my temporary holiday flat on the coast, more or less just waiting to find out when I could go home. As the weeks passed and winter set in, we learned that the destruction had been a good deal worse than we had first thought. I learned from my friend the realtor that nearly all the residential properties – and all of the ones available for rent – were too damaged to live in. People were still living in campers and tents and I could not go home, possibly not ever. I was running out of time on my six month lease, so for the whole month of March I raced around Umbria on trains and buses looking for a landing site. I still had a house full of furniture sitting in Norcia, and three kitties, to find a place for.

What I failed to take into account, that quickly became evident, was that there were about 22,000 other people also displaced from their homes in the mountain regions of Umbria and Marche, and who also wanted to find a place that was as close as possible to home. There was a huge flood of people needing to rent in Umbria, and right now. Added to this was the problem that I had to prioritize a place where the traditional Mass was available at least weekly. I couldn’t afford to live in the cities like Florence where it is more accessible, which left me with exactly three possibilities. So I had to get creative, and a lot more flexible with my criteria than I would have liked.

One big problem was transport. I don’t have a car so I needed a place that was on the bus and/or train lines. I saw plenty of suitable, affordable and even beautiful places for rent in the country but for all of them I needed a vehicle. No buses at all or no buses on Sundays is the norm in the Italian countryside.

(To resolve this, I’m saving up for one of these:
 apeIt’s called an “Ape” – pronounced “ah-pay,” meaning “bee” – and is Italy’s brilliant solution to low-cost, practical, local transport - all the contadini use them. This guy even took one over the Alps. They’re getting quite popular throughout Europe; there’s even an Ape Enthusiasts’ club and an annual meet-up where they race them. A guy I know in Marche who will sell me one for 1200 Euros.)

I was almost ready to give up and extend my lease on the holiday flat when I suddenly got lucky. At the last moment I popped into a realtor’s near Perugia, a city on the list for its weekly Mass. He took me to see a place that was decidedly unsuitable, and as we were driving back to the office said, “Oh, wait. I know just one more. I’ll call them right now.” As soon as we arrived, a little bird whispered in my ear that this was it. The house isn’t exactly post-card worthy and no tourists would ever be interested in the village. But it’s got the basic things that all work, as well as possibly the nicest landlady on earth.

And anyway, I was out of time – the landlady on the holiday flat had kindly extended me for three weeks so I could square the new place away – out of money and out of ideas. So this, for good or ill, is where I was going to crash land.

When the ship’s warp core has breached and you’re re-entering the atmosphere on attitudinal thrusters you take any spot you can find: “All hands brace for impact!” Sometimes you just have to have faith that things are going to work out.

Well, we landed. All the cute furry sidekicks are OK, and most of the equipment made it down intact. Life is getting going again. It’s a decent little place in the country, clean and functional, with lots of room to garden, a nice big terrace for my flower pots, twittering birds, acres of space for the kitties to run around in and catch small creatures. The village is an ordinary, non-touristy farming village, full of working class people most of whom are not more than a generation or two from the old contadini lifestyle. Everyone has a patch of ground where they grow tomatoes and peppers and squash. It’s what I think of as “normal” life, far removed from the strange theme-park atmosphere of most of the popular tourist spots in this country, and a minimum safe distance from the horrors of Rome.

The Mass of All Time is available on Saturday afternoons, and occasional Sundays, up in Perugia, about a 20 minute bus ride from the village. There’s a small group of priests in nearby Marche – a mountain town hard hit by the quakes, or I’d have moved there – who come down to offer it. It’s the bare minimum of my criteria, but considering what’s out there, better than what most people can get in this country. But now and then the various circumstances make it impossible (the 3 months of +40 degree weather – that’s +104 to you Fahrenheit people – has made it pretty undesirable even to leave the house lately!) to make it up to the city on the mountain, so I have resigned myself to attending the local Masses now and then.

Oddly, it hasn’t been entirely without its benefits. Certainly, if you want to win the acceptance and trust of your neighbours – nearly all of whom have known each other all their lives – it’s a pretty good idea to turn up at the local church. It’s a small community, and word gets around when that weird Anglo straneira starts showing up to the evening Rosary and the annual village procession.

The early Mass, the one next door, is at 8:30 am, a good time to go in the summer, before the country really starts to cook. I had gone that morning after discovering that the Perugia MOAT had been cancelled for a few weeks. The local Mass is still pretty popular around here and there was not just standing room only in the little church, but people standing outside in the piazza. In fact, every local NO Mass I’ve been to around here is always full. I have said it many times; the Italians are longing to be re-evangelized. There is room here for a return to the truth, if only their clergy and bishops would have the courage. And if they knew the Faith.

A pastoral visit

After Mass a few weeks ago, I went straight home and not more than 15 minutes later I heard the familiar voice calling out “hello” in English, and we had our chat. I think he was surprised by the vehemence of my objections to the various artifacts of the NO religion and his questions showed an intelligence and interest, and a touching personal concern which one doesn't usually expect among the modern type of clergy. It’s easy to forget that there really are some priests left out there in NovusordoLand who do have the Faith and the pastoral instinct. The fact that he took the effort to show up at my house and was willing to sit down in my kitchen and have things out with me in a constructive way impressed me. It gave me more hope than I had enjoyed in months, and made me sit up and notice that I had been becoming perhaps overly negative, even cynical.

So, I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and will be writing about things based on that conversation, and many more I’ve had elsewhere, trying to make ordinary Novus Ordo Catholics understand that there is a difference, and the difference is important. One of the things I realized in the conversation was that the Novusordoists all have the same almost formulaic objections. As with abortion, everyone has been taught the identical slogans and themes, making it pretty easy to learn to respond.

At one point, I said that many Traditionalists believe that the post-Conciliar Church simply professes a different religion from the Catholicism of the past. This seemed to make him jump a bit. He asked me why I thought the old Mass was superior to the new and I said that it was that I understand liturgy to be an expression of theology, that liturgy is theology in action, and that the new rite appears to me to express a new theolog;, a new religion, essentially, that contradicts the old at many points.

He asked me if I thought Vatican II was “valid,” but seemed not to know that there is a very precise meaning to the word. I talked briefly about other ecumenical councils that had faded into history as failures and about the strange, undefined definition given to this one as “pastoral instead of doctrinal”. I asked how, if something was so crucial, it is still to be regarded as undefined and never “properly implemented”, none of which he seemed to be able to answer. And I pointed him to the New Liturgical Movement website for liturgy questions, since I’m not an expert.

I spoke about what is said now by bishops and popes about other religions and about Protestantism; “ecumenism” and “interfaith dialogue” that is at variance with previous teaching. I mentioned Extra Ecclesiam and the muddying of this teaching. My new friend also seems to think that the separation of Church and state is a good thing, that it’s good for the Church not to be involved in secular politics. I expect he had never heard anything about the Catholic Confessional State, or at least nothing good. I can guess the phrase “social reign of Christ the King” is never uttered in the seminary he attended.

In the next few weeks, I would particularly like to offer the clear answers of the ancient Faith to these very common misapprehensions, questions and disinformation. Traditionalist writers are seeing that this pope has driven many to ask difficult questions that have mainly been somewhat marginal, or even suppressed, until now. I think if we have had a hand in alerting people to the danger, we have an obligation to offer some serious answers. Many, many are asking, and many more are, as my new friend said, “concerned.” (The welcoming of the monstrous Emma Bonino in a Catholic Church, with no serious opposition from anyone in the hierarchy, has shocked quite a few people out of their afternoon riposo in Italy.)

I am familiar with the main documentation and we can bring some of that forgotten material forward as we address each issue and topic. And I know very well-educated Traditionalist theologians who can help with some of the more complex and difficult issues. Maybe we can make some progress. No matter what, I know we must try to help, since there is such a grave and growing confusion.

I’ve shut down the blog and I think it’s going to stay shut down; it’s time for me to leave off the Francis-bashing, especially given what a good job he does of it without my help. But maybe it’s time to move on to the next phase. We know the real Faith, the fulness of the Faith, is still out there, all written down and even posted to the internet, if only people would go and look for it. If only they knew the questions to ask. Novusordoism isn’t Catholicism—that much is clear—but it’s very close, and a lot of Catholics are starting to understand that they have been short-changed. Many “conservatives” are starting to realize they have been standing on a false floor, and that there is an entire Lost City underneath, waiting for its ancient splendours and treasures to be rediscovered.

My new friend agreed with me that we have all the reason to hope we could possibly need for a good outcome. Truth is Truth, and will always win in the end. But we have our role to play.


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Last modified on Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.