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Being ‘Rigid’ Is a Badge of Honor, Your Holiness

Editor’s note: This article comes to 1P5 from an anonymous Catholic.

People generally don’t enjoy being insulted. Being rejected by another person is painful, especially when it is your spiritual father. It is a natural reaction to want to reject the notion that you are the object of a sweeping, generalized insult such as being called “rigid.”

On Pope Francis’s advice, I’ve analyzed my “rigidity,” digging deep to understand why I am this way.

I feel that “rigid” is being used as a derogatory term to insult those who oppose the pope — those who do not wish to “make a mess,” or have a mess made, in or of the Church. “Rigid” is an aggressive word used with the intention of covertly denigrating its more noble synonyms: ordered, disciplined, singular, unequivocal.

The media have conditioned Catholics to respond to insults and accusations of poor conduct by publicly repenting and disavowing such uncivilized and embarrassing behavior. Francis expects as much; he wants his public insults to cause us to disavow rigidity, repenting: “No more shall I appear to appreciate order, discipline, truth, beauty! I will be a mature believer who knows that there are infinite definitions of ‘god’ and ‘truth.’ Never again shall I confess that the Catholic Church is The Way.” Instead, we will rejoice: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Lk. 6:22–23).

A mess is the opposite of order, and it is a mess that Francis wants. Order, on the other hand, is a defining characteristic of all of Creation, which Satan despises. Chaos is his sought-after state.

Order is found in the marked passing of years, seasons, and days. It is in the orderly repetition of nature, substance, and life that makes the sciences possible. It is the reason math works. It is in the continuous depth of the invisible atomic structure to the continuous expanse of the invisible fabric of the universe. Order is the foundation of beauty.

Besides all around us in God’s creation, where else do we rigid types find order? In perpetual Truth, which can never be remade, rewritten, or redefined, as protected by the Catholic Church, and in the traditional Latin Mass, where the catholicity — the universality, the sameness — of the Church is maintained. In contrast to the TLM, the Novus Ordo masses are all different, rejecting the universality of the Church. You cannot go to one and expect to see the same thing in another; they display themselves on randomly sliding scales of chaotic, inventive, ugly, and irreverent.

The TLM is universal, orderly, structured, purposeful, precise, and beautiful. These are marks of God. The TLM is orderly and directed, or ordered, toward God, thus it is here that Jesus is visibly revered as King of the Universe — the critical element lacking in the N.O. The TLM is where those who reject chaos, mess, and disorder find refuge. I hate to draw attention to it for fear of making it a target, but the enemy already knows the goodness of The Mass, has exercised great power to destroy it, and hasn’t yet. Jesus warned us not to build our houses on anything but a firmly fixed foundation.

Take comfort that one of the definitions of “rigid” is “firmly fixed or set.”


To be rigid, you must be disciplined, a concept almost entirely lost on the generations of proceeding from the Baby-Boomers’ families and the Vatican II Church. In lockstep with one another, parents, teachers, and clergy removed their “heavy hand” to relieve the children of the rigidity of discipline. No longer are there rules, but kind suggestions, given not as parents, but as friends. Generations have grown accustomed to a language that omits the word “no.”

A lost discipline in the Church, for example, is abstaining from meat on all Fridays throughout the year in honor of the flesh of Jesus on the cross for our sins. Your average Catholic does not even know that this is a practice still technically encouraged by the Church. Why, then, was it lost? The Church chose to be less rigid with her children and explained the convoluted reasoning that “since meat is no longer an exceptional food, it is no longer penitential to abstain” (because you’re used to eating exceptional food every day now). The following is from the USCCB’s 1966 Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence:

  1. Changing circumstances, including economic, dietary, and social elements, have made some of our people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance. Meat was once an exceptional form of food; now it is commonplace.
  2. Accordingly, since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential.
  3. For these and related reasons, the Catholic bishops of the United States, far from downgrading the traditional penitential observance of Friday, and motivated precisely by the desire to give the spirit of penance greater vitality, especially on Fridays, the day that Jesus died, urge our Catholic people henceforth to be guided by the following norms.
  4. Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified. …
  5. Every Catholic Christian understands that the fast and abstinence regulations admit of change, unlike the commandments and precepts of that unchanging divine moral law which the Church must today and always defend as immutable. This said, we emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent. We stress this so that “no” scrupulosity will enter into examinations of conscience, confessions, or personal decisions on this point.
  6. Perhaps we should warn those who decide to keep the Friday abstinence for reasons of personal piety and special love that they must not pass judgment on those who elect to substitute other penitential observances. Friday, please God, will acquire among us other forms of penitential witness which may become as much a part of the devout way of life in the future as Friday abstinence from meat. In this connection we have foremost in mind the modern need for self-discipline in the use of stimulants and for a renewed emphasis on the virtue of temperance, especially in the use of alcoholic beverages.

Born of a spirit of independence and personal preference, this statement highlights that God’s people are ready to be mature; we are no longer juveniles depending on Mother to guide us — as if it is time for the fledglings to fly from the nest of the Church, strengthened by all we’ve learned through the discipline of our childhood inside her walls over the past two millennia. It’s an image that appeals to the modern man; finally, his destiny in his own hands, and he is free of the overbearing rules of his childhood. A mature man needs no discipline other than that which he makes for himself, says the Church. This personal discipline will naturally spring from the love of God, hope the bishops. They pray that this change herald a new birth of loving faith and more profound penitential conversion.

I think we can say the results are in, and it didn’t work. There are no outward signs of such faith or conversion in the general Catholic population. On the contrary, there are the few who have actually rediscovered the untaught traditional disciplines and desire to practice them, born out of faith and love, and these are precisely the rigid types of which Francis speaks.

At the same time the Church retracted from her disciplinary role, the Mass was seriously distorted so that the love of God was no longer visible or required to be shown and therefore was no longer learned. The loss of personal discipline, such as abstinence, was consonant with the loss of reverence for God in the new Mass. It would indeed be strange for the Church to expect you to honor God in your personal life while at Mass, all natural signs of honor have been stripped away. No longer will Mass “be an outward sign of inward spiritual values that we cherish”; rather, it will be left to mature persons to develop signs of their own. And that “special zeal” to “freely and out of love for Christ Crucified show our solidarity with the generations of believers to whom this practice frequently became, especially in times of persecution and of great poverty, no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church” in the form of celebrating the Tridentine Mass, praying the rosary, and practicing other traditional devotions is no longer tolerable. In fact, such things are outward signs of deep-rooted personal problems that ought to be thrown off once and for all, it seems.

Though we should not have to feel as though we’ve been pushed from the nest into the mouth of wolves, so is our lot. While we are left to fend for ourselves, without the protection and guide of rules and disciplines to form us, there is nothing to suggest that we cannot band together once again and reclaim the firm foundation on which we once rested.


When seeking order and discipline in a household, or among any group of people, there must be rules. But rules are useless without the expectation that they be followed. If a list of rules is posted on the refrigerator for all to see with the title “House Rules. Follow them. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter one way or the other,” and followed up with a list of exceptions to the rules, the householder can expect that the children will indeed take the easier path, which is to do what they want, which may or may not end up being in line with the posted “rules.” In Catholicism, we have the basic rules of the Ten Commandments. It was clear when they were given that following them leads to life, and disobedience leads to death. It was made even more clear by Jesus that these are bare minimum behaviors, not take-it-or-leave-it suggestions for how to have an unpleasant life of prohibitions. We are inclined toward self and sin, and without precise (i.e., rigid) standards, the exception becomes the rule, and chaos ensues, but more importantly, life and death are at stake.

Satan does not speak in terms that frighten us; he speaks words of encouragement. All God said isn’t what he really meant! It’s all really quite equivocal. Death is not a punishment for disobedience: “Did he say you will die? Surely you will not die!” Use God’s mercy for your comfort: “Command these stones to become loaves of bread!” “He will give his angels charge of you and on their hand they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus reminds us of the proper reply to the temptations to equivocate on the Truth: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Therefore, we desire to remain attached, even in a rigid way, to the traditions of the Church, which have been protected and handed down for the honor and glory of God throughout all generations.

Image: Long Thiên via Flickr.

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