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Transitioning from a Time of Peace to a Time of Struggle

(Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a three-part series: “Leading a Traditional Catholic Life in a Time of Civil War.” Part I can be found here, and Part III here.)

In the first part of this series, I spoke of some of the temptations facing traditional Catholics in the era of Traditionis Custodes, and pointed to our forefathers in the movement as sources of hope, courage, and guidance for us today. They persevered against monumental odds that might remind one of the great battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings, about which any “rational analysis” would have concluded: it’s all over, Sauron has triumphed. I also included links to harrowing stories of what ordinary Catholics had to do and suffer just to attend a Latin Mass once in a while

These horror stories from decades ago are not where we are today! Yes, I know: we are under siege again, from a pope who has proved implacably hostile to any other way of living Catholicism than that which chimes in with his one-world progressive humanistic interreligious all-are-welcome agenda. Yes, it is true: the icy chill of official disfavor is blowing against us after decades of gradual thaw under John Paul II and Benedict XVI. 

But this time around, there are very many more of us—millions of laity and thousands of TLM-loving priests and religious across the globe. We occupy positions within seminaries and chanceries. In certain cases, we have good rapport and even influence with bishops who appreciate our fidelity, zeal, intelligence, and love for Christ and His Church. We have cornered the market on scholarship and intellectual credibility: for any one book written by a progressive, there are ten better ones written by conservatives or traditionalists. In the Church, at least, the liberal agenda is tired, ageing, and lashing out with the energy of an animal in extremis.

If Pope Francis and his allies really believe they can rip the love of sacred tradition out of the hearts of millions of Catholic clergy, religious, and laity simply by a papal pronunciamento and a sinister scowl, they are more to be pitied for their delusionality than blamed for their malice. In point of fact, the more they try, the more incandescent this love will glow. They will not be able to win this battle of attrition. As we have seen again and again, many bishops understand the way things are on the ground and, by enlightened self-interest if not always from sympathy, are prepared to keep the peace with traditionalists. 

That being said, the post-Traditionis world will still be a battlefield. It will flare up here and there into intense conflict. Some priests will be suspended, stripped of faculties, exiled. Among these, some will go independent and others will go underground, saying Mass in living rooms or forests. Large, flourishing parish communities may get the ungracious axe. Good bishops who prudently dispensed from the onerous provisions of Traditionis may, upon forced or canonical retirement, be replaced by Bergoglian clones. 

Most terrifying of all, prospering religious communities and societies of apostolic life may find themselves hounded, denounced, burdened with commissioners, coerced into changing their constitutions. Neither hard-liners nor the cooperative will have an easy escape: the former will risk being scattered to the four winds, the latter being adulterated into puppets of the regime. Again, I am not saying that this will happen everywhere and to everyone, but that it could happen to anyone, anywhere. Miracles of deliverance will be needed and prayed for.

For several centuries, Christians in the early Church were persecuted and then tolerated, persecuted and tolerated, by successive Roman Emperors. One could never be quite sure what the next emperor would bring. Alas, as many have pointed out, the papacy has become politicized in the manner of a country staggering back and forth between contrary political parties. 

We can also think of the Catholics in England at the time of the Reformation. Within a period of decades the country went from a regime hostile to Catholics to a respite under Queen Mary, only to be thrust again into the Protestant Elizabeth’s reign, under whom so many martyrs shed their blood. 

For us, too, Benedict’s reign was followed by Francis’s, and we know not what the future holds. Things could get very much worse: I’ve heard rumors about further intended liturgical suppressions that make my blood alternately freeze and boil. The essential task of the Christian, however, remains the same as always: to believe in, to follow, and to bear witness to Christ, even at the cost of life.

Our greatest danger lies in our having become soft

Let’s face it: modern Western people are soft. Generally speaking, our lives are easy, comfortable, and convenient, with suffering excluded wherever and whenever possible. We are surrounded by mesmerizing and entertaining technology that lulls us to contentment. We have a thousand reasons and ways to put off “extra” work, “needless” suffering, and “inconvenient” impositions.

More specifically, many young trads today were born with a silver spoon, so to speak—into a parish run by the Fraternity or the Institute, or into a diocese where young clergy were bringing the TLM to their parishes. In parts of the world where bishops implemented Summorum Pontificum or at least refrained from blocking it, we’ve enjoyed the availability of Masses in multiple locations, perhaps within easy driving distance. Sometimes we can choose between a High Mass here and a Solemn Mass over there. In such areas, Catholics have come to enjoy, and to count on, plentiful access to Catholic tradition.

Those of us, then, who have never had to “fight for the rite” may not yet be the tough men our forefathers, who persevered in the midst of hopeless conditions, had to be. They did not let threatened penalties or tempting blandishments (“oh sure, we’ll set up an ad orientem Latin Novus Ordo for you once a month!”) deter them—and neither should we. If we are a bit soft, Traditionis Custodes was our heaven-sent wakeup call. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away the things of a child” (1 Cor 13:11). In a period of peace, there are gentler ways to mature; but we do not choose the times we live in, and Divine Providence chose us for this time. As a Carmelite priest wrote to me:

Indeed these are perilous times. It can give us courage to remember that God, from all eternity, has willed and chosen that we live in and through this evil age, so that we faithfully hold on to the light of the Faith and pass on the torch amidst this unprecedented darkness, for our own sanctification and salvation and that of the next generation. Such times form saints of those who are generous and persevering in the divine service.

Most of us will not have the privilege of shedding our blood for Christ. But in this age of the Church, many are now being called to a dry or white martyrdom for the sake of her glorious Tradition, shamefully marginalized by those who should most cherish and protect it. Now is not the time to ask: “Is it worth the trouble?” By all means. Rorate Caeli tweeted on July 25: “Each Sunday you are able to go to a Latin Mass is not only an infinite Blessing from above—it’s also, in human terms, a counterrevolutionary & countercultural act all wrapped into one. You’re not supposed to be there—which is why more than ever you are supposed to be there.”

We should resist the well-meaning but treacherous advice: “Just give up on the fight; don’t make an idol of the Mass…” This implies that whenever we love something enough to live for it, to fight and die for it, we are making it an idol—as if only God could deserve such total commitment. But this is false. Although God alone is to be adored, that does not mean He alone deserves our commitment. We should be ready to die for our wife, child, or neighbor; for the good of virtue; for the sake of the truth; for our fatherland. We should be ready to live and die for the Mass or any sacrament or any dogma of the Faith. 

We should have this disposition because these things, although not God, are from Him and for Him, uniting us to Him the way a photo or a letter unites us to someone beloved, or the way a face unites us to the heart of the person who shines through the face. If we do not understand this point, we will soon be condemning marriage and religious vows, as some heretics did in the search for a “pure love of God.” We are not a sect of Buddhists who seek to escape from flesh-and-blood realities, but Catholics who see the world sacramentally. 

The battle over tradition is a battle over realities, not ideas or opinions or preferences. We have a weighty responsibility for these created goods; Our Lord assures us that our final judgment depends, to a large extent, on what we have done with and to one another, and how we have invested the valuable “talents” (minas, literally, a huge quantity of money) entrusted to us.

Nor should we pay heed to those who accuse us of lacking humility because of our ecclesial stance. Part of humility is clinging to the truth without embarrassment or second-guessing, acknowledging it as a gift we have received through no merit of our own, and then treating it not like a private possession but as a common good meant to be shared: we recognize not only that what was sacred and great remains so today, but that all Catholics ought to know it—it is a good that benefits everyone, near and far, now and always.

They may take away our buildings, but they cannot take away the faith that built them and can build them anew. They may temporarily take from us the Mass of the Ages, but they cannot extinguish the love of the Mass that will outlast our enemies’ hatred. They can violate our rights as sons of the Church, but they cannot cancel out our supernatural dignity as sons of God. They can strip us of human recourse, but they cannot block our recourse to the Holy Mother of God and all the saints who worship the Lamb upon His throne, and who will always intercede for those who love immemorial Tradition, as they did.

Let us never lose heart as we move from a time of relative peace to a time of secret struggles and open conflict, armed by Christ with “the armor of God, that [we] may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect…[our] loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice… In all things taking the shield of faith…the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:11–17). 

In the final part of this series, I will look at practical steps we can take and recommend equipment for the campaign.

[Image: The Phantom Horseman,1870-93 by Sir John Gilbert (d.1897)]

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