|Don't tread on my lace!|
“I love Catholic tradition, but I’m not a traditionalist,” goes one common complaint of the modern-day Latin Mass attendee. I’m reminded of a recent headline on a Christian parody site that reports on a man who does not want to be labelled a “Christian pastor,” but as a “pastor who happens to be Christian.” We worry constantly about self-identification, about perfecting the definitions of our selves, and trying desperately not to be misunderstood.
At any Latin Mass community one will find a wide variety of types: die-hard 1962ers, high-minded pre-1955ites, those who will defend the FSSP against the FSSPX to the death, those who will do the opposite, and “Novus Ordo babes” (true story) who think the Latin Mass is pretty keen but not an all-consuming passion.
Identity politics is a kind of vanity, worrying endlessly about being perceived correctly by others, and an unwillingness to suffer the minor injustice of misunderstanding. Some are attracted to traddy parishes, but will assure all his worrying non-traddy Catholic brethren that he’s not a weirdo Creationist like the priest in charge. Another will attend the old Mass for its beauty, but will whine constantly about the bad attitudes of his fellow attendees. I’m often surprised they don’t pull out a series of ready-made Venn diagrams to prove they aren’t too strange.
One of the notable vices of our time is the obsession with identity. In its most extreme forms we see people surgically modifying their bodies to conform with their desired shapes. In less extreme forms we see Republicans who complain about every kind of Republican they are not, or Texans who apologize profusely for their fellow statesmen. But our real identities have far more to do with the natures God gave us, our decisions regarding vice and virtue, and our choices of state in life. Anything beyond those tend towards vanity and an excess of eccentricity.
The bothersome part is not so much the appropriation of some particular ecclesiastical identity, but the hatred tossed at others who are actually most similar to the offended party. Nobody is pickier about the way a Novus Ordo Mass should be celebrated in Latin than another priest who does it his own way. No one will complain about an Eastern Rite liturgy like someone from another rite. No two people think of themselves as more radically different from one another than traddies sitting in the same pew.
See how these Christians love one another.
Some small touches of eccentricity are good for the soul and for society, of course, but real individuality comes as a result of spiritual growth. One of the maxims of the spiritual life is that one should not be concerned with imitating one single saint but with following the commandments, because the saints are already so individualized that they cannot be fruitfully mimicked in their unique personalities. The closer we come to God, the more we become “ourselves.” Outwardly we may appear more eccentric, but there is a great chasm between the mere eccentric and the man who is becoming more truly himself, the perfect Idea of himself that God always had in mind.
Communities need group identities in order to survive, be they large immigrant clans or liturgical ghettoes. A certain amount of conformity should be expected from those who are a part of such communities, and nothing tears them apart faster than petty rebelliousness in nonessential areas. If we lack the humility to conform to the broader cultural ideals of a community, then we aren’t truly a part of those communities, any more. We are simply visitors passing through.