I will confess that part of the reason I converted to Roman Catholicism was to get away from the splintered and shattered mess that is the American Protestant church. There is a tremendous amount of sincerity, but a sincere blindness to the cracked weakness of their own position in the dominance of modernist sensibilities. However, as I took steps to enter the Church, alas, I was once again faced with the plague of modernist thought and its maddening effects.
Despite this disappointment, I had already set my mind to not just join the Catholic Church as if I were merely joining a club, but to genuinely devote myself to the Church and to fully embrace a Catholic identity. I would either be a Catholic or I would be something else. The idea of being a “nominal” or “lapsed” Catholic is merely a nice way of saying that a man has stopped being Catholic.
Some Catholics have embraced without qualm the modernist innovations introduced in the 1960s and others have not only not embraced the changes, but have, in various degrees, resisted those changes with intense zeal. Of those who are resisting, there is a banner called “Traditionalist.” But the term itself remains ambiguous. Not everyone who desires to practice authentic Catholicism call themselves Traditionalist and some who do call themselves Traditionalist are called extremists.
I knew before I entered the Church that I was going to be resisting modernist thoughts, but I did not know exactly what my resistance would look like. At first I began looking at superficial trappings, the forms, in an effort to create some sort of traditional identity. I had a copy of the Douay-Rheims Bible with a parallel Latin Vulgate, a 1964 Roman Missal, and even prayed “Holy Ghost” instead of the “Holy Spirit.” This, however, did not fit. Something seemed amiss with all of these efforts. Instead of joining the historical Roman Catholic Church, a transcendent identity, I felt I was trying to be an American 1950s Catholic, much in the same way that Protestant churches still read from the King James Bible and herald a 1950s American civic morality.
It felt fake. It also felt like trying to be an anti-Catholic Catholic, going into the Church only to rebel against it. There was a corrosive militancy to the whole thing. It was, in fact, the same tactic that many leftist have used. They join an organization and fein loyalty only to directly challenge the very foundations of the organization. In the depth of my being I knew this was not the way. A man cannot build a better future while clinging to an idealistic past or burning down the present.
I had to go deeper than superficial cultural trappings. There was more than recent scripture translations, new catechisms, the problematic Second Vatican Council, or even the Novus Ordo Mass. As terrible as these things might seem to be, they are in and of themselves superficial. Scripture still contains the sacred words of Christianity, the Catechism still reflects the authority of the Magisterium, and the Eucharist is still given by priests to the laity.
The modernist infection is more of a spiritual infestation, an invisible and silent infection that is tarnishing, in small ways, the magnificence and grandeur of ancient and preserved divine Truth. Modern innovations are rightly perceived as weakening the seriousness and reverence once afforded the Church. However, that is not the same thing as outright heresy nor outright death.
Looking out on the Catholic Church, I saw that the real problems were much more subtle. I saw it in the way some of the homilies seemed all but non-commital to the faith. I heard how many voices in the RCIA program (the teaching of potential converts) openly called for the faithful to be more Christian and less Roman Catholic, something more generic and less specific. I noticed that even though the Missal outlining the rite of Mass contained a penitential prayer (a prayer of confession), it was not part of Sunday morning worship. And I felt that spiritual leaders did not take my sin as seriously as I did.
During an email conversation with Laramie Hirsch, proprietor of the informative The Hirsch Files, Laramie provided me a moment of clarity. In trying to describe the goal of Traditional Catholicism, he wrote:
I suppose to hold out for as long as possible, and perhaps win new ground and converts, so that perhaps one day, the Church will expel the errors of modernism like a rejected tumor.
To hold out sounded like a fine idea. It had the virtue of taking a stand on faith of future redemption without the destructive call to burn everything to the ground (a Protestant trait). Given that the problems are spiritual in nature and more subtle than just texts and ceremonious conventions, I decided to resist, and push back, in spiritual and subtle ways.
The tactic I chose is deliberate devotion. When some head for the door right after Communion, I try to stay after Mass has ended to pray. Some only come to Mass during Christmas and Easter and I seek to attend every Sunday and on every day of obligation. I attempt to seek the Rite of Penance once a month instead of just once a year. When taking the Host, I put effort into being reverent. At home, I try to pray at least twice a day. I study the latest catechism, the most recent edition of the Roman Daily Missal, and my RSV-2nd Catholic Edition copy of scripture. I work to build piety, meekness, and virtue in my life.
The problem of modernism is that it gently calls Catholics to relax their faith and not hold matters so seriously. The Catholic is lured into the false sense of comfort that comes from having the Cross for sentimental reasons, but not having to carry it. This is the modernist spirit.
And it is this spirit I resist, as best as an imperfect man can. For me, this is what it means to be a Traditionalist Catholic. Traditionally, Catholics sought both Christ and His Church with gravity. The modern world does not want me to take my Catholic faith seriously. And this is exactly what I hope to do.