Politics of Reason and Beauty
The faith of the mystics goes hand in hand with the light of common-sense.
It’s not all bad when the new prime Minister of Italy quotes G.K. Chesterton.
Three decades ago, Giorgia Maloni gave a thrilling speech at the World Congress of Families. She recited Chesterton’s favorite topic: that our reason is destroyed not by dogma but by doubt. She even quotes the Big Guy: “Fires are going to be lit to prove that two and two make four.” Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.”
It’s from his book Heretics, and the whole passage is too good not to quote in full:
It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. We will be left fighting for the amazing virtues and sanities that human life has to offer, but also for the impossibilities of the universe which stares us in our faces. We will fight for visible prodigies like they were invisible. We will look at the impossible grass and the sky with strange courage. We will be among those who have seen, yet believed.
” It is now, Meloni said. “We are ready .”
She is right about that. There are obvious examples of facing the madness–the ones that get the culture warriors fired up, such as “What is a woman?” But there are some others that don’t get quite as much airtime, and yet make the divide even more stark.
Many of you are aware that there is a powerful clique Catholic bishops who oppose Traditional Latin Mass. They claim it fosters a “divisive tendency” within the Church. They would no doubt cite the army vloggers, bloggers, and Twitter trolls that devote their lives to vilifying the hierarchy. It’s true that some traditionalists have said things about the pope that would make Martin Luther blush. If you only had contact with traditionalist Catholics via the internet, then TLM might be a negative influence.
Last year, Pope Francis published his apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes. It gave those anti-TLM bishops the excuse they needed to begin shutting down their Latin Mass parishes in their dioceses.
Suddenly, a tangled debate about liturgics was turned into a human-interest story. Reporters began to visit the closed parishes. Ordinary Latin-Massers were allowed for the first time to speak for themselves. The TLM is not a hotbed for angry, foul-mouthed revanchists, as you’ll soon discover. The profiled parishioners were mostly young professionals and undergraduates, with typically four to five children. They were quiet, devout and heartbroken.
Back in May, The Lamp published an account of one “listening session” between Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., and the parishioners of St. Francis de Sales Church. One member of the congregation, a mother of seven and recently widowed, asked her bishop to stop her from losing my parish .”
Alas. In July, Cardinal Gregory announced that his priests are now forbidden to celebrate the Latin Mass in all but three of his 139 parishes. Two of them are in Maryland, the other is a Franciscan monastery. St. Francis de Sales wasn’t included. Old St. Mary’s was also not included, as its parish register has been inscribed by names such as Patrick J. and Antonin Scalia. Buchanan.
Neither did St. Anthony. Last week, TAC editorial fellow Harry Scherer wrote movingly–also in The Lamp–about that parish’s final Latin Mass. Students from the Catholic University of America attended the TLM at St. Anthony’s. They asked for a Votive Mass in Thanksgiving as their last rite, rather than lashing out. Scherer recalls,
That Mass of Thanksgiving instructs the congregants to view their situation as good, though it simultaneously reminds them that something good is being temporarily removed from their grasp…. Each proper of the Mass–the collects, the Epistle, the Gospel, the Postcommunion–offered consolation, grounding them in the ultimate reality as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. From this position of immense security, one woman a few pews ahead of me wiped tears from her eyes as she lifted her kneeler after the choir concluded the final verse of O God Beyond All Praising.
Were there any bomb-throwing RadTrads at the pews that day, Probably. However, most of those people were there to worship God in beauty or truth.
Look: I’m the first to admit that there are problems in the Latin Mass community. Last year, an editor of a major traditionalist publication accidentally CCed me via email. He accused me of being a spy of the Vatican. I’ve done my best to give our bishops the benefit-of-the doubt.
I even have a soft spot to Cardinal Gregory. He was raised in a secular family and converted to Catholicism when he was eleven years old. He was baptized and resolved to become a priest. I would love nothing more than to dismiss him, calling him a fifth columnist and a crypto-Freemason. But that’s not what I can do. The numbers don’t add up. I believe that he loves Jesus Christ and His holy church.
Why is he yelling at Latin-Massers? He hadn’t spent enough time at St. Francis of De Sales or Old St. Mary’s or St. Anthony of Padua. He didn’t know any trads.
At least that’s what I told myself. And I wanted to be right. But this view is no longer valid. He sat through these “listening session” and listened to the plea of the widow, as well as hundreds of Latin-Massers from his diocese. He didn’t seem to care.
So we must ask: Why is this?
There is only one way to make sense. Cardinal Gregory doesn’t understand the desire to worship beauty. This is as much a failure in common sense as the belief men can be women simply because they want it. Both are symptoms of the same disease. This is something that “traditionalists” of all faiths know well.
Mother Teresa said, “[God] chose us; we haven’t first chosen Him.” We must respond by creating something beautiful for God, something very beautiful. We must give all .”
we have to this end.
Our all and our utmost. This is what traditionalist Catholics offer God in the Tridentine Mass. It’s what Orthodox Christians offer Him in the Divine Liturgy St. John Chrysostom. It’s what Anglicans of traditional faith offer Him when they pray according the Book of Common Prayer.
No doubt some would detect a whiff of “Pelagianism” in this attitude. They believe we are trying to “earn God’s love” by offering God a sacrifice of beauty. They would argue that the TLM and the BCP are as beautiful as a mud pie when compared to God’s radiant face.
They would be right. This is where common sense fails, I believe. No “trad” is under the illusion that we’re offering Him the utmost. No: we offer Him our utmost. Our little prayers to Him are like a kindergartener offering her Father finger-paintings. We bring our stick-figures: the square house with the triangle roof and the little spiral rising from the rectangular chimney.
We put our hearts and souls into this little gift. It’s the culmination of our genius and it’s quite sad. We would be ashamed if we knew better. We would be ashamed of all our work if we could even meet God face-to-face. God is a good Father. Because it’s all we have, God pins our doodles on the fridge. It’s not the best that can be done; it’s the best that we can do. It means more to Him than any other thing in the world.
Think about St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the most subtle philosopher ever to have lived. Three months before his death, he was given a glimpse into God’s true self. Thomas immediately resolved to abandon his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica. One of his disciples asked him to stop working on the text, but he refused. He said, “I can’t write any more.” “I have seen things which make my writings look like straw.”
He was correct. The Summa was nothing compared to the Beatific Vision. God wouldn’t let Thomas throw his straw away. Our Father wouldn’t allow His child to destroy his scribbles. Not because they were perfect True, Good, or Beautiful (objectively they weren’t), rather because they were offered in love. God saw that Thomas did his best and found it good.
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This is how “traditionalists” worship. We try to offer God something beautiful, regardless of our traditions. It may be as majestic as Gregorian Chant; it may be as simple as the Scottish Psalter; it may be some blessed combination of the two.
But those who feel the poverty and “radical gender ideologies”–who feel truth and the weight of truth–are often the same people who worship God in goodness, beauty, and goodness. This is common sense. Common sense is the domain of the common man. Giorgia Meloni is aware of this. So did G.K. Chesterton. G.K. Chesterton was also a great friend.
May the mystics prevail over the madness in the modern world.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.