A New Strategy for the Traditionalist Movement
I don’t mean to imply that the traditionalist movement does not have a zeal for souls. I am a traditionalist precisely because traditional Catholicism is the only place in the Church I have found, thus far, where eternal salvation does not take a back seat to social and political concerns. Even the conservative Catholics – as exemplary as many of them are – often seem to focus more on social issues than the salvation of souls. Pro-life work is vital and important, but it isn’t the Gospel. If babies are to be saved only for this fallen world, well, such a “victory” is hollow indeed.
Thus far, the traditionalist movement has been focused primarily on one goal: restoring the orthodox Faith, liturgy, and discipline among the millions of Mass-attending Catholics who have lost it. That was a good and necessary project, but the growth of the movement has plateaued. By now, most orthodox Catholics in the United States who attend the Novus Ordo know all about the “Extraordinary Form” and have no interest in it. (The great heterodox majority want nothing to do with us, of course.) Many have gone to a Latin Mass once or twice, but felt it just wasn’t to their taste and so back to the Novus Ordo they returned. They aren’t hostile, and some are even allies and well-wishers, but they have their comfort zone and they’re going to stick with it. I don’t expect that to change. After the Second Vatican Council, approximately 70% of Catholics stopped attending Mass altogether. Those who remain 40 years later are intellectually or emotionally attached to the Novus Ordo Missae, its culture, its language, its assumptions, and its unspoken prejudices.
So, I believe the time is ripe for the traditionalist movement to shift its focus. Rather than “converting” our our fellow Catholics, it is time to bring Christ to the outside world – to the universities, prisons, shopping malls, hospitals, parks, and streets of America. This generation of pagans does not have the same kind of prejudice against Tradition that our fellow Catholics often possess. Due to the brokenness of their families and communities, their pain and alienation is great and consumes all of their energies. Their opposition to Catholicism can be extremely fierce, but their curiosity and thirst for truth is sometimes even greater. All people have in their minds an image of the Catholic Church – usually distorted – because that is the One Thing against which the whole modern world rebels. But unlike previous generations which mistakenly thought they had tried Christianity and found it lacking, many of today’s pagans are aware of their own ignorance and are willing, at least, to give the Catholic Faith a hearing.
Furthermore, we have actually reached a point where the “counter-culture” of yesterday has become The Culture of today. Therefore, to be a believing Catholic is to be truly counter-cultural, and in our rebellious world anything perceived as “counter-cultural” will have a ready audience.
What can be done? I have always admired the work of a tiny Eastern Orthodox religious group which used to establish bookshops and coffee houses in big cities, often near universities. They were sometimes staffed by a monk or a nun in habit, with sacred music playing quietly in the background. Combined with the smell of incense and a proliferation of holy images, the casual visitor felt he had entered another world. Students would drop in, read a book off the shelf, and ask questions. There were conversations and prayers and conversions (though not much in the way of profit). I believe a Catholic version of this would be similarly effective.
In any case, there needs to be a traditionalist presence on university campuses. Something like “Newman Centers” could be established, but with a proper focus on religion and truth rather than frivolous social activities. Lectures, seminars, and study groups could be organized. The list of potential topics is endless: papal encyclicals, the lives of the saints, the writings of the fathers, canon law, liturgy, philosophy, etc. etc..
Prison ministry is essential. It is a command of Our Lord. There is unimaginable suffering behind prison walls, and that suffering can and should be harnessed for the good of souls. Sometimes a man has to hit the bottom before he repents, and in America’s prisons men are hitting the bottom every day.
There is much more, but I am out of time. We need a new generation of real Jesuits and Dominicans and Franciscans, the orders which once evangelized the world, full of heroic and ascetical men who stood in the town square and preached to anyone who would listen. Where is our St. Francis Xavier? Our St. Dominic? Our St. Anthony of Padua? Our Blessed Junipero Serra? I’ll tell you where they are: they are in the traditionalist movement of the Catholic Church! May the good Lord set them loose on the world, and soon.