My home office, from where I am typing this post, is at the far end of the cinder block building in this photo. Every two or three weeks for the past year, a man would ride up the driveway on a bicycle and knock on my office door. Although he seemed to be in his early 30s, he had a simple, childlike personality. His purpose was to ask about the modular home on our property, which has been sitting vacant because we can’t afford to drill a new well. This fellow – let’s call him “Wayne” – is deaf, though he wears an audio device in his ear that amplifies sound. His speech is that of a person who has been deaf from birth and who has had a lot of speech therapy. He talks very loud and his pronunciation is sometimes garbled, but under the circumstances he is remarkably intelligible.
For a while each visit was the same. He knocks on the door, I open it. He greets me with a smile and a strong Orland handshake and apologizes for the intrusion. He asks about the mobile home, I explain that it still isn’t ready to rent. He tells me that it would be perfect for his wife and three young children who want to live in the country. He gives me his number and makes me promise to call him when the place is ready.
Because he once noticed the crucifix on the wall of my office, he would ask me periodically if I was a “pastor”, forgetting what I told him on the last visit. Perhaps he didn’t hear me: I have to speak loudly and he has to read my lips to understand what I am saying. Anyway, ever since then he has asked me to pray for him.
One afternoon last spring he stopped by at the usual time … but he was not his usual chipper self. He told me he had just lost his job as a maintenance man for the local school district. He didn’t ask about the house this time, but he did ask for my prayers.
A few weeks later he stopped by again, and this time he looked pretty miserable. He told me that his wife had left him and issued a restraining order against him. He said that he’d been drinking too much since he lost his job, but he protested that he had never been violent. He had been crying. He missed his family. He was soon to be homeless. He asked for my prayers.
Several visits later, he stopped by in a good mood. He wanted to tell me that he was going back to church and had quit drinking completely. Although he still didn’t have a job and his wife still didn’t want him back, he was turning his life around. He was allowed to see his children every other weekend. He was grateful to God for everything. Things were looking up. He asked again for my prayers.
Now, I am no longer home on weekday afternoons due to having new outside employment. I started work three weeks ago for a local business here in Glenn County. While I was at work today, around the noon hour, I very suddenly began feeling a sharp pain in my lower intestine. The pain was increasing fast and felt like I was passing a stone. Almost doubled over in pain, I told my boss I needed to go home. So I drove home, climbed into bed, and tried to get comfortable. Soon I was fast asleep.
At around 4:30pm I was awakened by the doorbell. As I woke up, I realized that my pain was completely gone. I answered the door. It was Wayne. He had his big smile on again, and he stuck out his hand for that big Orland handshake. “I just stopped by to tell you that I’VE GOT A JOB!!” he said excitedly, practically shouting. He told me he was hired in the maintenance department of another school district. He went on about the goodness of God in answering his prayers, he told me that he’s been staying sober, going to church, and has been approved to receive financial assistance for a better hearing device.
His wife still doesn’t want to reconcile, so he asked me to pray for her, and thanked me again for my prayers. I opened the front door a little wider and pointed to the Crucifix on the wall in my living room. I told Wayne that He was the One to thank. Wayne could hardly contain his emotion at that point.
No, I’m never home on weekday afternoons … unless the Savior wants me there.
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.