Some eight years ago we packed up and moved almost two hours away from a thriving, orthodox Catholic parish in Sacramento. There were lots of reasons. With young children, fighting the wicked culture of the city was becoming a daily nuisance. I wanted a more serene life for my family, preferably in the country. We wanted to move closer to aging relatives. My wife was having ethical conflicts in her employment. It all seemed to come together at once. We bought a small ranch and started a little homestead. Our children were blessed by it in many important ways. The only problem was that we could not take our parish with us.
We planned to solve the “church” problem by driving to the city on Sundays. That was fine, but it left little opportunity for traditional parish life – choir rehearsals, altar guild, first communion classes, feast days, home school co-ops, volunteer work, and the like. Very soon thereafter the possibility opened up for a weekly Latin Mass in Chico. We felt obliged to support the fledgling new community and try to help it grow. Visits to our former parish in the big city became few and far between. So also did exposure to vigorous, challenging, orthodox spirituality in the homilies at mass, in confession, and in the lives of our fellow parishioners. Friendships and community life suffered as well. While we are immensely grateful for the Latin Mass in Chico, our numbers are dwindling, and it does not come close to replacing what the F.S.S.P. provides at a wholly traditional parish.
We’re staying put, and it’s for the best, but I can’t recommend that anyone else follow this pattern in their own lives. It is vital to stay close and connected to orthodox Catholicism in all of its manifestations. In the history of salvation there have been many saints who achieved holiness in near isolation – the prophets, the desert fathers, hermits and anchorites, and so forth. But this isn’t the norm. For those of us who still lack heroic virtue (and that’s most of us), the many helps of Catholic culture are essential. We need to hear the whole unvarnished truth of Christianity from the pulpit: the “be nice to everybody just like Jesus was” mantra doesn’t cut it. The effect of weak and insipid and unspiritual homilies, Sunday after Sunday, is absolutely pernicious. And how does one raise children to respect priests and the priesthood when, on the drive home, it is always necessary to explain why Father was wrong about this or that point of basic Catholic doctrine? We need homilies that strengthen our faith rather than water it down. We need to be challenged to grow spiritually. We need the support and example of holy, orthodox priests who are clearly devoting their lives to Christ. We need the fellowship and inspiration of better Catholics. Yes, that’s right, some Catholics are better than others, and there’s nothing elitist about admitting this. Just as chess players seldom improve unless playing with those who are more advanced, so Catholics seldom grow in their spiritual lives unless they spend a lot of time around their betters.
Which brings me to Dr. Taylor Marshall’s recent post on The Great Catholic Migration. I am convinced, as he seems to be, that the majority of Catholic parishes in this country are beyond human help. You can’t save your lukewarm Novus Ordo parish by staying and fighting. If you’re lucky, you might succeed in tinkering around the edges – eliminating the most grievous abuses, getting the tabernacle back on the altar, maybe improving the music a little. Meanwhile, you exhaust yourself and put your family at risk. Worse still, you will develop a nasty habit of criticism. That’s right. The whole Novus Ordo mentality, in which everyone is supposed to “participate” and be “involved”, in which every taste and preference and opinion is supposed to be accommodated, encourages constant criticism and endless tinkering. Your tinkering, if generously permitted, is viewed merely as the preference of another faction that needs to be appeased for pastoral reasons. My advice? Get out of Dodge. Flee, if you can do so without sin, to those parishes and communities where the holy Catholic Faith is taught and lived without compromise. A good rule of thumb: stay close to the F.S.S.P.