“Praise-all and blame-all are two blockheads.”- Ben Franklin
The wisdom of Poor Richard’s Almanac always serves to restrain my impulsive tendencies. It’s true that nothing is so praiseworthy as to be without fault, or so blameworthy as to be without merit, and that excessive praise or blame usually derives from self-deception and obscures reality. Nevertheless, I have no hesitation in saying this: the F.S.S.P. leads the most excellent orders in the Catholic Church today. It’s more important than any diocese. It’s more important than the Jesuits. It’s seminaries are the best in the world. It has produced a harvest of sanctity in its priests. It has introduced thousands of Catholics to their own tradition, which they would never have discovered otherwise. The F.S.S.P. is creating islands of orthodoxy in a sea of doctrinal chaos; islands of fidelity in a sea of moral confusion; islands of beauty and reverence in a sea of liturgical mediocrity; islands of fecundity in a sea of sterility; islands of hope in a sea of despair and disillusionment. This order, so blessed by God, is at the heart of the restoration. By its patient and unceasing work for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, I believe it will rise to prominence after the post-conciliar dust finally settles.
You understand, of course, that most priests of the F.S.S.P. would deny everything I just wrote. They have no ecclesiastical ambition. They understand that their very existence is itself miraculous and entirely dependent upon the favor of God, which they could lose at any time should their humility and zeal begin to wane.
An article in today’s National Catholic Register commemorates the 25th birthday of this remarkable fraternity. The founders’ conflict with Archbishop Lefebvre and the S.S.P.X. is mentioned, but it would be a mistake to assume that the F.S.S.P. and the S.S.P.X. are fundamentally opposed in their respective identities. There exists a sense of camaraderie and goodwill between members of both fraternities, despite their disagreements, and a surprising number of laymen attend masses offered by both societies. I see them working towards the same end (albeit imperfectly), but through different approaches, both of which strike me as being necessary.
The FSSP’s current superior general, Father John Berg, a Minnesota native, is thankful to God for how the fraternity has developed over the past quarter century. Despite some growing pains, Father Berg believes the fraternity has remained faithful to its founding principles while finding the best concrete ways to serve the Church.
“We’ve gone from a handful of priests and seminarians to 240 priests and 140 seminarians worldwide,” Father Berg noted. “The numbers are good, so you have to be thankful for them. More important than numbers, though, is the retention of our original identity while serving the lay faithful on a day-to-day basis.”
The chief pastoral work of the FSSP is offering the sacraments in the traditional form in parishes across Europe and North America. From Vancouver, B.C., to Sarasota, Fla., the fraternity has more than 50 locations in North America where Masses are offered publicly. In order to do this, priests are trained at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Neb., the heart of FSSP’s North American territory.
In addition to offering the traditional Latin Mass themselves, FSSP priests also train their diocesan counterparts to do the same. While the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal is the hallmark of the fraternity, its priests also conduct retreats, lead pilgrimages and travel on mission trips to Asia, Africa and South America.
Father Berg believes the biggest challenge facing the FSSP today is the formation of excellent priests. “I suppose each generation thinks that this is an even greater challenge than it was for the one before it, but we need to form men who want to live a life of self-sacrifice,” he said. “This is done in imitation of Christ, in whose priesthood they share.”