The Myth of Anglo-Saxon, Middle Class Catholicism
"[Alice Mabel Bacon's] essay opened by describing "the poorest and most ignorant of the colored people"" who lived in "little slab cabins with their mud chimineys, where father, mother, children of both sexes, and frequently adult lodgers of either sex, are thrown together at all times under all circumstances."
-Lee D. Baker, in Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness, p. 46
This is a description of a Protestant missionary of the immodest and scandalous living conditions of blacks in the South in the 19th century. It also describes my Mexican Catholic household growing up....
What is wrong with Roman Catholic traditionalism in the English speaking world? Read the title of this post. It is the myth that Roman Catholicism is a clean, sanitized, and pasturized religion that is basically a book of etiquette with a little bit of Latin sprinkled on it. It is far from this, at least in places where Roman Catholicism has historically been nurtured and thrived.
Having spent time in the Society of St. Pius X in the U.S. and Argentina, I can honestly tell you that most traditionalists don't have a clue on how to be Catholic (except the ones who were Catholic before the Council.) They somehow think that being a good Catholic means having a spotless reputation, watching all the right movies, and avoiding all the wrong kinds of people. The Catholics I have come to know and admire, however, were really bad at doing all of these things. That was not their world. In their world, people struggled to get food on the table everyday. In their world, people may have done lots of things that are morally questionable in order to to just get through life. In their world, people prayed and prayed a lot even though they knew they were sinners since a prayer was all they had. In their world, there was no such thing as "Christian modesty" because everyone slept in close quarters in order to stay warm. This was the world of the Gospels. It is a harsh world, but one that is real and far from the fancies of those who dream of restoring "the Social Reign of Christ the King".
We can wring our hands all we want about how evil this world has become, and there are some very strong arguments that this is the case. I would argue that the abundance of material things makes us insensitive to the things of God. But hunger and poverty also creates a brutal, unforgiving environment that neither you nor I would want to live in. Perhaps the only difference between sins done in the barrio and ghetto and the sins that we do is that we have no excuse. It is even worse if we try to make the world in the image and likeness of an English garden party: that is the greatest hypocrisy and blindness of all.
What is this tirade really about? It is about people trying to impose a system on others apart from the Gospel itself. This system states that if only you keep your kids away from so-and-so, if you only cut your lawn so many times a week, and if you only live here instead of there you are a better Catholic than the people across the way. Catholicism is not about manners, etiquette, and being able to afford a modest, decent life. Check the Gospels again....
For me, the most indignant aspect about the Catholic separatism advocated by many traditionalists is that it is only possible for those to whom the capitalist system has been kind. Is all of our liturgical and "doctrinal snobbery" mainly another luxury we can afford, and others cannot?