Monday, 22 November 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Humble Newcomer

Humble Newcomer said I could make up her pseudonym, so that's what I came up with.

Dear Seraphic,

I have been so blessed to find your blog and read your advice. My own question is more religious than romantic in nature, but I think you will have good advice for me. I have recently moved to a fantastic city, where, for the first time in my life, I am practically surrounded by NCBs. Before I moved here, I lived in an area of the country where there were very few other Catholics. I found that I was worshiping in a bubble of sorts, with no real knowledge of what was going on in other parishes.

Now I am here, and these fantastic guys (and gals) are WAY more traditional than I am. Honestly, I had no idea that there was so much variation in the Catholic Church. I was raised in what I'm learning were not-so-traditional parishes. At first, I was worried that these NCBs might not be interested in me because I'm "not Catholic enough," but honestly, I've never known anything different.

First of all, can you recommend any resources for me to consult before I have to put my foot in my mouth again? (I've been embarrassed at not knowing the variation of the Rosary that is prayed here.)

Second, one of these nice young men has shown an interest in me, and the interest is very much mutual. What is the best way to approach such differences in our understanding of the faith? I'm completely willing to learn, and in fact, I'm finding that I really enjoy a more traditional approach, but in the meantime, I find the differences between how I learned the faith, and how my friends practice it very intimidating.

Thanks in advance for any advice you may be able to provide.

Humble Newcomer

Dear Humble Newcomer,

First, all my readers should have your problem. Nice Catholic Boys everywhere? Huh! The last time I was surrounded by Nice Catholic Boys, they were mostly seminarians, male religious and very young priests. And since I was an abject failure at running away with any of them, it's a miracle I ever got married at all.

Second, if you were baptised and confirmed, go to Mass on Sunday, and try to live according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, you are Catholic enough for anybody. Don't let some cranky woman in a black mantilla or some hippy priest in a T-shirt tell you differently.

Third, a traditional approach to Catholicism is indeed a great joy. Before I came to Scotland, I had been to only one Traditional Latin Mass and I had found it boring. But now I go to a TLM every Sunday and write a column on traditional devotions. The short-term cause for these activities is my super-trad-loving convert husband. The long-term cause was the yawning gulf between what I studied in theology courses and ordinary parish masses. Before I moved to TLMland, I had become so annoyed by the dumbed-down approach of too many English-speaking priests that I was going to Mass in German.

Having spent your life in parishes where people clap for the choir is no block to full participation in a more traditional take on Catholic life. If you don't know or understand something, just ask. Young men love to lecture. They LOVE it. They will chase you around the room to explain why maniples are so important or why they think a Rosary said without the prayer to St. Michael at the end is no Rosary at all. So don't worry about putting your foot in it: just ask. If people voice surprise at anything you say, just blame the 1970s, as in "I guess my religion textbook was published in the 1970s!" This should get guffaws of laughter from anyone fun born after 1970.

As for a quick course in where the kids are at these days, I recommend daily reading of "What Does the Prayer Really Say" by Father Z and biweekly reading of "Mad Trad Corner" by little me. In printed material, there is Catholic Matters by Richard John Neuhaus, Good-bye Good Men by Michael Rose, Why Catholics Can't Sing by Thomas Day and The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. There are also, of course, the New Testament and the Catechisms: the big green one of today and the tiny Baltimore Catechism of yore. In any doubt, off you go to Sacred Scripture and the big green book.

Although young people today are rightly suspicious of the soi-disant "Spirit" of Vatican II, there is nothing wrong with the documents of Vatican II. Of course, they must be read not as a break with Catholic tradition but in continuity with it. This is not hard to do with, for example, Sancrosanctum Consilium. In liturgical matters, I recommend also Redemptionis Sacramentum , which hoped to stem the tide of horrors brought by those claming to be faithful to the "Spirit" of Vatican II. And, of course, although almost an entire generation rejected Humanae Vitae, your generation and mine are willing to rise to the challenge. If you have bags of time, read anything by Benedict XVI on the liturgy and anything by John Paul II on women.

I hope this is helpful, and may I say that I find your humility and willingness to learn most edifying and endearing. Just don't let anyone boss you around or make you feel bad.

Grace and peace,

Update: A new-to-me review of my book. Yay! Thank you!


Julie said...

HN, I spent my whole childhood knowing more about the faith than the other kids, and in high school, when I really started to develop a proper faith (if that makes sense), I was also ahead of the religion curve. Add in four years at a secular college with a shaky-at-best "Catholic" center and I entered into the adult world both (1) uncomfortably more devout than most of my peers and (2) uncomfortably more ignorant about tradition and theology than the people whose group I wanted to be part of. Focus on God and on your relationship with Him, and learn His truth with an open heart. Don't stress over the past, you have the only membership card necessary. Remember that we are, after all, one church.

Auntie, you are so right, boys are adorable when they're in explanation mode ;)

Catherine said...

Those are really good reading suggestions!
I wanted to add that I grew up in a pretty sketchy parish, and when I went to university and found the local Catholic community there, the priest in charge was (to this day) the most traditional I've ever met. I learned most of what I know about the more traditional side of Catholicism from him, by
a) listening to his rants (which were often surprising to my non-trad, 18-year-old self)
b) watching the beautiful, reverent, and traditional way he celebrated the Mass
c) asking him questions, which often made me feel silly but was well worth it for his detailed responses.

I think you'll find that most trad Catholics are eager to introduce you to the richness and beauty of traditional devotions. They won't think any less of you for asking questions or for not getting something quite right the first time. Remember, if you're a faithful Catholic, you're a faithful Catholic, whether you prefer the TLM or the Novus Ordo. As you learn and observe, soon the initial awkwardness will pass and you'll be the one teaching someone else.