Friday, March 22, 2013

Being Faithful In Small Things

Note:  The impulse to be "simple" is all the rage with the election of Francis as the Bishop of Rome.  In a previous post I hinted at how it might do traditionalists good to play this game, and point out how a lot of what we bring to the table is rooted in that simplicity.  I'd like to start that today.

One of the frequent attacks against traditionalists has always been that we are scrupulous Pharisees, who try to make a camel pass through the eye of the needle.  (Mark 10:25)  While we get offended when we hear this, at times I think we should acknowledge it.  Sometimes traditionalists do make an idol out of liturgical discipline, and we are like the Pharisee in the temple.  We thank God that we have liturgical correctness, unlike those filthy modernists!  Concupiscence sucks.  We have a noble impulse, and sometimes we go overboard.   Everyone does this, and we aren't immune to that.

Yet if the impulse is noble, then that means there's a hint of truth to this.   So why the emphasis on the smallest bits of liturgical discipline?  Why nitpick?  In short, we are trying to be like the just servants in the parable of the talents.  (Matthew 25:14-30)  The master looks for servants to manage his affairs, so he gives them small tasks.  When they complete these small tasks, he is pleased.  Since they have completed the small tasks, he gives them the higher things to concern themselves with.

Traditionalists advocate this kind of strict discipline for the same reason.  You cannot probe the endless depths of the liturgy and acquire the infinite knowledge the Mass possesses without first getting the simple things right.  Furthermore, once you are at those higher things, it is the basics that keep you there. 

I learned this lesson being a baseball fan.  There is a player named Miguel Cabrera on my beloved Tigers, and he is recognized as the greatest hitter in the game currently.  When you watch why he is such a great hitter, you are struck by how good he is at doing the basics.  He has incredibly quick hands, his body outside of the hips seldom moves, his eyes are always focused on the ball, he only swings at things favorable to him, etc.  Because he does these small things, his coaches always have supreme confidence in him at every at bat.

That is how we traditionalists want to act so we can get the most out of the liturgy.  Not everyone is a liturgical scholar.  Yet everyone can be obedient in doing the gestures they are supposed to.  Not everyone is prone to grandiose visions and meditations during Mass, but everyone can express the smallest bit of love in making the Sign of the Cross.

The benefit of this attitude is how infectious it is on everything else you do.  If you come to our Church, you find the canned food drives and other charitable activities for the poor are done by a high percentage of people in the congregation.  Indeed, I'll wager that traditionalists give with greater amount and frequency than your average "modern" parish.  Why?  Because the simple acts are something everyone can do. 

They also help teach us humility.  At first, giving to the poor can seem tough when things are scarce for yourself.  Yet as you continue to give, you learn to do more with less, and you realize that just because something is uncomfortable, does not mean following it is impossible.  Sometimes the rubrics might seem a bit silly.  Sometimes they might even seem a little pointless.  I don't need to kneel at this point to express my reverence towards Christ.  Yet they are a pretty good reminder that I should reverence Christ, just as giving to the poor or donating to your church (even when it might be uncomfortable) is a helpful reminder that our talents and wealth are not there for our own benefit, but the benefit of others.

Is this abused?  Yes, as I said, concupiscence sucks.  Yet if we want to live out our salvation, there is no other way.  We must be faithful in small things, so our Heavenly Father will give us the greatest thing He can:  eternal life in His rest.


  1. I grow tired of the charge of being a "pharisee" by some whenever the talk of obedience to the rubrics comes up. It's become a rather knee-jerk reaction and seems to amount to "anyone who worries about a detail that I don't worry about is a pharisee." With that, it's an easy retort from those who don't understand the importance of liturgy or simply don't care enough to understand.

    Balance is a good thing. There can be of course a hypersensitivity to the rubrics but unfortunately much of the reaction I see to this is a gross oversteer in the opposite direction of indifference to the rubrics. Or worse yet, a trend I see to pit charity against following the rubrics when there is plenty of room to have both.

    1. I try to avoid things such as "modernist" or "pharisee" because they tend to lose all meaning nowadays. More often than not, as you pointed out, it boils down to "stuff I don't like."


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