Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thoughts on "Progressive" vs. "Traditionalist"

I like to read the special reports featured on the site, Inside Catholic. I'm still learning about the terms "progressive" and "traditionalist." I would say I definitely lean toward traditionalist and am thrilled I have a parish that celebrates the Tridentine Mass.

However, I just read the special report by Todd Flowerday, Progressive Catholicism Is Alive and Well. I have to say I was disappointed by Flowerday's inability to firmly define progressive. Whenever I study a topic, I first try to understand what definition the author is using. It makes reading the rest of his or her argument so much more clear. I feel I am able to understand their viewpoint more easily.

Flowerday's assertion starts with this:
Being a progressive is a natural attitude when a person is convinced that reform is not only possible, but necessary.

This may be his definition but why is reform necessary? What is wrong with the basic tenets of Catholicism as it has been taught in the Roman Rite?

He continues (emphasis mine):
Such reform is essential to the serious believer. Jesus preached metanoia -- a personal reform, a turning around to align the person with God and the Divine Will. How can any believer expect to maintain a steady state without reform? And wouldn't that hold true for the various communal expressions of our Catholic society?

I responded with a lengthy comment, but will reiterate here that what he calls a "personal reform," I call a transformation. Our flesh is not something that can be reformed. It must be crucified - destroyed. Only then can we be transformed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the likeness of Christ. New wine does not go into old wineskins. The old wineskin will burst. It also does no good to try to "patch up" the old wineskin. A new wineskin is needed.

I emphasized a sentence of his because I found it contradictory. To maintain a "steady state," one would need to find security in a trustworthy vessel. What, other than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is such a trustworthy vessel? I'm talking about the Mass without all the changes, the liturgical dancers, the "rock and roll" bands, and the "feel good-ism" of promoting community at the expense of worshipping God.

Reforming anything introduces change and oftentimes, change is chaos. There are certainly times when change is good but when we're talking about our faith, I don't see it needing change. It needs obedience.

Obedience is a tough pill to swallow. It is much more popular in today's cosmopolitan society to view liturgy within our own set of preferences. It's easier to say, "I don't feel called to do it this way." Flowerday shows his own view toward the liturgy by emphasizing "communal expression."

You know what's ironic? The more I've seen churches focus on community, the more divisive they've become. When we focus on each other and try to "meet the needs" of our community, we so often lose focus of what should be of primary importance - our love and devotion toward God. It's putting the cart before the horse. "Oh," some say, "let's focus on community. We'll become a more tightly-knit group of believers."

This past Sunday, I saw community within a group of people who love the Latin Mass. I believe it is because their focus is where it should be - on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and what it means for them. From that focus, everything else falls in place. They have love for one another and a healthy respect for the damages of sin.

What happens when someone disagrees with another brother or sister when community is the focus? Usually hard words are said and grudges held. We know we are to forgive but it's difficult when you are convinced the other person is wrong and you are right.

But when the focus is on Jesus Christ and the indisputable fact that I am a sinner in constant need of grace, the response is different. From attending the Mass and understanding the liturgy as Jesus Christ instituted it - I know what Jesus would want me to do. Not what I want to do, but what He wants me to do.

The traditions keep us grounded and headed into the right direction. Those who try to build a church around community are doing nothing more than build a church around the flesh. Community will happen naturally when we as believers focus on God. Focusing on community only offers a myriad of ways for doctrinal error to enter the church. It provides justification for self-centeredness and a slippery side door for my own will to triumph over the Holy Spirit.

We sinners are a tough lot. It takes a combination of the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, coupled with the redeemed spiritual life of Jesus Christ to enable us to live the truth.

I know I may sound hardcore, but I can't help but think that the serpent's lies in the Garden of Eden sound much like what progressiveness offers: Has God really said...? You won't die... You can know good from evil.

Only because I know how easy it is for me to get off track can I say how much I need the straight and narrow. I cannot give my flesh one inch because I know it will take me miles and miles off track. David said to the Lord,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting." (Ps. 139:23,24)

David knew his own assessment was skewed. He needed the clear, objective, and loving eye of God to show him the error of his ways.

I know many progressives would say God gave us a mind and we are to be spiritually mature to direct our own way. Not me. I need to keep holding onto my Father's hand because the older I get, the more I realize how much I need Him.


Adrienne said...

Excellent post. Keep up the good work!

Larry Denninger said...

Great analysis. You've done a good job showing how "community" focused parishes tend to behave. I see it all the time at my home parish.

Cookie said...

Hello! I'm over here from Fr Finigan, and I just wanted to say that you're going into my bookmarks - this post is wonderful. Great insight into why community-focused parishes are likely to have more problems. I've been a "trad" for about a year now and I've never looked back.

Good luck in your journey!