Several days ago a reader sent me an e-mail about an experience at the EWTN complex in Alabama. Edited for anonymity, it reads:
We’ve never had cable so we weren’t regular watchers of EWTN but whenever I did see it I was always totally impressed by the people they had on. But I have noticed over the years, priests who are above a certain age or generation often seem to have major problems with her. I never really got it because all I could see is the good EWTN has done for the church so I just figured it was some kind of generational thing that I would never understand.
I’ve never lived in a place where the cable system provided it. I’ve surfed their web page very rarely and have seen clips of it from visits to home with satellite tv. I have no opinion on the programming, and most of my exposure has been second-hand through news stories of other outlets.
But I guess after visiting the shrine I might have a bit more understanding of what their problem with it is. I have to admit I didn’t love the feeling there. It didn’t have that “everyone is welcome here” feeling to it but more like this is for a very select and exclusive catholic. We just happened to be there when Mass was going on. There was a pamphlet in every pew that said Vatican II Mass. It was prefaced with quotes from Sacrosanctum Concilium, of course only the ones that talked about chant. It was nicely put together but there was something about the whole presentation of it that seemed to say “This is how the Church wants us to celebrate Mass. Anything different from this is a distortion and a corruption.”
My correspondent is a happy parishioner of an “orthodox” parish. I know this person is far from being a flaming liberal.
It dawned on me that this is EXACTLY the kind of thing that some of our parishioners dream about having. I’ve heard the word “divisive” when referring to her and I think I get it now. You don’t get the feeling that this is their taste and they’re comfortable with everyone else, it’s more of a militant kind of feeling that this is IT and we’re here to teach everyone by example how to do it properly. I’d be curious about your opinion. Is this where the reactionary stuff comes from?
I can’t say I’m surprised. Often the rise of conservative or traditional elements of religion are traced to the “pendulum theory.” Often when an extreme of behavior or policy is achieved, natural social forces swing things back past the medium to another extreme. Are traditionalists offering a steered correction back to the middle? Or are they mostly swinging things past the medium and back to pre-conciliar notions and ideas?
I don’t think we have a simple answer to that. Certainly we have many Catholics so profoundly disaffected by the Church before Vatican II they strongly latch onto anything post-conciliar, sometimes irrationally so. The same is true of many post-conciliar believers. They resent poor music, preaching, catechesis, and moral leadership to the degree they reject everything that came after the Council.
A sensitive and self-aware Catholic will look at such patterns in her or his life. Bringing them to prayer, would the person find preferences driven by reaction rather than action? In the case of the “reacting” Catholics, you’ll find both conservative and liberal. You might surmise that an overreacting person has only scratched the surface of faith and religion. I also know many Catholics who have a very balanced sensibility. Among people you know in St Blog’s, I think Liam or Steve Bogner would be prime examples of people who are quite comfortable integrating aspects of pre- and post-conciliar Catholic sensibility. I know many others in my parish who combine elements of the best of Catholic practices from both before and after Vatican II. They do it in such a smooth and integrated way, it is clear they’re not just following the body ahead of them. They manage a rather catholic blend that is fitting and admirable.
In my experience, militants tend to be young and inexperienced, old and embittered, people who are comfortable with a degree of stasis and find no need to change. I know some of these folks, too, and while often I have no doubt of their holiness, their faith is not particularly attractive.
If EWTN is able to evangelize effectively among all walks of life, then I would say they’ve achieved a certain balance. I don’t know EWTN, so I can’t offer any more than what I would be looking for to judge their overall effectiveness as an organization.