I was noticing a bit of kerfuffle on PrayTell the other week. Fr Anthony drew some ire for relaying a comment from the editorial board of their blog, wondering why most of the commenters seemed to be of a traditionalist or conservative bent:
Or are all the centrists and leftists too busy to post because they have jobs and are occupied in actual ministry?
Anita and I went to our parish’s “re-Treat” for couples on Sunday. One of the issues we married people deal (or don’t deal) with is anger. Anita and I are fairly successful at dealing with anger when it comes up in our relationship. We have different ways of dealing with it, but generally, it gets dealt with pretty soon. Being mostly peaceable people, I don’t think either of us has the heart to carry the simmer and negativity around for very long.
The presenter, a family therapist, gave us a handout with some general statements about couples and family relationships. One struck me, not because it necessarily had any application to our marriage, but because it seemed to pierce through some of the anger in the Catholic blogosphere, and it might possibly shed some light on how internet Catholics see the Church and their role in it–truthfully–getting beyond the cheerleading:
Anger is the emotion felt when feeling powerless and/or helpless.
In my experience and observation, I’d say the principle applies in both American politics these days and in the internet communities.
It was enough for pro-lifers (to pick one example) to be strung along with twenty-eight years of having GOP control of either the White House or the Capitol, and sometimes even both–only to have precious little accomplished in terms of reducing or eliminating the so-called holocaust of abortion. The war, the economy, and an incompetent presidency sweeps away all of the ruling party in two elections, and no wonder people like Deal Hudson are ticked off. Not only are they out of power, but they don’t even benefit from the illusion of being in power.
As for Catholics, the story may be a bit more complex. In the 60’s and 70’s lay people were invited to church involvement by the bishops of Vatican II and by some of their pastors. It wasn’t so much a lay initiative as the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (which you believe unless you’re a smoker) working through bishops.
So traditionalist-leaning Catholics felt betrayed and powerless, I have no doubt. Also no doubt, many political Catholics felt the same way as years of emphasis on social justice piled up. And no action on reducing abortion, despite a Reagan, two Bushes, and lots of talk from the episcopacy.
I suspect the PrayTell blog is a bothersome tickle for the conservatives and traditionalists who visit there, whether they comment or not. Things that would get a pass on NLM, like the interpretation of “active participation,” are not really an issue at all for liturgical scholars. It’s not unlike a creation scientist attending a paleontology convention. The science of dinosaurs, trilobites, therapsids, brachiopods, and tree ferns is fairly settled in the big picture. A creation scientist may actually have a cool fossil in her or his hands. But if that visitor is going to insist it’s nine-thousand years old, the scientists aren’t going to give their guest the time of day.
PrayTell is raising the temperature simply because their bloggers will apply a strict theology to the liturgical principles presented there. I see mistakes in blogging protocol there–can’t avoid it with internet tyros. And I see people on both sides of the discussions growing frustrated. That’s even more unavoidable.
Commenter Kathy wrote:
I suppose the real sting of the remark arises from the reason the liturgical establishment often seems univocal. Up till a few years ago, and even now in many places, candidates for liturgical positions had to pass a “smell test” of ideology. To say that a conservative liturgist isn’t working or hasn’t been very successful is a lot like saying there haven’t been a lot of Catholic presidents.
In any case, I think the editorial board might show more openness to dialogue with all comers, and at the same time it probably would behoove us reactionaries to behave like guests.
A few last comments.
It’s an exaggeration to say there is or was any single “smell test.” Pastors are vastly different breeds–and they almost always make the final call on hires. Suburban parishes–the ones that actually realize they can afford a liturgy person on staff–are a bit more uniform: they’re mostly all big and they’re pretty catholic. And there is still a large cadre of people who were invited to parish involvement in the 70’s and 80’s and are sticking with it. They don’t feel powerless or helpless–they’ve been included for years. They can and do make life miserable for a staff member who tinkers with liturgy. Some musicians end up in other faith traditions, at least for active ministry. The system is set up for diplomacy more then ideology.
If a conservative liturgist would perpetuate authentic lay ministries, would work with and be open to the scores of parishioners and be able to smooth their agendas and transform into a focus on the Gospel, there’s no reason that such a person wouldn’t find a job today or twenty years ago. I knew a number of organists who fit the bill in this department. They turned their noses up at pianos and pianists, and didn’t even recognize guitars. But they also–rightly–emphasized congregational singing, and other principles of liturgical reform. And they were competent, if not excellent at what they did.
Now, if some new breed of musicians arises with a totally different agenda for church music, I think such people would get a lot of friction in parishes accustomed to something different. I don’t see reform2 musicians getting a lot of traction in American parishes today. Not because there’s system out to get them, but just because they are so far off the mainstream. And if the emphasis is on choral performance and doing the right texts and genres, there are very very few communities waiting for such musicians.
Why aren’t more liberals angry and commenting on PrayTell? One reason is that many of us have not only jobs, but a place in parishes where we feel anything but helpless or powerless. Lots of liberals have given up on the institutional church, but they’re not angry about it. We realize we can and do make a difference where it counts: one person at a time. People who write to Rome? They’re one of thousands who complain. And ultimately, how many bishops get directives to talk to certain pastors to make changes? Very, very few. Not only have some conservatives grown angry with powerlessness in the parish, but the promised recourse to Rome hardly ever materializes into something concrete. And to boot, they’ve managed to poison the local relationships.
As for the few of us who comment on the internet, I can only speak for myself. I got involved on the internet because it was new, and I’m a geek/freak for new computer things. In 2000-02 when I worked in rural Iowa, I found the internet community to be stimulating in a way that liturgy in my small parish wasn’t. After that, I suppose, it was just about a challenge. Any maybe to annoy people a bit. The bigger challenge is the set of relationships with live people in my parish. This forum will always play way back in line from my family, my parish, and my friends and colleagues.
That leaves us with the anger. My suggested cure for Catholic anger is to get involved. Pray about it, discern an apostolate, and get involved in a personal way with real flesh-and-blood human beings. Make a difference where you can make a difference. It won’t be perfect, but at least you won’t be trying to pass off some Cretaceous clam as evidence for a young Earth.