I am not a professional journalist, but as one who enjoys writing in my native language, I recognise talent when I read it. I refer to the young author of Liturgia Causa who lives in the south-east of England.
Suburban life, working hard to earn a living and seeking to live out a spiritual ideal are rather hard to combine. I am lucky to live in the countryside and work at home, but still have to fight the same combats as all my contemporaries, namely keeping finances above water and paying the bills. Unlike priests in the “mainstream” churches, I share the common lot of humanity, having to cope with the ups and downs of running a house, managing money and making the right decisions. My good friend Patricius has his life and has to try to live in a world that seems to run like a machine, soulless and merciless. It is in such a condition of life, amidst closed-down churches and people who don’t even think about Christianity, let alone care – that we think about things like the liturgy.
For some time, Liturgia Causa has lain dormant for the reasons its author has given in a number of poignant postings. It is tempting to be judgemental about the attitude that seems to reflect the spiritual malady of acedia, what modern medicine would call depression and what the rest of us would term as tiredness of life. I correspond with Patricius and exchange ideas, and I find him a sincere young man. Having lived in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world – and having left it, I sympathise with many of his concerns. I cannot relate to much more than a very small part of Catholic Christianity and I acutely understand what keeps most people away from churches. That brings loneliness, except that I find company in the secular world between those who love music and those who love boats and the sea – and often the two go together. The Christian ideal is something that is lived in the desert, whether it is really the desert or the sea, or the world of people who are not Christians and are interested in other things or ideals. We can do what we want ourselves, without expecting the same from anyone else.
Just yesterday, he posted To kindle the ashes… He evokes the image of the crocus flower coming up through the snow. We’re a long way off yet, as we haven’t even reached the Winter Solstice and the feast of St Thomas, in just a little over one week. In spite of the season, it is still possible to be getting one’s life into order and thinking about what one really wants. Some of the things Patricius brings up take years to sort out, and we are alone in doing so. These are things that we have to do ourselves, because no priest or member of the medical profession can offer anything more than generalities and often hyperbole.
This is something I often encountered, namely, a desire for excellence in liturgy or any other aspect of church life or life in general. When those around us show only a relative interest in what impassions us, frustration is the result. The obvious choice is that the question itself is really unimportant and that we should rearrange our priorities in life, or be prepared for a long solitary slog and harmonise our solitary part of life with the part of life involved in family and occupational life. These are struggles many of us go through, when we treasure what others consider as junk to be taken to the municipal dump.
One thing I love about Patricius is his transparency. This is perhaps truly the freshness of spring that the rest of us in the post-war generation have lost. He knows that there is a discrepancy between his thought and idealism and the sensus communis of the crowd. He is aware that judging others for the lack of interest in what he seeks to promote flew back in his face. The matter in hand is the liturgy of the Church, and for all of us, how it relates to the rest of life. The problem is that it doesn’t, because the world has moved beyond the old medieval world view of Christendom. Our western world is secular and its god is money.
I have lived through a similar crisis over the years, but in my own way. Certainly, my clerical training in seminary gave me another perspective, together with my years of solitude and finally marriage with a “cultural Catholic” girl. I lived through the Ordinariate movement years and the splits in the TAC. At the end of that, I put what is left of my vocation to the service of the very marginal ACC in England, and my own priestly life is lived as a solitary. My wife gladly comes to Mass when she feels like it, but is distant from a Church that just cannot and does not relate to our present condition as human beings.
In the end, one can either kick everything in the teeth as an act of nihilist revolt, or simply persevere in what little we have and are. Patricius still lives his interior combat, not being a priest or someone with experience of clerical life. A change is required but of my own making and that entails eshewing that godly vice in my life, namely sloth. He indeed has got it! What he chooses to do about it is up to him. I have given him the address of my Bishop and one of our priests who lives not far from where he lives, and he can contact them if he wants. I think my Church is near to his liturgical ideals, using the Anglican Missal, essentially the Roman rite in English of before the Pius XII reforms of Holy Week.
Patricius lost his dog this year. I lost two of them, and I also lost my mother. Life has to go on, and he knows that. Things won’t be the same as before. The way to get out of a dark place is to get moving and hit the “reboot” button. We all have the things we like doing as hobbies, and those are different from person to person. He is more of an intellectual than I am, more indoors and in libraries or other quiet places. What about work? Most of our work is boring drudgery, but we have to establish our own priorities in life. I would hate to be employed in retail trading. I worked in a music shop when I was 18-19 and most of it was packing mail orders and filing order forms and invoices in the office. The only way is to make a decision about what we really want to do in life, and carry it through. There are various possibilities like higher education or travelling. That’s up to him.
There’s something that Patricius is good at – writing. There’s something of the Evelyn Waugh in him, the eternal satirist. Writing is something you have or don’t have. We all (or nearly) all learn to read and write thanks to modern education. Most people read newspapers and novels – and of course the internet – and write e-mails and letters. Few of us find the energy to write substantially. Blogging offers many possibilities of becoming an amateur journalist or commentator on myriad topics in life. If we are motivated to write books, that’s another possibility – and then getting them published. That has always been hard, even for the best writers. There is always the saying that artists are only appreciated after their death! I earn my living hacking out technical translations for business and industry. I seem to do a good job in spite of not having a degree in translation, but hands-on experience which is a lot more useful. In that way, I am a professional writer. So, perhaps, all we can do in the way of creative or artistic writing is to work in that perspective to leave our own epitaph behind so that someone will have a Mass said for our soul – and get by in another way. That just about describes my own vocation as a priest!
Patricius‘ writing is often quite shocking. But, is that not the charm of it? That is his style. It isn’t mine. I am of a mind to compromise and conciliate. His is to clash and oppose, and that brings the suffering of solitude. I remember the comparison made between John Henry Newman and Fr Tyrrell. Newman was the diplomat who sailed close to the wind without getting caught in irons. Tyrrell was the pugnacious Irishman who got himself excommunicated and banished, taken into a religious community so that he wouldn’t be out in the street, and had to work himself out in the mess he had allowed himself to get into. His early death from sickness was perhaps a relief for him! How far are we willing to go to compromise for the sake of a modus vivendi with the world, and how much are we willing to suffer to have things our own way?
I don’t suppose there’s much advice I can offer, except that he do what he thinks is right, somewhere between calling St Joseph Joe the Working Class git (I celebrate SS. Philip and James on 1st May) and being ready for some accommodation and compromise for the cause of the liturgy. Finally, it’s all about knowing what you want in life.