Some readers have lately put their backstories in the comments on previous posts, so I felt it only fair to do so myself. I have often alluded to the past, but have never put it all in one place.
“All got a past” as Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country puts it. Those of us on the Catholic “blogosphere” are no different. Behind the posts, the witty or not-so-witty jabs, the discussions of tradition, and rants are living human beings whose actual personalities can be far different than their online image… or exactly like them. We all came from somewhere and experienced things that shape how we view the world and certain elements of our faith. This is true of me and both contributors on the RadTrad blog. We all came from very different places, which is why a discussion among us will result in three men looking at the same mountain from very different vantage points. We tend to agree in substance but differ wildly in expression.
We all write blogs because we feel we have something to say and something to contribute. Even the least egotistical of us is thrilled when we see a spike in blog views. It makes us feel important for a brief moment, for there are people listening to us. Agree or disagree or disagree, it does not matter. We have been heard by people in many different nations. There is something consoling about that. We usually do not wish to reveal too much of our personal lives to the readers, as we do not know the vast majority of them.
However, I thought it a good idea to reveal my own religious “backstory” in the broadest of terms so that the readership can understand from whence I come.
I was born the son of a traditionalist Catholic mother and a father who was a recent convert to the faith. I was baptized by an independent Feeneyite priest who was famous for writing many books in favor of Feeneyism, books against the Novus Ordo, and claiming to be the last remnant of the Knights Hospitaller. Those who are familiar with the heyday of “off the reservation” traditionalism should know exactly who I am talking about.
When we moved to a more metropolitan area we found an SSPX chapel and attended Mass weekly there. It was there that I learned the faith, was communed, and then confirmed a mere six months later. I became familiar with the concept of “Nova Swordo” at some point, but knew little about it (I did not attend my first such Mass until I was a teenager). I was a Catholic at a time of civil war and a member of the “Rebel Alliance”, so to speak. That was all I knew.
Upheaval struck our chapel when the priest was revealed to be a Feeneyite. While we did not buy into the nonsense of the Irish lunatic, we also refused to participate in novenas to “deliver the chapel from the priest” (yes, I’m serious). We fell afoul of the chapel’s elite, the priest was driven out (and later became a sedevacantist), and skirted over to the other SSPX chapel “nearby”. We occasionally attended the FSSP chapel, but could not “join” as the community did not have the “parish status” from the bishop (who merely tolerated them as he shielded pedophile priests). The sacraments were the dealbreaker for us. My siblings needed Baptism and Confirmation, and could only get them from an SSPX priest or from going to our local church (which my parents were not yet prepared to do). Even in the face of a hostile priest, we “sucked it up” for several years and attended the chapel weekly. It was there that I served Mass and learned that the way a priest can act upon the altar of God varies wildly. The vantage point of serving Mass gives insight that the church-lady knows not.
A series of events changed our status. First, the bishop of the diocese was retired. Second, the new bishop sanctioned the FSSP community to begin the process of becoming a parish (after 20 long years). Third, my parents reached the breaking point when the priest refused to clear my sibling for Confirmation after over three years of interrogation from the Baltimore Catechism. We bolted to the FSSP church and helped in any way we could. My siblings were confirmed and that was that.
However, I began attending college around that time. As I focused on grades and my career path, I had little interest in what sort of mantilla was “modest” or “appropriate”. My previous years in the faith left two great marks: an utter conviction that God was real beyond a shadow of a doubt and an utter apathy to anything beyond that. I became a “by the numbers” type, attending early morning Low Mass every Sunday with the hope that the sermon would be mercifully short (it almost never was) and then going back to study and commit unconfessed sins. In a way, I had practically become the a Deist or a basic Theist. I am not proud of those years, but I have concluded they were necessary in retrospect. Some of my friends would end up officially leaving the faith entirely, but I did not. There was something in me that kept me from outright rejection despite how utterly jaded I had become…
“I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”
“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”
“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do. That’s how I believe.”’
Brideshead Revisited (2011), p.109, Penguin Classics.
There is a reason I sympathize more with Julia and Sebastian in Brideshead than with, say, Bridey or Charles.
It was a couple of years after graduation when things changed.
I had attended my first Presanctified Liturgy at a little Ruthenian church when I was perhaps seven or eight (I was old enough to receive). I was told not to tell anyone at the SSPX chapel for… reasons (one woman there had to have her children sacrilegously “reconfirmed” and denied Communion because they had been Chrismated in the Byzantine Rite). I did not give the Byzantines much thought until I entered a church one fine Sunday. I was shocked at the beauty of the Liturgy. There was “participation” without sentimentality, reverence without rubricism, devotion without devotionalism, and a choir singing without it becoming a bloody opera in the church (I had the same impression when I was later introduced to the Ordinariates).
Fascinated by this newly discovered part of the Church, I researched the Eastern Churches with every spare moment available to me. Sometimes this resulted in utter awe (the Malankara), sometimes epic disappointment (the Maronites), and sometimes something in between (the Malabar). After about a year of this and “church hopping” (there’s a flirtation with Orthodoxy in that time frame… but that’s another story) I came to the conclusion that I needed a home. The Latin Mass, as practised at the local chapels, had become as bitter wine on my tongue. I could now tolerate the Novus Ordo, but did not particularly like it (it has been relegated to my source for weekday Masses). I spent a year on the Byzantine Calendar, and developed a love of the Office (and honestly felt that I had been deprived of a great treasure in favor of so-called “Rosary Crusades” and endless obsession with Fatima).
Now, I have a parish in a small Slavic Byzantine community. I hope to join the Church at some point, but my instinctive hatred of paperwork is postponing it. Meanwhile, I help the church any way I can, read on Sundays, teach Catechism, and pray the office when I remember to.
No one is without a little bias and now you know mine.