Steve S|kojek writes for OnePeterFive — I’ve got to be honest, I absolutely agonized over writing my piece, No More Platitudes: It’s Time to Take a Hard Look at the Crisis of Catholicism.
I started writing it weeks ago. Well, I should say, I wrote the first draft of a piece that never saw the light of day weeks ago. I wrote it, I shared it with a couple of people, and I buried it.
Then, about a week ago, I started again. From scratch. This time, I didn’t even share it with anyone. I got frustrated, buried it, and started giving up on trying to find the right way to express what I wanted to say.
I’m not sure what finally shook it loose. I think it was a combination of factors. The draft that finally got published was itself a completely new piece. Not one sentence borrowed from earlier versions. It was only through the process of starting over and trying again that I could find the right words.
And I was afraid to put it out there. There’s no easy way for a man in my position to talk openly about doubts and struggles with the Church. I knew I’d be attacked for it — I even predicted it in the piece itself — and sure enough, the inquisitors showed up.
But the response has been, by and large, overwhelmingly positive. Moreso than I could have hoped for. I’ve received a lot of support and prayers, and even more folks saying I wrote exactly what they’ve been struggling with. (As a writer, that’s when you know you’ve hit the jackpot.) I’ve gotten some fantastic correspondence as well. (It’s going to take me a bit to get back to everyone, so if you sent me an email, I’m sorry about the wait!) Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher took what I said, quoted it at length, then expounded on it. It’s definitely a worthwhile read.
But this piece, as much as it felt momentous for me to write, was just a baby step.
The frustration so many of us feel with things going on in the Church right now is broad, and deep. For me, it’s not just with what’s happening in Rome, or with the bishops. It’s with the growing factionalism, the de-facto popularity contests among Catholic commentators, the reflexive tribalism, the “if you don’t do X, you’re not on the team” posturing, etc. It’s also at the at times excessive paranoia about our perceived oppression (which obviously has some basis in fact) and the often excessive focus on doom & gloom. There is an anger, a fear, and a fragility that is so prevalent that it seems almost everyone is on edge. I’ve certainly fallen into it at times.
None of this is healthy, in my view. It’s insanely stressful, it generates anxiety and even depression, and it can suffocate hope.
Now, I’ll be the first one to admit that hope is a bit of a tough sell right now.
When I ask what people want to see more of and they reply, “You should write about good things that are happening in the Church,” my immediate response is to want to say, “Why? So the bishops can crush them? So Rome can take their money and leave them scattered and broken?”
When people say, “Tell us how to live good, traditional Catholic lives in times like these,” my first response is, “Who am I to teach anyone anything? I’m trying to figure it out too!” And then immediately thereafter, my cynicism kicks in: “If I tell you some good things to try, but you have nowhere to go to live out the kind of sacramental life that gives your spirituality its lifeblood, isn’t that kind of cruel?”
To give an example: we’ve put out some very compelling (I think) pieces arguing in favor of truly reverent, properly oriented, theologically sound liturgy. We convince people how important it is for them to get to the best Mass they can. And invariably, they leave comments along the lines of, “There isn’t a TLM within a five hour drive of where I live. I’m already driving an hour to get to a quasi-reverent Novus Ordo. What am I supposed to do?”
I have no idea how many people are living in sacramental deserts right now, but anecdotal experience with readers tells me it’s a lot more than you might think.
At the same time, Tradition is exploding. As I said the other day, it’s the inevitable future of the Church. But that doesn’t mean it’s ubiquitous, and it certainly doesn’t seem wanted by a lot of the bishops — even seemingly decent ones — who control all the real estate. You’d think they’d be eager to hand over larger parish buildings emptied out by demographics to thriving TLM communities growing by double digits every year, producing both vocations and diocesan revenue. But with the exception of a few places, that just doesn’t happen.
The reality is that there are two warring versions of the Church co-existing in the same space, and they are like matter and antimatter. There is no easy way to straddle the divide between them when each stands as an indictment of the other.
Many of us know this already, and we’re tempted to simply throw all the chips in for our side, put up a nice thick wall, and carve out our own space in the bunker. The trad silo, I think, is particularly entrenched. After all, we’re still the red-headed stepchildren in the eyes of the hierarchy, and our defensive posture is well-ingrained. They are actually grieved that we exist.
But I find this insularity increasingly suffocating.
I spent the first 26 years of my life as a Novus Ordo Conservative Catholic. I’ve spent the past 16 as a traditionalist. My trajectory took much longer, though, starting in my teenage years, as I moved constantly toward the position that I believed would draw me (and later, my family) closer to God. But there are still good, faithful, loving Catholics out there who didn’t, or couldn’t, come with me all the way to tradition. Most of my extended family. Some of my close friends. A lot of folks I run into online. My door will never be closed to them. I refuse to speak of them in derogatory terms, labeling them with whatever epithet I think describes their alleged “addiction to modernism.”
Don’t get me wrong – I want them to be persuaded of the things I believe are true. I would very much like to see them follow the same journey of discovery that was opened to me into the riches of tradition – a journey I did not merit; a freely-given gift.
But my focus should be on persuading them without pressuring them. I will not browbeat or guilt trip them into it. And somehow, despite the antithetical nature of our respective versions of the faith, there must be a way forward together. As Dreher said in his piece today:
One of these days, we or our descendants are going to get to know each other, and to depend on each other, in prison, so we had better start building those bridges of faith and solidarity now. Trust me, people: you are better served by building relationships with Christians of other confessions who see clearly what’s happening now, and are not afraid to say so, than you are by being intimidated by those within your own church who are too scared to ask the hard questions, and who try to defend their own fear by shutting down those who do ask.
He is talking more broadly about people of different branches of Christianity, but how much more, then, does it apply to our fellow Catholics?
Which is not to be dismissive of our way of dealing with these others, too. Dreher also says that he sees his public role “as one who tries to build bridges among Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, to make it feasible for us to defend each other against the threat of ascendant anti-Christianity.” This really is a threat we’re facing. And with the Church in the mess it’s in, I have a very hard time not being at least somewhat understanding of those get lost along the way.
Yesterday, in response to someone who told me in a public forum that he was leaving Catholicism for Orthodoxy, I replied by merely saying that I sympathized with his decision. I didn’t say I agreed. I just know how deeply scandalized many Catholics are right now, and how it can cause them to lose their belief in the Church, even when they retain their faith in God. How can I not feel compassion for this? What can I say at this moment that will persuade someone contemplating such a choice that what is driving them away isn’t as big of a deal as they think it is? Should I tell them the gates of hell won’t prevail? Is that the slam dunk solution?
Predictably, I was very quickly accused of being “sympathetic to schism.” And then came the familiar refrain, smugly declaring that I’m “not even trad anymore.”
If being a trad means I don’t get be compassionate to people when they make decisions I understand but disagree with, then I don’t want to be a trad.
In fact, I’m sick to death of the weaponizing of that label. I’ve been saying so for years. I don’t need the merit badge. I’ll hand in my membership card, gladly. I only use the word myself because it’s the most accurate shorthand for what I believe.
This has been a growing realization for me, and it’s part of what led me to write what I did yesterday. I want to surround myself with people who genuinely care about others, who are reasonable, who don’t revel in being seen as extreme, and actually help — by more than just admonishment — others to grow in virtue. I want to hang out with problem solvers and people who can laugh and joke, even at the darkest of times, not complainers and naysayers. We are facing incredibly difficult things. We have not stopped facing these things for quite some time. We need to actually be good to each other, just as we need to have people be good to us. This doesn’t mean we don’t fight evil. It does mean, though, that we don’t go looking for evil in everyone, and delight in their destruction when we think we have found it.
I don’t know yet, for certain, how this shapes our path as a publication. I just know that as I stand back in late 2020 and look at our role as a watchdog, educator, and community builder in the crisis, I want to improve our current positioning. I want to set 1P5 apart. We can do more, and better, and I want to do that. And if you want to be a part of that, I hope you’ll stick around – feel free, please, to leave your own feedback in the comments about what you’d like to see more of, and what is most helpful to you.
And I’m going to ask that please, if you can, show your support for us with a tax-deductible* donation. We’re significantly below the half way mark on our fundraising goal this month. We’ve got outstanding bills that need to be paid. We haven’t raised our goals in years, but our expenses have increased, and now we’re struggling more frequently.
We can’t do this work without you. We have the freedom to be honest, to change direction when we think we need to, to tackle what’s most important while leaving the lesser things by the wayside because we are supported by you, the people who read us. The people who watch. The people who listen. You have made it possible for me to give this work everything I’ve got to make it the best I can, all while supporting the ten (sometimes eleven) people I do as the head of a large family. I would never have had the ability to do this without you.
So here’s the deal: we need to raise $14,000 by the end of this month to hit our goal. We had nearly 10,000 visitors to the site just yesterday alone. It doesn’t take much if everyone chips in. Our larger donors often save us from disaster, but every single small donation helps. You can contribute right here, without even leaving the page:
I don’t know what happens next, but I feel that we’re on the cusp of something big. There are major, tectonic shifts happening in the Church and the world, with much of the movement currently beneath the surface. The reality of what that will bring about will become clearer in time.
As we adjust our footing to be ready for whatever it is, we hope you’ll stick with us, come what may.