Why I am a conservative: The Fine Arts and the LCWR

There are two reasons I am a conservative.

The first reason is abortion.

The second reason might seem more trivial but is just as important and perhaps moreso: Beauty.

Both reasons tie to the fact that what I rejected were liberal or progressive Catholics.

For Russell Kirk, conservatism is primarily about what he, following T. S. Eliot, calls the “Permanent Things,” or what Mortimer Adler would call “The Great Ideas.” In 1986, Kirk added a chapter to his magnum opus _The Conservative Mind_, officially about T. S. Eliot but also dealing with Robert Frost, talking about how it is impossible to have a truly liberal poet (he notes Shelley as a possible exception) because poets are all about the Permanent Things. C. S. Lewis, in his inaugural address as chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge, _De Descriptione Temporum_, says that there are only three true historical periods. Today, we might call these the pre-Christian, Christian and post-Christian eras. Lewis argues that only 2 true changes ever occurred in history: the arrival of Christ, and the arrival of Modernity. He suggests that he sees Western Civilization as a continuum, with the Greeks at one end and Jane Austen at the other. While he thinks that the West has tapered off, he sees Jane Austen as the last solid example of a “Truly Western writer.”

Indeed, one of the reasons I went into English was to write a thesis on Lewis’s fascination with Jane Austen, though my thesis got redirected by my committee. We can further compare Lewis’s analysis of Western culture to G. K. Chesterton, who said that Western civilization is a back-and-forth of the Greco-Roman view (i.e., Renaissance, Neo-Classical) with the Judeo-Christian view (i.e., Medieval, Baroque, Romantic/Gothic). With the rise of artistic and intellectual modernism in the late 19th Century, something new happened. The Greeks and Romans saw the world as essentially divinely-given mathematical order. The Judeo-Christian view saw the world as a miserable place infused with divine beauty from which we reach out for God.

Modernism was the first widely accepted worldview, and the first artistic movement, based upon rejection of a notion of God. As one of the music critics in the old print _Crisis Magazine_ once put it, “Music died with Nietzsche’s God.”

One of the only times I had the opportunity to teach literature, as opposed to writing, was in the 2007-2008 academic year. I avoided being overt about revealing my political or religious views, but I *did* talk about these figures and guide my teaching of literature according to explaining the back and forth of those trends in culture. This led at least one of my students to raise her hand and ask if she was correct in guessing that I supported Mike Huckabee in that year’s primary (I did).

While I read most of Lewis’s work when I was 13 and 14, I didn’t read Kirk or Chesterton till college, though _The Conservative Mind_ was one of those books that, when I read it, I put it down and said, “THIS is what I believe”!

But I was conservative before I read any of them. I wasn’t conservative from my upbringing, other than the fact that my parents were staunchly pro-life. My parents started off as “Reagan Democrats.” My father was union activist in Pennsylvania, and I despise labor unions as institutions. I was born in Erie, PA, the hometown of “Sr.” Joan Chittister and PAX Christi USA. The bishop of Erie, when I was a child, was Michael Murphy, who infamously wanted to tear out seats in St. Peter’s Cathedral to make room for a stage for liturgical dance. His successor, Donald Trautman, is known for his courageous stance against pro-choice Catholic politicians . . . named Republican Tom Ridge.

Trautman is also known for spearheading liberalism in both liturgy and Scripture. He headed the committees that created the atrocious, and Vatican-Rejected, “revised Psalms” of the NAB. He has headed the USCCB’s liturgy committee numerous times, even beyond conventional term limits. Over a decade ago, he wrote a piece on liturgy in _America_ that elicited a response from some Vatican bishops, who wrote in the letters page of _America_ that Trautman’s article was essentially calling for a schism. Trautman single-handedly stonewalled implementation of the New Translation in the US, starting with his immediate reaction to, and rejection of, _Liturgiam Authenticam_ when it was issued and his insistence over the last 10 years that Americans are too dumb to know what words like “chalice” and “consubstantial” mean.

Somehow, in spite of that wide Catholic environment, in my early childhood I managed to pick up the beauty of Catholicism that Murphy and Trautman’s generations tried to strip away so meticulously, part in thanks to my parents’ guidance (though many others from similar backgrounds wouldn’t have gotten the same result). I was as bored at Mass as many children are, and clueless about what was going on or what the Readings or homilies said. I was awed by the stained glass windows, statues, the gothic architecture, the pipe organ, the choir, and the vestments and processions.

I read my Fr. Daniel Lord _Miniature Lives of the Saints_ I got for First Communion and was impressed by the piety of the saints. I read my “Children’s First Mass Books” I got for First Communion and was moved by the beauty of the prayers in it.

It was Beauty that called to me in the liturgy and in popular devotions before I understood anything.

I thought it was so cool that monks and nuns got to stand out by wearing their habits to show their love for Jesus.

Then we moved to the South, and while the South tends to be “conservative,” generally, and maybe southern Catholics are more actively pro-life, southern Catholics, especially the ones who are not transplants, tend to be rather liberal about their faith, because of the whole, “We have to avoid getting persecuted” mentality. When they’re conservative, they tend to be the racist kind of conservatives. So I spent the second half of my formative years surrounded by charismatics and progressives, and carrying the stigma that conservative=racist, and the only people who seemed to be externally following the Church’s teachings generally seemed to be stuck-up.

Yet, in spite of all that, I was drawn to Tradition.

I had plainclothes nuns and priests telling me that everything I found attractive about Catholicism was done away with by Vatican II.

While what drew me to the faith was its *difference* from the world, I was told that to be “relevant” and “attract the youth,” the Church had to embrace the world’s “pop culture,” that organs and traditional hymns had to be set aside for guitars and folksongs (nevermind that I had not yet really understood the great patrimony of traditional Catholic music; I was just working from congregational hymns). Stained glass windows (at least those depicting saints and biblical events) and statues had to be stripped away for colorful banners and potted plants. We’d have a big day for “Thanksgiving,” when Protestant Orange would be draped over the sacred altar and the vestments of the priest.

It made no sense to me that the religion of Aloysius Gonzaga, who walked on his own to daily Mass at age 3, or Stanislas Kostka who miraculously received Communion from an angel, was to be replaced by balloon Masses and “Glory and Praise for Kids,” that the faith which so many martyrs died for *PRECISELY* because they didn’t want to participate in the evils of their own cultures was now to be spread by embracing the evils of our contemporary culture.

John Paul II coined the term “Culture of Death” in _Evangelium Vitae_. Yes, the term has been used and abused since, and become a cliche, but if you actually read the encyclical, the context of the term might make even the most avid Ron Paul supporter blush (especially those who think the Pope is *in* on “the New World Order”), for His Holiness speaks of a vast worldwide conspiracy against Life and against the Catholic Church. If we’re going to speak of a “Culture of Death,” then we have to acknowledge that concept includes “culture,” that the Culture of Postmodernism is itself part-and-parcel of the Culture of Death. The culture of contraception, abortion, and euthanasia is also the culture of sex, drugs and Rock&Roll. If a worldwide conspiracy against the Catholic Church is trying to promote abortion, contraception, divorce and so many other evils, then one must also acknowledge that such a conspiracy is involved with the government pays for crucifixes in urine or feces on images of the Blessed Mother. If we’re fighting against these evils attacking human life and the family, then we must also attack the culture which encourages people to participate in immorality, so they feel the “need” for abortion, contraception and divorce as “protection” against their own immorality that the culture has taught them is inevitable.

Those same nuns were all about “helping the poor”–which is laudable, but not when it’s politically subordinated to abortion (a position refuted by Bl. John Paul II in _Evangelium Vitae_) or worse when it’s subordinated to spirituality. In that sense, it was not so much abortion that made me conservative as “Catholicism is about serving the poor, not all that prayer stuff. You shouldn’t be doing Eucharistic Adoration. The Eucharist is supposed to be about going out and serving the poor, not staying around and worshipping it. Marian devotion was done away with by Vatican II, and it’s not what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re supposed to be serving the poor.” And to a disabled kid, whose parents were basically teetering on poverty as it was, being told that the only “true” way to serve Christ was by helping the poor, came off as essentially telling me I was damned (if their worldview was true), and it seemed hypocritical of them to be so worried about poor people who *weren’t* Catholic but not about those in their own parish, to go out and do habitat for humanity but not be bothered to help a parishioner who was likely going to die before age 20.

So *that* is why I’m a conservative. Now, as an adult, I’ve seen the faults of many who call themselves conservative, but take solace in that most of them are more neocons, anyway, but the fundamental issues still remain.

Now, I knew my understanding of Catholicism was validated by JPII, sort of, and I knew it was validated by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (which is why I spent most of my life till 2005 waiting for him to be Pope, and literally hit the ceiling when he did), and by Cardinal Arinze, and Mother Angelica, and so many saints. I knew my view of Catholicism was validated by Kirk, and Chesterton, and Dietrich von Hildebrand, etc.

However, the struggle against the habitless nuns and their cronies has raged on. It is amazing how there are so many people out there who consider themselves devout and practicing Catholics, whose worldviews are so completely different, who totally embrace “Vatican II” (or rather the “Spirit of Vatican II,” since the Council itself never said or advocated most of what they claim it did), who think that Joan Chittister and Rembert Weakland (even in spite of the latter’s disgrace) embody the “true” faith, it can be quite disheartening. Look at _Commonweal_, _America_, _US Catholic_, _St. Anthony Messenger_, or _Maryknoll_. Look at the “we’re not liberal” Catholics at Vox Nova and “Catholics United for the Common Good.” Look at so many “Catholic” colleges and institutions, like Georgetown, which invited Kathleen Sebelius to be its commencement speaker, even in the current crisis. While many of these people are intentional agents of Communism and Freemasonry, many of them really *are* well-meaning, but totally brainwashed, and think they’re following the Church. And they insist that their “view of Catholicism” is at least a perfectly valid one, if not the only valid one, and the Pope and “the Bishops” (even though many of the bishops in the US agree with them) are “out of touch.”

So, with all that said, the second great gratification came seven years after the installation of Pope Benedict XVI, when the Vatican issued its “smackdown” of the Leadership Council of Women Religious a few weeks ago. Finally, the Vatican has confirmed that all those habitless nuns are way off-base, regarding their subordination of both moral issues and personal spirituality to social justice (which is a perfectly valid concern in its proper context). Finally, they’re being told to put their habits back on.

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7 responses to “Why I am a conservative: The Fine Arts and the LCWR

  1. joyschoenberger

    I grew up on Long Island, NY. I remember when I was 6 years old, my parents took me on the train into Manhattan to see a Broadway show (Cats) and go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. They had saved up a long time to afford such a luxury, and the show and dinner were great, but they also made a point of stopping at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I remember being in awe at the size, the scope, the intricate beauty. It wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before. And I would guess that most New Yorkers had never set foot inside. Oh, what they were missing!

  2. I agree with everything you say. You also say it better than I could. Many people today claim to be Roman Catholic but hate Rome and all it stands for, especially as Benedict XVI represents the Church to them.

    When I requested to improve the musical quality of Sunday worship with Gregorian chant because we owe it to God to offer him the best we can, it was roundly rejected by the music minister. She claimed that her musical selections are popular with the congregants and so no need to change.

    As long as the folks are happy, God will have to settle for Gather Us In.

  3. joyschoenberger

    Although I, too, prefer traditional music at Mass, I know there is a place for more modern selections. One of our local parishes has a Sat evening Mass with a folk group choir, and the parish associated with the college I attended held two college Masses with a folk group made up of students. This allowed the faithful in both to worship in the way they preferred.

    And however objective anyone thinks they may be in their evaluation of one musical form over another, no one can tell another faithful Catholic that they are praising God more or less with one or the other. My Mom prefers folk music, because she says she focuses more on the words and worships more from her heart. I feel the opposite. But we both love God and praise him with our voices.

    And don’t tell me there’s no history of holy worship through modern music, either. St. Francis himself was a troubadour!

    Mr. Molnar, you are right that your music minister should have been open to introducing chant somewhere in your parish’s liturgical schedule. But to both Johns, I think you need to recognize the legitimacy of different musical forms of worship, as long as they are theologically sound, and the liturgy itself is not corrupted.

  4. One of the problems with liturgical music debates is that they all seem to come from different perspectives of what liturgical music should *do* and how it should work. I like some of the contemporary stuff, so long as it’s Biblical, theologically OK and not too hokey. However, certainly there are valid arguments for quality. I find that a mix is best. My problem with “folk Masses” isn’t so much the music even as the attitudes of a lot of the people who participate in folk choirs. We aren’t members of the parish we actually live near due to its general liberalism, but we do go there for Confession on Saturdays. One Saturday, I was tempted to just offer it up and go to the “folk Mass,” when the folk group members, who practice during Confession times, started cracking jokes mocking the Sacrament of Reconciliation . I know a lot of folk group people are fine Catholics, but in my experience the majority have totally inculcated irreverence.

    If it could be handled right, I prefer a mixture of styles–I’m a _Worship IV_ kinda guy, more than a _Gather_ kinda guy or _Adoremus_ kinda guy. Our music directress at Holy Trinity doesn’t do a lot of contemporary stuff (and when she does, it seems to be something like “One Bread One Body”), but she always does a mixture of polyphony, chant, classical settings and congregational hymns.

    Usually, there’s some kind of Latin chant by the schola before the opening hymn, and then the opening hymn. At Communion, she plays a chorale prelude while the choir receives, and then the choir sings a meditation while everyone else receives, and then everyone sings a Communion hymn after they’re back in their pews.

    But once I experienced the Byzantine liturgy, everything else fell aside, it was like, “This is what liturgy should be.”

  5. joyschoenberger

    I will admit that I once quit a folk group I had been a member of due to irreverence of the members during Mass, but that was the exception, not the rule. I’ve played violin with three other choir groups in three other very different parishes, and all of them demonstrated the proper attitude towards the Sacraments, including one group that was all folk.

  6. Parish and diocesan context has a lot to do with it.

  7. Tina In Ashburn

    In reference to music, please understand that our choices should have nothing to do with our own opinion, what we like, self-expression, how it makes us feel – Liturgical music belongs to the Church just as the Mass belongs to the Church. The music and words of the Mass are one and the same. [Before Vatican II, a man could not be ordained if he couldnt sing, that is how important and closely tied is music and Liturgy]. There are rules and the Church teaches that the ideal [IDEAL] music is Latin, voice only, and that the music be the Propers set to chant. Read the documents of the Church.
    All the hymns we sing today are actually replacements for the Introit, the Offertory,…the Propers. Because why? Because the first choice of the Church is that the Propers be sung, not hymns or show pieces.
    If you realize that the Mass is the priest [Jesus Christ] offering Himself to the God the Father, then it will help you to see that the best prayers are the repetition of whatever the priest is saying.
    Read the documents of the Church on music, and you\’ll understand this better. The more recent documents, since Vatican II are more ambiguous, the earlier writings are more direct and easily understood.
    This is not my opinion. It is what the Church teaches. Unfortunately most Catholics are taught music habits by priests/directors who encourage the worst examples and have never learned the rules, so this little explanation probably sounds like utter gobbledygook.
    I used to sing very contemporary music and after getting into contentious discussions I started to research what the Church taught so that I could argue better. boy was I surprised!!!!
    Then I went on to study the history of the Mass and that helped me to understand even more that what we were doing at Masses today were for our benefit and not for God\’s.
    The Church is here to teach us – and through Her, God tells us how He wants to be worshipped, just as He did throughout history. Read Scriptures in that light and you will be stunned as how frequently and with great detail God orders His people to worship Him. And that there is indeed prayer that He finds unworthy and unpleasing.
    Prayer is for our benefit [for us to love God and know/do His Will], but it must always be how God wants it.

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