In Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, Private Desmond Doss makes this iconic remark: “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”
This is indeed a noble sentiment, and one that deeply resonates with every human heart. And yet, so many good people continue to ally themselves with forces of division and destruction. In the name of something they deem to be a justifiable cause, they are willing to take aim at anyone who stands in their way, and to tear brother apart from brother on their “holy crusade”.
The Diocese of Helena, Montana, has recently become ground zero for just such a display. My bishop, the Most Reverend Austin Vetter, has come under attack by a Latin Mass society that, several years ago, I helped to establish. “Latin Mass Montana” has issued a combative and unfair news release, claiming that Bishop Vetter has reneged on his promises and has now taken a position that “is one of the most aggressive of all the global responses to Traditionis Custodes.”
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf recently jumped into the fray, and he uncharitably labeled Bishop Vetter as a “cruel young bishop” who has “crushed his faithful.” This negative and reactionary response is but one among many that we are witnessing in the wake of the recent motu proprio on the Tridentine rite and its accompanying responsa.
This is not doing the traditional Catholic movement any favors. Rather, it is confirming Pope Francis’ observation in his letter accompanying Traditiones Custodes that there is, in fact, a widespread “comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency.” Catholics who call themselves “Traditionalists” have repeatedly denied this, stating that the pope is unjustly pigeonholing innocent Catholics who just want to worship with “the Mass of the Ages”.
However, anyone who has had boots on the ground and spent any significant amount of time in Traditionalist circles knows this is nonsense. Denigration of the Novus Ordo Mass and Vatican II is commonplace, and to assert otherwise is dishonest. For the Traditionalist, it is a competition between rites, “altar against altar.” Otherwise, there would be no need for the compulsive distinctions of “superior” and “inferior”, “more pleasing to God” and “less pleasing to God”.
The recent attack on Bishop Vetter is a perfect example of this. What is remarkably absent from Latin Mass Montana’s announcement is that this “aggressive” bishop has encouraged the complete restoration of a sanctuary at its principal location, complete with altar rails. In place of the Tridentine rite, he has asked the pastor to celebrate the Mass of Vatican II in Latin, ad orientem.
Ignoring these constructive gestures seems to strongly indicate a distaste for the new rite in se, and an ideological attachment to the old. Not only this, but Latin Mass Montana and Fr. Zuhlsdorf have gone further and called into question the motives and integrity of Bishop Vetter himself.
This is a step too far. Our bishop is not “aggressive” or “cruel” or out to “crush us.” He is a good man from a good family. He is devoted to the Catholic faith and a loyal son of the Church. Since he took over the helm of our diocese in late 2019, vocations to the priesthood have already increased. He has no animosity toward the old rite, as evidenced by his desire to allow and support its celebration up until the last possible moment.
Bishop Vetter is only doing what he believes to be the best way to implement the pope’s motu proprio in his diocese. He is not depriving the faithful of a reverent Mass; only a certain ritual practice, and this is entirely within the rightful exercise of his apostolic authority. The Church’s law and history should make this self-evident.
Did Christ say that the world would know us as his disciples by our ritual purity? Or was it by our love for each other? Christian charity draws men together, impelling them toward unity of mind and heart. It demands humility and submission (under-the-mission-of), because without these there can be no gift of self. If we do not empty our-selves as Christ did (Phil 2: 5-8), we can have no part in him, and we will inevitably find ourselves alone and desolate, trapped in the chilling cold of our own ego.
Let us cease from tearing down our fellow Christians, and especially those who represent Christ on earth. We will have our disagreements, but let us disagree honorably, and not resort to personal attacks and accusation. Our Lord convicts and admonishes, but he never accuses. By conforming ourselves to him who is meek and humble of heart, maybe we’ll have a better chance of taking this world in hand and “putting a little bit of it back together.”
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