There's been some hum in the world of Catholic blogging over Rod Dreher's announcement that he has formally left the Catholic Church and become Orthodox.
I wasn't going to write on the topic, because I find Dreher annoying for much the same reason I always found the title character of the Ann of Green Gables books annoying: because while well read he seemed to respond to everything with wild flights of the heart rather than the solid, head-based approach which I prefer.
Besides, I think one of the more annoying tendencies of the blogsphere is to act as one giant college dorm, with everyone's little personal dramas held up for display when they'd be better left in alone by those not involved. However, reading over Rod's farewell-to-Rome post, two things struck me as interesting in a much more general sense, and it's to those which I'm going to devote a little space. If you want to read a well balanced and thoughtful Catholic take on Rod's own situation (rather than the more general questions that interested me) do check out Mark Shea, who provides some compassionate and reasonable thoughts on the whole thing.
Walking in Dark Places
Very few people are cut out to be vice cops. Most of us may be prepared to realize that the world is at times a dark and terrible place, but few people have the ability to face the worst parts of it on a daily basis and not find themselves eaten up by the experience. And yet, for what is seen as the overall good of society, people in certain occupations (vice cops and investigative reporters among others) are asked (or make it their business) to tread the darkest paths in our society, in order to bring wrongs to light and try to right them.
Some of these are things that must be done. And yet, people need to go into such things (or choose not to) with a clear self knowledge in regards to their own moral, emotional and intellectual strengths. Virtue does not require innocence, but a complete loss of innocence is often damaging to one's virtue. And it takes a strong mind and heart to keep the evils in the world (or within an institution such as the Church) within perspective, while dealing every day with the very worst of them.
There's a reason why vice cops have a reputation for falling into corruption themselves, and investigative reporters have a reputation for being hard bitten and cynical.
From a Small Taste Comes Great Longing
To illustrate some point or other (at this point I forget what), my father once asked me as a fairly young child: "Imagine some eccentric millionaire decided that every child in Africa should have a taste of the very best ice cream. He flew giant airplanes into tiny villages and gave each child, some of whom often didn't even have bread to eat, one bowl of ice cream. Through the rest of their lives, some of those children never had another bowl of ice cream. As they thought back on their one taste, were they better off than if they had never had it, or would they have been happier if they didn't know what they were missing?"
I'm not sure what the right answer to that question is, but in many ways I think the same dilemma applies to many active, conservative, orthodox American Catholics. Many of us spend a lot of time and energy yearning for a beautiful, ancient liturgy that we seldom get the chance to experience in all its glories. Some get discouraged and and begin to ask how anyone can survive in the liturgical and spiritual wasteland that is "AmChurch" Catholicism. And yet, having worked on the RCIA team (of an okay but certainly not outstanding parish) I know for a fact that there are people who fall very much in love with Catholicism without even knowing about all the history and liturgy that they're missing. It's not that they're in love with the standard list of complaints: prefer bongos to chant, like I Love Lucy-themed homilies, like a 1:1 EM to congregant ratio, etc.
However, there are out there a number of very good Catholics who aren't readers of Adoremus, have never attended a Latin mass (at least within the last 50 years), have never entered a gothic cathedral, etc. Yet the find joy and peace in Eucharistic adoration, pray the rosary, attend daily mass at least a few times a week, etc. However right someone may be to hear a Hagen-Haas hymn and yearn for chant instead, there's a very clear sense in which it's more important to notice what's going on during that part of the liturgy, regardless of the music.
Yet while there's much to recommend this simple Catholicism, I can't bring myself intellectually to endorse the idea that it's in any sense better to no know the history, theology and liturgy of the Church, however much that may tempt one towards dissatisfaction with the current American status quo.
5 hours ago