What do you think of when you think of a radical?
Is it someone with funky hair, piercings, tattoos, and bumper stickers? Is it someone with an ax to grind? In Catholic circles, we often link the term radical to traditional. Catholic ‘rad-trads’ are treated as a joke: dowdy, skirt-wearing mothers of many and their authoritative husbands who populate Traditional Latin Masses across the country.
Now, there are some people who would call me a radical because of my multiple tattoos, my piercings, and my unpopular political views. Others might call be a radical because of my off-grid, ‘back to nature’ lifestyle. Most often though, if I’m accused of radicality, it’s because of my faith.
Radicality is essential in faith. “Would that you were cold or hot!” Says the Lord in the book of Revelations, “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” But what does it mean to be a radical, traditional Catholic, and what differentiates the Radical, traditional Catholic from the ‘Rad-trad’?
The Trouble with Labels
I’m a Catholic. No other adjectives need apply. But sometimes, other Catholics get confused. I attend the Traditional Latin Mass, my skirts brush the ground when I walk, and my head is always covered at church. I fast and feast with enthusiasm, and my life follows the old, earthy liturgy of the seasons.
Like so many millennial Catholics, I’m living out traditional values in a radical new way. Does that make me a rad-trad?
Fr. Dwight Longenecker helped me clarify,
traditionalist” is a positive term, but… I will continue to use “rad trad” or “radical traditionalist” to denote those who do not represent the traditionalist movement well, and whose attitudes and actions lead to schism and strife.
When Fr. Longenecker and other’s use the term ‘rad-trad’, they’re referring to Catholics who put traditionalism over Catholicism to the detriment of both. Carving out a term for these Catholics
helps to defend, support and define the worthy traditionalist movement–the one which is made up of a majority of good, faithful, well-intentioned Catholics who are helping the whole church in the “reform of the Reform” and are doing so with intelligence, wit, patience, obedience and faith.
What Does it Mean to be a Traditional Radical Catholic?
What does it mean to live out traditional values in a radically new way?
Remember reading Walden back in school? Thoreau writes that he doesn’t want his readers to recreate his retreat in the Massachusetts wilderness, he wants them to find their own Walden. The same applies to our pursuit of holiness. A radical Catholic pursuing the beauty of traditionalism isn’t limited to rural living, classical homeschools, or even extraordinary form liturgies.
You can build a devout, traditional, liturgical lifestyle without many of the trappings I find so inspiring. The essence of a traditional Catholic lifestyle is a deep love of the traditional forms of worship, private devotion, and teachings of the Catholic faith.
That is the radicality that takes you beyond the self-focused ‘rad-trad’ movement. Living out traditional values in a radical way demands that we traditional Catholics embrace our faith first, and let that faith make us new.
What and How?
What does that look like? How do we find our own, Catholic, Walden?
I know what mine looks like, but yours will be different. However you choose to build it though, a devout, traditional lifestyle should embrace hospitality, beauty, intentionality, and mystery.
Rad trads have a reputation for being closed off when it comes to outsiders. But a radical Catholic practices radical hospitality, remembering that our traditions are full of angels and saints who appear as strangers begging welcome.
A traditional, Catholic home often follows old-world hospitality. There is an extra plate at the table for the unknown guest. We welcome Christ in each visitor, offer a gentle response to unkind words, and forgive the impositions of others.
Hospitality can be a huge struggle. When we’re raising children and building faithful homes, we do need to protect our families from spiritual, physical, and intellectual dangers. The best way to offer safe hospitality as a traditional is to create a purposeful, faithful home – a domestic monastery, with Christ at the heart.
Many Catholics are drawn to the beauty of the traditional liturgy first, and later absorb the interior attitudes of traditionalism. The traditional liturgy is often contrasted with poorly done post-Vatican II Masses. The radical Catholic is always seeking beauty in an out of the liturgy.
The Church traditionally links Beauty with Truth and Goodness – three sisters bringing us ever closer to the perfection of God. But beauty is often neglecting in the modern world or replaced with mere prettiness.
Traditional Catholics, in pursuit of a radical faith life, learn to cherish the beauty in every aspect of life. We nurture it in the daily things – the education of children and the preparation of meals. But also in the wider sense, by supporting the arts and praying for a renewal of reverence.
Intentional living is a popular idea in many circles. For traditional Catholics, intentionality takes on additional importance. We work hard to build lives that connect us to the long history of the Church in the world. Whether by resurrecting pious practices in our homes or by embracing long-neglected devotions, traditional Catholics make the old ways new again.
Name-days, vigil fasts, herb blessings, and Ember days are some of the traditions my family has been intentional about re-introducing into our domestic monastery. Your family may find others that fit your life better. The important thing is to choose with care and create a lifestyle that nourishes the faith in your family.
Going with the flow and embracing the culture at large will not nourish a lifestyle of faith. Being intentional about what you welcome into your life will make living a life of radical faith possible.
In our faith, mystery is non-negotiable. St Thomas reminds us that “the religious life of the Christian is rooted in his faith in the supernatural.” Traditional Catholics embrace these supernatural mysteries with enthusiasm. We cultivate the sacramental imagination, allowing creation to point us continually to God.
Just as a Sacrament is “an outward sign of an inward Grace,” so sacramental imagination allows the radical Catholic, immersed in his faith, to see all of creation as an ‘outward sign’ of the supernatural work of God in the world.
Traditional Catholics often nurture this imagination with fairy tales, folklore, great literature, and a cultivated intimacy with the natural world.
Life on the Fringe
Whether you’re a Charismatic Catholic, a Traditional Catholic, or somewhere in between, the truth is, we’re all called to be radicals. Christ calls us to follow Him wholeheartedly. “If any many would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” A life of faith can’t be lived without conviction.
We’re all called to live and die for Christ. That’s a radical lifestyle. None of us live it perfectly, but we’re all called to try. Let’s try to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Let’s try to support each other as we live out our own radical incarnations of the Catholic faith. If we do so in obedience to the Church, out of love and devotion to Christ, we’ll all be laboring in the same vineyard.