Life on the Fringe as a Traditional, Radical Catholic

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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.

Hospitality

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.

Beauty

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.

Intentionality

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.

Mystery

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.

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13 thoughts on “Life on the Fringe as a Traditional, Radical Catholic”

  1. Interesting that the pic with the article is a Novus Ordo Mass.

    In parishes I have served I have had folks who want grapes blessed for the 3 Days of Darkness (no; a superstition not approved by the Church) and people who insist on telling women to veil, Charismatics who have told me that if you don’t speak in tongues you don’t have the gifts of the Holy Spirit and those who don’t believe Francis is really the pope (no matter what we feel about his behavior or statements); anyone living in reality knows he is the pope. I have been told I am a bad priest for not wearing a maniple and a weird one for wearing a cassock.

    My response to all these things is, “Your opinion is just that, you are not a parallel magisterium. When you tell others they are “tepid” or “unfaithful” based on things not part of the faith of the Church you sin against charity and the unity of the Church. When you ask for dubious devotions or sacramentals as “magic” your trivialize the Gospel and our faith.

    A formula for spiritual warfare and faithfulness

    -Love God and neighbor radically
    -Say your prayers
    -Go to Mass at least on Sundays (TLM, Eastern Liturgies, Novus Ordo) and the Sacraments

    Anything else is fine as long as the Church approves of it but much of the non essentials cannot be made essential.

    So called Uber/Hyper Catholics who try to force their opinions on others rarely remain faithful to the very non essentials they yammer about and sometimes give up on what is the the true faith itself.

    Too “tightly wound” up Catholics make for disappointed Catholics when they realize that the Church is not what they think it is or should. I refer to the trads who never smile and look miserable all the time and the opposite end of the spectrum “ungodly rage” bunch who think women can be priests and the Church is behind the times.

    We are Church
    All Are Welcome
    TLM or Death
    Women in pants=Shame

    Bumper stickers, songs and extreme sayings get attention but do they really save souls.

    The Church belongs to Christ, not us…we are only members of Him who is the shepherd and bishop of our souls.

  2. I loved this article. I think I am both extremes…I’ve homeschooled for 10 years, I try to practice radical hospitality, but I also identify with the Charismatics. I think we all need an encounter with Christ that will lead to living out our faith intentionally and with fire. Back in the day, people were “culturally” Catholic and our society played into that. Now, we are constantly at odds with the culture. ALone, we can not survive if we do not have the Grace of God with us to sustain our faith. I think we do need to reach out to the tepid Catholics and the tepid Catholics need to reach out to us. We need to pray for opportunities to be missionaries to others, to show them with God there is another way. I believe we have to live our lives differently than the rest of the world, and they may be that we look and act differently, but hopefully that will draw them to us. It’s all about love and openness..It’s about the Holy Spirit.

    1. Sorry, but referring to anyone who isn’t sufficiently charismatic, or sufficiently traditional, or sufficiently into home-schooling, as “tepid” really isn’t going to win you any new friends.

    2. Good point Larry, I just meant the people that are leaving the church or feel no connection to the church..those who complain that people who are at one extreme traditional or one who is Charismatic are too extreme in another way. I also mean those who are more Cafeteria Catholics. Thanks for pointing out a necessary clarification.

  3. Pingback: EASTER  THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  4. Peter A, An ordained priest acts in persona Christi capitis as Head of the Mystical Body as no one else, as no one who is not ordained to Holy Orders. No female can act in persona Christi capitis, nor can a non-ordained male. All non-ordained have lay priesthood which differs in essence from the ordained priesthhod of Holy Orders. And all of us can act like Christ in seeing Him in each other person, and in living the sermon on the mount. Guy McClung, Texas

    From Catechism:
    Two participations in the one priesthood of Christ
    1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”20 The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.”21

    1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially.22 In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.

    In the person of Christ the Head . . .

    1548 In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:23

    It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).

  5. Larry-For years I have spent hours and hours praying, usually silently, sometimes kneeling, mostly standing, at abortion businesses. I have never protested. I have not been extreme enough in my witness and in my prayers; but I have been there when babies have been saved, babies now alive today. And I try not to be lukewarm, and let my YES be YES and my NO be NO, which often, in this world and its darkness is, yes, radical. What’s left? What has brought so many of my friends back to the Church, Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. So long as the ordained priest says THIS IS MY BODY . . THIS IS MY BLOOD.

    Birgit-You go girl! We are all baptized Catholic, same water, same words, same Spirit. For His time, Jesus was the most radical Person on earth, Thank God! In today’s world of me-me-me-now-now-now, the most radical thing is to love your neigbhor as yourself and to lay down your life for a friend; and to be a fool for Christ.

    Josephine-No woman has ever been ordained to Holy Orders, never. There were females called “deaconesses” but they were not gifted with sacramental Holy Orders to act here in persona Christi. And this had been traditional teaching since the Chruch began. Good source: “Women In The Priesthood,” by Fr Manfred Hauke. Note his section on why no woman has been or ever will be validly ordained re: the “Command of the Lord” to this effect in Holy Scripture.

    Guy McClung, Texas

  6. I relished every word of your essay. Each of us is a unique gift of God, enhanced by our own talents and interests. What keeps us as a cohesive Body of Christ is that we come together with the same intention – being the best Child of God we can be. Those who read this glimpse into your personal domestic Church otherwise are already closed off in their own compartment, even while railing against division.

    Yes, I have had a taste of the Rad-Trad who puts rigid practice before Catholicity. Your words share a much different world. One of taking priorities to the next level – something we are all tasked in doing when it comes to Jesus’ demand that we all become saints. My Walden looks a bit different than yours yet we are sisters in faith. While my dress also brushes the ground, I attend the small rural NO parish in our community while wearing a veil. Some of my children and grandchildren attend(ed) public or parochial schools. Others have been/are home educated. All in all, however, the most important aspect of our lives is passing on the rich tradition of the Catholic Faith – founded by Jesus Himself in an undeniable and continuous line leading to today and into whatever the future holds.

    I know you didn’t write this for approval but rest assured that this Kentuckian, living on a small hobby farm, delights in your world. We are not quite off the grid, gardening, nature loving kin through our brother Jesus and God our Father. May He bless us all!

    PS Many of my professional, large parish attending, fully on the grid friends also seek radical Catholicism.

    1. I truly appreciate your article. I have been subject to much criticism from my family when they found out that I attend Latin Mass during the week (at first simply because it is the only weekday mass time I can attend). They were under the impression that I was seeking to feel “more holy” when in reality I, myself, feel the exact opposite. It was really the devotion I have witnessed observing the other Mass attendees who knew where we were in the missal and who were able to follow along prayerfully in silence and without making it about themselves that kept me coming back; this was a communal prayerful maturity that I had never been exposed to before: giving complete glory to God with silent attention. This is something that I try to bring with me to any Mass I attend because the Body of Christ is the Body of Christ no matter in which Mass He is consecrated.

      As a side note, the first time I heard the term “rad trad” a few months ago when my younger sister referred to a local parish’s young adult community in this manner- I had no idea what she was talking about and I honestly starting laughing at the term because it just seems so ridiculous and extreme having to tout oneself as “radical traditional”. My sister (who is very liberal) was saying she wanted a term for Cradle Catholics who are liberal like her…I jokingly suggested “Lib Crib”. However, overall it doesn’t sit well me that both groups (and tend to be a growing division among Millenial Catholics) seem to embrace extremes, the opposite of Temperance, which is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit.

  7. This article illustrates the polarizing labels and extremes that infest today’s Church. Labels which seem to compel to people to write at great length about the glories of their particular extreme. I refuse to identify with any of them. I have utterly no interest in any of the topics the author wrote about. They have no relevance to me, an “ordinary” Catholic if I may create my own label.

    An “ordinary” Catholic knows the faith, attends church every weekend, and desires to participate in the community life of their parish. And that’s all. “Ordinary” Catholics were the overwhelming majority for many many generations.

    Do you notice that there are fewer and fewer of us every year? As parishes continue to shrivel and close, all the old parish social mechanisms have disappeared. The so called rad trads are all off in their “domestic monasteries”, the pro-life radicals are all protesting at abortion clinics. Just to name two extremes.

    What’s left for the rest of us? A big fat nothing. Our parishes are socially dead. As an obvious result, the number of Catholic marriages has fallen to near zero, and our Church is in serious trouble. Maybe not at the institutional level where the money is still flowing, but our parishes are dying and our Church is rotting away.

    1. It is unfortunate that you have so thoroughly misunderstood this post. The author and Fr. Longnecker’s quotes both decry your assessment. Radical is not necessarily a negative. You can be an ‘ordinary’ Catholic and still live a radical faith – one filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit and enthusiasm. The author shares, “A radical Catholic pursuing the beauty of traditionalism isn’t limited to rural living, classical homeschools, or even extraordinary form liturgies”.

      Do you know why your parishes are shriveling? It may be of benefit to immerse yourself in trying to become a part of the solution instead of standing back and passing blame. Try to see what is leading to this decay and fix it. Do you know those who are leaving? Have you reached out to them? Is your pastor invited to eat at your home? Do you continue to learn about the faith beyond Mass? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you are a part of the solution. Be patient, obedient, and hope in the Lord Whose timing is His alone. If not, perhaps you could pick up the task.

      I, for one, know why some parishes in my diocese decline while others flourish. It is exactly for the reason that this essay brings to light – the lack of fire for the faith, watered down catechisis, and unfaithful liturgies. Why not bring back the passion of Saint John the Baptist and allow our faith to shine from us in everyday life? Why not bring faith into every aspect of life instead of leaving it at the Church door on Sunday?

      The Catholics I know, who are facilitating this type of parish come from all approaches – Latin attending, Charismatic, or Novus Ordo. Some have material wealth, high ranking in society, professional careers, and many other trappings of modern culture. Yet, they are humble, generous, and hospitable. Others are poor, living a basic lifestyle with many unfulfilled needs – yet joyful, faithful, and caring. There are also those who are in the middle, yet they all have a common love – Jesus. They all have a common goal – living according to the Word. And they are all radical in the faith.

    2. Ms. Jones, I debated whether to reply to you. I will try although I don’t think you are able to understand my mindset. I didn’t misunderstand the article at all. You suggest that I “stand back and pass blame” when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

      Parishes used to be socially vibrant and that had no correlation – none at all – to anyone being “on fire” for anything. You used to do things for your parish because a) they expected you to, b) you were following the example of your parents and grandparents, and c) because all your friends did the same.

      But my entire generation has left the faith and isn’t returning – we all know it, and we all have our own theories regarding why that has happened. My theory is that the social role that parishes used to occupy in everyone’s life, no longer exists. People leave the Church, and no one notices that they left because no one noticed that they were there.

      That’s not passing blame and it’s a problem I cannot fix. It’s basic reality about the state of an ordinary Catholic today. If you “radicals” are having a different experience, I cannot relate to it.

  8. Josephine Harkay

    I am sorry to see that Catholics are now split into two groups, the pre-Vatican 2 faithful and the post Vatican 2 faithful. Dogmatically and morally there is no difference between them and that is the most important thing (I am not talking about the no longer practicing Catholics and the homosexual tragedy among the clergy). The difference is basically liturgical and in traditional pious practices. What is “traditional?” Traditions have changed all the time in the Church. Originally the Eucharistic celebration was done in various languages; it was only by the 6th century that the Roman Canon was completely in Latin. Also, the ordination rite of deaconesses was finally eliminated in the 13th century. In the Middle Ages there were many more feast days of obligation than we had in more recent times. And there are other changes that have occurred over the centuries. We must reconcile!

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