Monday, May 21, 2007


Saint Thomas Aquinas recommended the via media, the middle way. Blessed Columba Marmion* said, “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet be the last to lay the old aside.” A good priest friend recommended to me the other day that I would better serve my career if I became more middle-of-the-road. This unnerved me until I realized that I don’t have a career.

But exactly what, in the faith life, is the middle of the road? In these confusing times it seems as though the road is completely covered with snow and finding the middle is rather difficult. Most people do think they are standing directly on or pretty darn close to the middle of the road and so the heart of the Church. I know I do. And there are people to the left of me and people to the right who also feel secure in stating that they too are in the middle of the road.

But people also mean many different things by the phrase. Some people are hypersensitive to symbols and so they see a priest wearing a fiddle back vestment or incensing with a bowl instead of the thurible and instantly label the poor guy as being radically one way or the other.

As you are aware I am sure I have my preferences in such things. But they do not matter two hoots. They are mostly aesthetics. I like them and I think they work, but I do not have to have them. Where one’s ideas begin to matter is in matters of faith and morals. Being middle of the road means not being more holy than the Church (and thereby enforcing one's personal piety on others which can be harmful) nor does it mean ignoring that to which the faith calls us (and thereby breaking the bond of love and truth which can be equally harmful.)

They key is orthodoxy and compassion. Orthodoxy; keeping with the mind of the Church. Without truth we have nothing to offer but therapy and poor therapy at that. Compassion; loving with the heart of Christ. Without love, all you have is conformity to law not a relationship with the person Christ.

Being pastorally sensitive which is equated with disregarding Church law or being faithful which is equated with narrowing Church law to a certain way of being Catholic have nothing to do with being middle of the road. Neither do symbols that may look traditional or progressive but are quite simply on the Catholic playing field. But being orthodox does. The question is, do we allow other’s legitimate expression of orthodoxy? Do we allow them to express their Catholicity without labels or demeaning comments? That, I believe, is being truly the middle of the road.
What think you?
* An anonymous reader suggested that this quote is actually from Alexander Pope, an 18th century English poet. I went back through my manuscript and found that indeed it was attributed so. Thank you to the reader and my apologies for the mistake.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Val, you are the first faithful priest I have met in my adult life. Your attitude is perfect. I wish MORE of what was on your mind (and blog) would be said in the pulpit. Ignore anyone who tells you to water your message down. The people want Truth, not ham actors.

Adoro said...

Another great post, Fr. V.

And actually, just as an example of NOT middle of the road:

(( and yes, that blog IS a parody...but a little too close to the truth...))


Be sure to read through the comments. It's hilarious!

Odysseus said...

-The question is, do we allow other’s legitimate expression of orthodoxy?-

Yes, zealous people can forget this (and therefore become overzealous). I think things like chapel veils and latin mass are important. But other apsects of life in Christ are more important. I would rather mass be reverent than in Latin. I would rather people be chaste and humble than simply wear a certain clothing I find appropriate. It is better for a person to fast than to know how to greet a bishop.

Anonymous said...

Don't change a bit! I think you are a great priest. You are true to the faith and don't let others sway your beliefs. The symbols - vestment, bowl for incense, etc are more personal preference. Even a preference for the Latin mass. You once said as far as that is concerned there is a priest for everyone. As long as all of us follow the doctrines and truly are compassionate and loving to others - isn't that what Jesus calls us to do?

Anonymous said...

I believe it was Alexander Pope, not Dom Marmion, who wrote, "Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside."

Dom Marmion did write some excellent things,though.

Anonymous said...

What about B16's red cowboy hat? I'm sure it has some traditional context that I am not aware of, but I sure do have to leave my aesthetics behind when I see him in it. He's not quite as charismatic as JPII, I think he should get out the biggest, heaviest Pope hat he can. For a picture:

Fr. V said...

W.C. He's pulling a lot of things out of the attic. That is what clerics from priests to popes used to wear. (I would wear a black one.) If you ever see a clerical coat of arms this hat is most often at the top of it. Its color and the number of tassels that hang from it will denote the rank of the person the coat of arms represent. For example, mine would be black with two or four tassles, a bishop's would be green (formaly the color for bishops) with 12 tassels.

Maybe not the best choice - but not too many hats look "right" with pope garb. ;>)