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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Prudish or Prudent?

I was having a conversation with a friend recently and she got me to thinking a little bit about some things which are inherently Catholic in nature.  Bear with me as I flush out my brain on this one...

As Catholics (traddy or not) we're supposed to live in the world.  We don't necessarily need to be of the world, but we do need to live in it.  This idea that we are to deny ourselves the things in life which are part of our time isn't what it means to be of the world.  I know that may come as a shock to some, but there is nothing wrong with TV, there is nothing wrong with video games, there is nothing wrong with going out and spending time with friends at a bar (if you're of legal age), there is nothing wrong with dressing like others of the time in which one lives.  What CAN be wrong, is how those things are used by the person.  I'm not saying that there are not bad things on TV, in music, in video games, at the bar, in clothing lines, etc...but the human person is a rational being.  He can choose what to expose himself too.  But to deny out of some perceived fear that he might be corrupted isn't how a Catholic should think.  As a matter of fact, that is what got Decartes into so much trouble.  That kind of philosophy is flawed.

As a traddy Catholic, there is this stigma that I should dress a very conservative way and that I should abstain from TV and that I should only listen to classical music, yadda, yadda, yadda....How are we to be witnesses to the masses, if we don't engage them?  How are we supposed to live in the world, if we stay out of it?

Because we can reason, we have the opportunity to set an example to others that we can live in the world, do the things that others do and still be good Catholics.  

Question:  Do you think that prior to the Council and long before, people didn't dress, act, and live in the time in which they lived?

Ask parents and grandparents.  I think that you'll find that this leap of austerity that is being promoted by some is a direct reaction to a subjective immorality.  Does it exist?  Yes.  Should we practice prudence?  Yes, but do we have to force our young people to be prudish in order to be Catholic?  A resounding no.  I am friends with a good many people, Catholic (both traddy and non), non-Catholic, and even non-Christian.  If I can't engage them on the things they know, how can I minister to them?  Doesn't the Church demand that  we catechize, evangelize and be ecumenical?  How can I do that, if I don't live in the world in which I am a part?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we shouldn't practice moderation, to the contrary, that is EXACTLY what I'm saying.  As my friend put it who I was having the conversation with said, "Where do you draw the line?"  Where is the line between Harry Potter and Narnia?  Where is the difference between Lord of the Rings and Star Wars?  Would I let a small child see that?  No, but when a child is old enough to recognize that magic is a fairy tale and not real, then it becomes something which with help, they can discern.  The inherent evil in life isn't from things, it is from people.  We need to work to convert those people.  That is what we are to do.

However how does wearing khaki's a button down with dress shoes to play baseball serve any purpose?  Or how does wearing a skirt which comes to the ankles to the park on a 90 degree day serve any purpose? There are times when it is ok to dress in moderation, not inappropriately, but there isn't anything wrong with bermuda shorts and a t-shirt for a girl or wearing a knee length skirt or dress.  Just like there is nothing wrong with a boy wearing bermuda shorts and a t-shirt or even both wearing jeans.  I'm not condoning that for Holy Mass, don't get me wrong.  I think that one should dress appropriately for Mass with all conservation and appropriateness, but in the world at large, it just doesn't make sense.  It would be like asking a person from the 1850s to wear clothing from the 1740s.  They didn't do it, why should we do it today?

This all comes down to two things for the person, first it comes to reason.  Man can reason.  He knows what is right and what is wrong.  If his reasoning is wrong, then he should be taught what is right.  Reason is objective, application is subjective.  Second is moderation.  If things are done in moderation, then it isn't so difficult to adapt and alter when necessary.

As Catholics, we need to be able to live in the world.  I'm not saying that we fall into the traps of the world, but we can't live as if we were in Brigadoon, that's not fair to the faithful, it's not fair to the Church and it certainly isn't fair to the self.  If we are devout as Catholics and accept ALL that she teaches, then there should be no problem living in the world without having to constantly fight being of the world.  Catholicism isn't about being prudish, it is about being prudent.  We all need to take a step back and think about that, in my humble opinion. 


  1. "If I can't engage them on the things they know, how can I minister to them? Doesn't the Church demand that we catechize, evangelize and be ecumenical? How can I do that, if I don't live in the world in which I am a part?"

    Plan on evangelizing through the lastest American Idol or over a game of Grand Theft Auto? ;)

    Nah- all one needs in order to reach out to the world around them is an understanding of natural law written on ones heart and the infused desire for God. One doesn't need to experience everything another person does or carrying on conversation about the latest movie star (there are other things to talk about without having to discuss pop culture) in order to reach their heart. In fact you are more likely to reach their heart by genuinely caring about their situation and their hardships.

    I am with you though. I am not saying TV is evil, I am not going to go around in a skirt all the time, I am not going to only listen to classical, etc. BUT lets call it what it is. Enjoying worldly pleasures. It is not for the purpose of reaching the world. I promise watching American Idol or Survivor (or whatever reality show is popular now) will save a single soul.
    Nor should we call those who feel lead to a more austere lifestyle 'prudish'. They are probably trying to practice detachment and purity. St Francis de Sales speaks to this in the Intro to the Devout Life. He has a pretty balanced approach. Realizing that lay people are not called to renounce the world in the same way, renunciation and voluntary abstinence does help to advance one in holiness.

    I am not saying go burn your MP3 player and put your TV in the closet. I will personally keep mine. But lets call a spade a spade. I listen to Pink Floyd because I like em. Just my not-so-humble-opinion (bet you didn't miss that ;)


  2. Hi Esther,

    You said, "Nah- all one needs in order to reach out to the world around them is an understanding of natural law written on ones heart and the infused desire for God."

    It's more than that. An atheist or a opponent to the Church can operate with a simple understanding of natural law. What Catholics must do is engage and promote the supernatural. We have to be able to minister to people where they are, sure, but we have to have a deeper application as Catholics than simply the natural law. We have to ascribe to the divine law and the eternal law as well. Those supernatural laws which the atheist or opponent to the Church don't recognize is what will lead him to conversion. That is the goal of proper catechesis, ecumenism and evangelization.

  3. True enough- Perhaps my statement wasn't all encompassing. It shouldn't based solely off of a philosophical understanding of a person. I agree we must take it to a supernatural level. But I think you missed the crux of what I was saying.

  4. But to a certain degree it should be based off of a philosophical understanding of the person. For it is through understanding philosophy that we understand the wisdom of what lies behind the person.

    It is, however, entirely possible that I missed your point. What was it?

  5. This is exactly my point about the understanding the reason, or philosophy of the person. But that is only a small fraction of the point of my original post. Nutshell of my original post- we do no evangelize to the world by knowing the world, but what the world was meant to be. And don't call those who abstain from worldly pleasures prudes.

  6. Agreed. We do evangelize the non-Christian not by knowing the world, but what was meant to be. We do catechize the non-Catholic in the same manner and we are ecumenical with the Orthodox the same way...

    I don't call all who abstain from worldly pleasures prude, but I do think that those who take it to the extreme and use religious pride as a means of denying the tools the modern world gives us; they are prudish. At no other time in history , save the most aesthetic saints did man forgo the technology of the day, for the sake of perceived religiousness...

  7. I don't know what happened but I posted something and it didn't stick..

    Anyway- Your OP didn't seem talk so much about modern technology (like going Amish or something) as it did music, drinking, TV, video games, clothes, etc. All of which would be just fine to give up without effecting any sort of evangelizing opportunity as discussed earlier. (except for clothes. I vote we don't give those up;)

    How are we to know what is religious pride or someone trying to live out detachment of the senses. So one cannot say if something is prudish or authentic. That is between the person and their SD. If my SD came to me and said "Esther you are far to attached to TV, you should really give it up" would that be prudish? Obviously not. Or if I went to my SD and said "Father I think I am spending way to much time playing video games, do you think I should give them up?" Wouldn't that be prudent? Because something ruffles ones sensibilities and conscience doesn't give them the right to look down upon that persons actions and assume what their motives are.

    Religious pride is a interesting accusation thrown around very often these days. Most traddies would be accused of that, not even taking into account their lifestyle- just based off the liturgy they go to. So I am surprised you of all people would be so ready to accuse another of it.

    And on the "most aethetic saints" thing- there are far more saints that did without many modern day entertainments. I doubt you would be able to find one who spend much time in the pub at all or at the theater.