As I have written in my last few articles, my wife and I over the past while have come to embrace a Catholicism that connects us more to our rich heritage (some call it Traditional Catholicism – which is just Catholicism) . I won’t go into detail what that means here, but you can look it up if you so choose. But, essentially, it means that we are trying to figure out how to go about embracing the faithful/ traditional teachings of the Church, as well as how we can incorporate traditional Catholic culture and a Traditional prayer life in our home. This means that I have been brushing up on my Latin, and that my wife has re-evaluated her wardrobe to see how she can incorporate more dresses and skirts. There are a lot of things to consider, as anyone who has spent time in a Traditional Catholic community, there is a temptation among many to embrace a sort of “Catholic Amish” way of life. Some people seem to try and recreate a pre-Vatican II world, rather than find a way to bring Tradition to life in our current day.
Now, this is where G.K. Chesterton and Country Music come in. I know what you are thinking, obviously those two things go together seamlessly… Let me explain. My path to Tradition really came about when we moved to a small town, at which time I discovered Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Tim McGraw. When we moved to our small town, we encountered small town virtues, which are the fruits of Catholic morals. Morals are foundational for our life as Christians, they are philosophical and doctrinal. Small town living is where you see the morals of our faith lived out. Instead of hearing about charity in an abstract sense, you see it in action when 12 of your closest friends that you just met show up with pick-ups to help you move. St Thomas Aquinas speaks of “drinking to hilarity” as the appropriate way to consume alcohol, but when you live in the city, this usually only happens at weddings, as clubs and bars aren’t really the best places to celebrate over a pint and conversation. But, in a small town, life becomes like a country song as you sit on your porch and share a few beers and wax philosophically about your children and your God. There is something magic about the twang of a banjo when coupled with the popping of a cork from a bottle of Chimay.
When I began to read Chesterton, I discovered an author who was so distinctly Catholic because he was so distinctly “normal”. Not that he was worldly, but he was simply a man, who was simply Catholic, who understood the nature of a fallen world and who understood that to stand against the current of the times, we must plant our feet firmly in Rome. He understood that this life was short and that we must repent and pray and give honour to God. That being said, he understood that living this life with a frown in a pharisaic manner would do nothing to honour our Lord. Our Lord turned hundreds of litres of water in the most excellent vintage; He spent his last earthly night with his closest friends feasting and drinking wine. He spent years travelling the countryside, sleeping under the stars, his best friends in the world as his camp-mates. He taught us that the poor would always be with us, but that was not a reason to forgo adorning our loved ones with oil, even if we could sell it for a few shekels. He taught us that the letter of the Law was dead unless the Spirit of the Law was honoured.
Our Catholic Tradition, when understood in the words of Chesterton is truly the most beautiful way to live. It is a life chastity, but not without the roller-coaster of romance. It is a life of modesty, but not without the elegance of a tailored suit or a dress made to fit the curvature of the female physique. It is a life of temperance, but not without best mates and pub songs. We mustn’t be vain, but we also mustn’t forget to curl the tip of our moustache in order that our cigar complements most subtly the feng shui of our visage. After all, cigars are integral for the Catholic Gentleman as the body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, and therefore deserves a waft of the choicest incense.
A certain Archbishop who started a Traditionalist society once spoke in a sermon of returning to the land, the countryside, as being a remedy for the confusion and secularism of modern life. He was exactly right. In the countryside we find our ancestry cultivated in the rolling hills gilded with golden wheat. We reminisce on our First Father as we see the likeness of Adam tilling and protecting his garden.
My Nonno, God rest his soul, was a man of Tradition. He loved the Lord with all his heart, and he made wine all his life. He lived through war and dictatorship during which time he fasted and witnessed the scourging of a continent. He heroically brought his family to our nation for a new beginning, and over decades he worked tirelessly to pay the mortgage and build a legacy. He kissed his gold Crucifix that hung from his neck when no one was looking, and sang songs about the hills of Tuscany in an operatic timber while he walked through the aisles of the grocery store. He feasted with family until the wee hours of the morning on Saturday night, and made sure he woke at the crack of dawn to put on his best suit and kneel humbly beside his neighbour in a church pew. He worked his fingers to the bone, and kissed the consecrated hands of the pastor whenever he could. It is because of Giuseppe Viani, the greatest man I will ever know, that my children will know the faith of their great-grandfather. It is because of this man that my sons and daughters will see their father strive to be a man of Tradition, who feasts and fasts, sings and prays. They will see their mother’s hair laced with the veil handed down by their great-grandmother. Our masses will be in Latin and out of our radio will come lyrics with a southern drawl.
My Nonno had a saying “Si mangia, si beve e si va a vedere Il Signore” – we eat, we drink and we go and see Our Lord. G.K. Chesterton said “The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar.” I say, these men of Tradition were on to something.