Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Feet, Fathers and Catholic Fraternity

Remnant, June 30th, 2007

"Pride", my young lady friend said to me as New Year's Day, 1972 gathered steam, a wide wry smile on her lovely face. "You have hoisted yourself on a petard of pride". A quite deadly and all too just response indeed to my sophomoric bragging that it was already one hour passed midnight, and that I had not yet committed a single act that was even venially sinful.

The memory of this chastisement of frivolous pride at the hands of someone whom I was eager to please came back to me with a big, unexpected bang on the 2007 Chartres Pilgrimage (a Pilgrimage, by the way, whose miserable weather Michael Matt viciously accused me or conjuring up with a recent article of mine lamenting the wretched physical and psychological toll that heavy rain would take on all of the chapter participants, myself at the top of the list).

In any case, there I was on Saturday, the morning of our departure, once again puffed up with low class pride, this time inspired by the knowledge that I, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, would have no difficulty walking the old familiar route whatsoever. Not only had I gone down that path before, but I had a recollection of veritably waltzing along it in 2006. Moreover, this season's inevitably leisurely stroll would be even easier, given the use of new, state-of-the-art, waterproof shoes which I had been convinced to purchase by a seemingly omniscient and persuasive salesman back in Manhattan. How ridiculous of The Remnant, my wife and the ghosts of generations of hikers and soldiers long gone to their eternal boots to warn me that I ought, perhaps, to have bought my footwear not a week but months earlier than Pentecost! And that maybe I should have broken the shoes in thoroughly before attempting a seventy-two mile trek with them on.

"Are you sure you are going to make it in those?", Fr. Paul MacDonald, our chaplain, asked me with his usual pastoral solicitude, clearly insinuating that my state-of-the art equipment was not all that the foolish merchant and his bamboozled customer cracked it up to be. Madness, I assured myself again, dismissing his doubts. I am Traditionalist, hear me roar! Bite my dust! Breaking in shoes was a task for rookies; not for a veteran who knew that accepting a ride on the Wimp Wagon to an early rendez-vous at the bivouac with the weaker representatives of the species was an absolutely unthinkable proposition.

Alas, my Fall from pompous arrogance came quickly. At the end of the first day, after the ascent of what the American chapter popularly calls Cardiac Hill, my feet had degenerated into two burning, abrasive, raging, pestilential stumps. In fact, they had become a Platonic Idea of Pain; a podiatrist's gold mine. By the afternoon of Pentecost Sunday, I could not, for the first time in my life, move without agony, and I watched in reptilian humiliation as eight and eighty-five year olds scampered off into the rain forest for another six hours or so of prancing towards Chartres as though they were about to take a spin around the ballroom at the Ritz.

My only chance of pilgrim's progress by this point lay in making a mad dash to my luggage, which sat in our hotel, ready to receive those who really merited rest--the following day, that is to say. There, in those bags, could be found the battered but broken-in pair of sneakers which had done such yeoman service for me in years past. Another badly wounded hiker somehow managed to commandeer a ride into the city, a young girl claiming to suffer from mononucleosis joined us, and off we trundeled. On arrival, twenty hours earlier than expected, I shoved my state-of-the-art shoes contemptuously into the bedroom rubbish bin, put on the old faithfuls, lumbered up, ate, took a snooze and prepared to meet our group back in the piny woods the next morning at the crack of dawn.

Unending cracks of thunder, gusts of wind and cascades of chilly rain delayed that crack of dawn until 8:00 A.M., when I was dumped by the Notre Dame de Chrétienté shuttle service on a country road at the start of the column of pilgrims. There I stood, greeting chapter after chapter, until that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, placed on Monday near the end of the line of march, finally appeared. It was during this wait that the wry smile on the face of my long forgotten New Year's date re-emerged before my eyes with picture postcard clarity. Surely, I shuddered, I would now see that same sneer on all my fellow pilgrims' faces. "Hear you roar? Bite your dust, eh?", they would snicker. "Slept in Chartres, did you, O Creature of a Day? Do you know what it was like for real penitents in the bivouac last night?" At that point they would certainly hold up their broken-in shoes, Dessatin-stained feet and How to Prepare for the Pilgrimage literature, shaking them at me all in unison. An impenetrable angelic force field would be generated around them. I would be left outside where there is nothing but lamentation and gnashing of teeth. My reputation as a counterrevolutionary Catholic activist would lie buried, forever, deep underneath the northern French blood and mud.

But none of this proved to be true. In fact, thinking that it would be so was merely pride's last gasp effort to keep me in its grip, focusing my attention on myself, on my merits and demerits, rather than the higher reality around me. For the "Marchers for God" were in no way concerned about inflicting punishment. Their minds and hearts, whether consciously or unconsciously, were fixed not on the feet of the faithful---neither mine nor theirs---but on loftier themes more worthy of the Fathers of the Church.

I bring up this patristic argument because the welcome of every chapter along the line of march to all of those many, many persons joining or rejoining them now, for reasons good and bad, at the last moment, on Monday, with the final goal in sight, reminded me of a magnificent passage from one of the greatest of the Greek Fathers, St. John Chrysostom. This passage, read in Eastern Catholic Churches on Holy Saturday, conveys a sense of overwhelming joy over the imminent arrival of the Easter Feast. I do not have the text in front of me now, but from what I remember, it invites all those present at the Divine Liturgy to lift up their hearts and rejoice in the ineffable hope offered to believers by the historical fact of the Resurrection. What counts, as always, St. John tells the Holy Saturday worshippers, is the willingness to make a serious commitment to Christ and His message. Those who made such a commitment long ago, and fasted the entirety of Lent, should now allow the joy of Easter to fill them with intense Christian love and happiness. But so should believers who had begun to observe the penitential season only half way through its forty days, and even everyone who had joined in seriously only at this eleventh hour, during the ceremonies of the Vigil itself.

St. John had many themes in mind in this passage, but the one that struck me most in the context of my experience on Pentecost Monday was that involving his concern for the Catholic fraternal spirit. Our hope, this great Father was stressing, comes only from our belief in and union with our Blessed Saviour and His Easter victory. Our eyes must be aimed, above all else, at Christ and the Redemption that He won for us. If they are, then the spirit of that joy which He wishes to give freely to everyone cannot help but take possession of our minds and hearts. Our attention then will drift away from a petty calculation of our specific merits and those (probably, in our estimation, considerably less) of our neighbours in order to redirect itself towards the infinitely more significant reality of the common offer of grace and eternal life with God; to the source of this gift Himself. We will then realize that all of us can gain what the Word Incarnate offers only in Him and through the Mystical Body that He brought into being; that our salvation comes from membership in one fraternal union, whose basic operating procedure requires that its participants work as freely for one another's benefit as Christ worked for them. We will then understand that it is the duty of those among us who are Lenten stalwarts, "veterans in Christ", to welcome and encourage the rookies, the last minute penitents, and anyone who has fallen and yet picked himself up to walk down the path of righteousness inside the Mystical Body once again. We will then see that, through the mystery of grace, the strong can even learn certain lessons from the weak and the confused who have regained their footing in Christ; lessons which may help them to avoid imitating the errors of the repentant wayward ones, and perhaps uncover previously unknown flaws in their own seemingly sterling behaviour as well.

It was this focus on Christ and the forgetfulness of self so conducive to creating a spirit of fraternity which propelled the thousands of Catholics united under the patronage of Notre Dame de Chrétienté to undertake their physically punishing three-day pilgrimage, and help one another to do so successfully, in the first place. And it was this same spirit of fraternity that allowed the pilgrims who had walked the whole distance joyfully to welcome and encourage their fellow Catholics who rejoined them---or perhaps had only begun their penitential journey---on that happy morning.

The immediate stimulus to Pentecost Monday's outburst of welcoming, fraternal joy was, of course, the sight of that visible hymn to God which is the Cathedral of Chartres herself, an artistic song and sermon analogous to and perhaps even more effective than the written one of the golden-tongued Patriarch of Constantinople. Pride, feet and chastisement of failure were under these circumstances so low on the hierarchy of values of the chapters marching towards Christ in His church as to fall entirely off their radar screen. We were reaching the goal together, stronger and weaker alike, united in our love and submission to our one Saviour and His one Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Our Lady of Guadalupe chapter left Chartres and its beneficent stimulus early on Tuesday morning. But far from fading into nostalgic memory, that same Christ-centered, welcoming, joyful fraternal spirit continued to manifest itself for the remaining days of our Remnant pilgrimage. In doing so, it underlined the truth that men and women who abandon themselves to Christ indeed do learn how to put the different natural aspects of life into a proper "hierarchy of values", and how to use them in a way that helps to sustain their Faith and ultimately allow all their unique distinctions and accomplishments to shine forth in vivid high relief. If you want to meet individuals, join the Traditionalist Movement! I encountered some pilgrims within our little microcosm of Christendom-in-a-bus whose love of life and God revealed personalities which could bulldoze their way through a contemporary cocktail party crowd filled with victims of our cheap, pointless, mess-of-pottage civilization; which could reduce to rubble its argument that it is modernity which promotes individuality and creativity.

Fortunately, a plethora of natural stimuli to lifting our hearts and minds to Christ, His Mystical Body and everything that flows from them for fraternal union and individual perfection did not disappear with our merry band's farewell to the great cathedral on a hill. How could it? For the whole of that hierarchically-structured medieval Christendom to which the Kingdom of the Franks gave birth, with its cornucopia of illustrations that nature is meant to be an enormous sursum corda and mirror of God, lay before us on the rest of our journey. A formidable lot those Franks of old truly were, to allow their traces still to be followed in our own debased age! Immensely self-confident, but highly conscious of their need to bend to the teachings of the True Faith and to find practical ways to put its message into daily use throughout the entirety of the realm, the Frankish spirit is clearly outlined in the Prologue (763 A.D.) to Pippin's revised version of the Salic Law. This was the basic "constitution" of the so-called "Salty" Franks, of which a relevant excerpt is given below:

The illustrious people of the Franks was established by God himself; courageous in war, steadfast in peace, serious of intention, noble of stature, brilliant white of complexion and of exceptional beauty; daring, swift and brash. It was converted to the Catholic Faith; while it was still barbarian, it was free of all heresy. It sought the key of knowledge under divine guidance, desiring justice in its behaviour and cultivating piety. It was then that those who were the chiefs of this people long ago dictated the Salic law...

Long live Christ who loves the Franks! May he protect their reign; may he fill their leaders with the light of his grace; may he watch over their army; may he accord them the rampart of Faith; may he grant them the joys of peace and the happiness of those who rule over their age... After professing their Faith and receiving Baptism, these Franks enshrined in gold and silver the bodies of the saints and martyrs whom the Romans had burned with fire, mutilated with the sword, and delivered to the teeth of ferocious beasts. (Pierre Riché, The Carolingians, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, p. 83).

Supernatural stimuli to Catholic fraternity were also in no way lacking to us, above all through the presence of the Traditional Mass as our constant companion, our master and our intimate friend alike. But justice demands recognition of the fact that our fraternal spirit was immensely aided in a supernatural manner also by the ministrations of our own golden-tongued preacher. For let it not be thought that our chaplain is only a man of proven expertise in proper pilgrimage footwear! He is, above all else, distinguished by his deep knowledge of and love for the theology of the Mystical Body of Christ, which he knows how to impart with eloquence, with wit and with pastoral effectiveness.

Fr. MacDonald's own brilliant grasp of these questions comes, to a large degree, from his familiarity with the writings of a magnificent Catholic teacher of the nineteenth century, Cardinal Louis-Edouard Pie (1815-1880), Bishop of Poitiers and a man whom every Catholic intellectual and activist ought thoroughly to study. Cardinal Pie, friend of Blessed Pius IX and one of the inspirations for that pontiff's Syllabus of Errors, was a first class representative of a movement of nineteenth and early twentieth century Catholic thought which explored the building blocks of true fraternity and the nature of that which destroys it better than any since the time of the Church Fathers. This school, whose ideas are reflected in all the great encyclicals, emphasized the same points as noted above, but with telling reference to our own particular modern historical situation.

Cardinal Pie and his colleagues drove home the message that lasting fraternity and fraternal love can only come from individuals "getting out of themselves", looking for the objective Truth beyond them, and allowing that Truth to shape them through communities which could support lasting fraternal love and charity. They saw that individuals cannot achieve this goal on their own. The communities that could and would guide men and women were mostly natural ones dealing with truths that can be learned from reason and nature, institutions like the family and the state, though many others besides. Still, it was, they explained, primarily by submitting to the Truth and Grace of the Creator and Redeemer of nature, taught and offered by His Church, that natural truths and the institutions embodying them could fully know how to avoid false enthusiasms and learn how they are supposed to guide individuals to their ultimate goal, which is eternal life with God.

The immediate stimulus for such thinkers was their shocked awareness that knowledge of such a need to move beyond the self and regain a sense of individual complementarity with society had been generally lost, even in Catholic circles, due to eighteenth century Enlightenment naturalism. This had worked to take the props out from under real fraternal love and self-awareness. It has done so by seeking to "liberate" the individual from objective Truth and the social cradle which helps mightily to rock him to God. Enlightenment naturalism claimed that each person on his own could find his way to cooperative behaviour with his neighbour, perfection and "salvation", whatever this might mean. But all it really succeeded in doing was to give to individuals a fraternity based on the wilful dictates of the strong; one that dragged all men and women into an illicit contract with irrational enthusiasms and vices; one that was contemptuous of the true distinctions and needs of human persons; one that was instable and short lived to the extreme.

Fr. MacDonald began his patristic-nineteenth century formation of our merry little penitential band into a well-trained fraternal battalion in the army of the Church Militant in Sacre Coeur on Montmartre in Paris. From his initial sermon at his first mass onwards he set our eyes firmly on Christ and the effects that He and His Church could have on us as a group and as individuals. Moreover, he insisted, that effect did not have to be limited merely to the exciting period of our Pilgrimage in France. No pagan-like fatalism, he argued, destined us to fall from Christ and the spirit of fraternity guiding us to use nature and grace to move ever closer to eternal life with God once we returned from the Kingdom of the Franks and disembarked at JFK.

Allow me to dwell just a bit longer on this point: our ability and desperate need to maintain a patristic/counterrevolutionary spirit of focus on Christ, the Catholic fraternity emerging from it, and the welcome and encouragement that must be given to those who join in the Lenten Season, the march to Chartres and the overall Pilgrimage to God "at the last moment". It is important for Remnant readers to do so at this particular hour in history, because, motu proprio or not, I am deeply convinced that the cause of the Traditional Mass is going to grow ever stronger, and the spirit of the conciliar Church ever more fractious and suicidal, with the passing of each day. As this happens, new recruits are inevitably going to be attracted to the Mass of the Ages---if not the majority of Catholics, who will, perhaps, never come over to our side unless commanded to do so, at least that minority of individuals which can, given circumstances, begin to think and prove itself susceptible to change for the better on its own.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapter saw some signs of what I believe will continue to take place in the future while on our post-pilgrimage tour of southern France this year. For one thing, certainly in comparison with my own experiences in the past, gaining permission to say a Traditional Mass seemed to me to be much easier than ever before. In the single case where an obstacle appeared, it lasted but a moment, with a messenger sent to invite our chaplain to celebrate at the most important church in town. Our visit to the apparition site and church in Cotignac involved encountering a nun who had made the Chartres Pilgrimage, knew of The Remnant, and kept the Latin Mass Magazine in her convent. It also entailed being joined for lunch after Mass by Oratorian priests in what became a veritable Catholic agape. With one hand digging into a magnificent paella, the other holding a glass of rich local wine, and my eyes feasting on the mountain scenery of Provençe, I had a long chat with the Oratorian superior, who spoke very knowingly and favourably of the Fraternity of St. Peter, and who said goodbye to all of us with seemingly genuine sorrow on his face. Nothing like this happened to me in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. Why, it was one of the few times in my life that I felt as though I were part of---dare I say it? ---the mainstream!

Now I admit that some of those who might seek to join the line of march of us veteran pilgrims for the Traditional Mass as the eleventh hour approaches might not be quite honourable in their intentions. If the motu proprio is released, and then depending on exactly what it may say, there are certainly going to be efforts made by some fifth columnists to "tame the traditionalist beast" by planting modern "viruses" inside the traditional liturgy and creating a myriad of new jurisdictional problems for the religious orders which have been established to keep it alive. The best defense against such possible wolves in sheep's clothing and their maneuvers is, as always, an insistence upon maintenance of a firm line regarding the integrity of the Rite and a refusal to accept its being mixed in with elements from the Novus Ordo.

That being said, however, it still remains the case that the large majority of the eleventh hour pilgrims are inevitably going to be people who are confused as well as attracted, and at times hard to sort out from men and women who could be suspected of entertaining unacceptable intentions once they have insinuated themselves inside the Trad Camp. Eyes focused on Christ, firm in doctrine and commitment to the liturgy, a spirit of Catholic fraternity will nevertheless demand that we not circle the wagons and make it difficult for latecomers and even people whom we consider to have been proponents of errors in the past to enter the compound if they sincerely wish to do so. A spirit of welcome and encouragement has to be ours once more. For if we sneer at them, holding up the traditionalist equivalent of our broken-in shoes and forty years of literature emphasizing our anger at their previous record rather than our delight at their conversion, we will have totally lost the insight of St. John Chrysostom and the message of the Chartres Pilgrims. We would, in our own way, be like those British Christians who refused to help St. Augustine of Canterbury with the mission to the Angles and Saxons because they were too hardened against an enemy who had done them so much harm in the past to wish for them anything other than eternal damnation in the present. And in doing so, we would lose an opportunity to look at ourselves again to see if there are any hidden flaws against Christ and our brethren that we have up till now failed to detect and correct. To paraphrase Daniel Webster, Catholic firmness and fraternity, now and forever, one and inseparable. There is no sense in our enjoying the fruits of our Catholic fraternity, manifesting their superiority to the cheapness of the products of the civilization around us, and then, having perhaps aroused a desire to exchange a mess of pottage for ambrosia and nectar, denying access to the banquet hall because it is too late to join the club. All the doors to the Mystical Body have to be swung wide open until the last gasp of each individual truth seeker.

This year, our trip through the Kingdom of the Franks took us into its Aquitainian and Provençal fringes; areas much more closely tied with the ancient Roman past and much less touched by the barbarian incursions than the regions north of the Loire. All of the places that we visited, from Carcasonne through to Arles and even Nice (more known as a resort than a center of Catholic culture) benefited from the firm hand of the Catholic Franks, with a message that only those of us inducted into the jointly social and individual doctrine of the Mystical Body could really truly understand. This year's journey was the best of the three that I have taken with The Remnant, and that because of the fact that our movements were limited and there was more time to digest and enjoy the places visited. I certainly would wish that aspect of the Pilgrimage to be repeated in years to come.

Nevertheless, I wish also that it could be combined together with gaining the message to be taught to us by the Catholic spirit inhabiting the full vastness of the Kingdom of the Franks. This is,after all, a realm which spread not only over the area of present day France---what continued to be referred to as The Kingdom during the Middle Ages---but also that of present day Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia and most of Italy and Sicily---the lands of the medieval Holy Roman Empire. The Empire, remember, was also the heir of the Kingdom of the Franks. Some of these spots have been explored by the post-pilgrimage tour, but there are others whose natural-supernatural Catholic "message" needs yet to be heard. I would love for the merry band to see Trier, to go to Wuerzburg, to Fulda, to Bamberg, to Regensburg, to Monreale and Palermo, all of them magnificent centers of Catholic glory, along with those of most Christian France.

And while we are at it, why stop there? Whatever the Prologue to the Salic Law might say, that formidable lot which built up Christian order in the past is far broader in ethnic background than the comely Franks might have wanted to admit. We have been provided with a far-flung group of friends who have a sack filled with Catholic treasures to teach a fraternal band eager to rest their tired feet and take in another kind of lesson after that taught by the physical one of the path to Chartres. We have Greece to explore, the islands of the Aegean and the coastline of Asia Minor with its cities redolent of accounts from the Acts of the Apostles, not to speak of the great Marian shrine at Ephesus. All that which is Catholic and truly Orthodox belongs to us and ought to be embraced and enjoyed. What an embarrass de choix!

Now, how Michael Matt would accomplish getting us comfortably from Chartres to Athens I have no idea. Still, he brought us to the Kingdom of the Franks in the first place. He got the golden-tongued Fr. MacDonald to join us. He showed me how to smear grease between my pilgrim toes. He put together a group that welcomed me back into its ranks with open arms after my unwarranted display of self-sufficiency. He seems capable of accomplishing anything in this realm!

But even if he opted for just the three day hike and seven days in Chartres I would go back again. Whatever the choice for the future may be, I have signed on for the duration. Personally, I need all the Catholic fraternity and all the natural and supernatural stimuli to lifting up my heart and mind to God that I can get. The modern world, with its cynical message, creeps up all too insidiously into one's life to neglect them.

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