I recently read this from Harvard Business:

“Highly intelligent, confident, and successful, alpha males represent about 70% of all senior executives. As the label implies, they’re the people who aren’t happy unless they’re the top dogs—the ones calling the shots. Although there are plenty of successful female leaders with equally strong personalities, we’ve found top women rarely if ever match the complete alpha profile. Alphas reach the top ranks in large organizations because they are natural leaders—comfortable with responsibility in a way nonalphas can never be. Most people feel stress when they have to make important decisions; alphas get stressed when tough decisions don’t rest in their capable hands. For them, being in charge delivers such a thrill, they willingly take on levels of responsibility most rational people would find overwhelming. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the modern corporation without alpha leaders….As it turns out, alphas’ quintessential strengths are also what make them so challenging, and often frustrating, to work with. Independent and action oriented, alphas take extraordinarily high levels of performance for granted, both in themselves and in others.”

Now, physically, I’m not a big man, so I’m not sure I can claim to be an “alpha male.”  But the last two sentences in bold above describe every pastor’s complaint about me when I was a parish priest (I am now a diocesan hermit priest in good standing in my diocese, but I exercise my priesthood and sacraments without parish bounds.)

Perhaps I regret not having joined a traditional priestly congregation from the start.  This is not only because of the differences in the Mass and the sacraments, but also because of the sociological differences that entered the priesthood at Vatican II.   Now, as I spend more time with Traditional Latin Mass priests all over the USA, I notice that a beta-superior commanding an alpha-subordinate is not a threat to either priest involved in the interaction.  Why?  First, because both priests have the same belief system, meaning they can be confident God’s will is going to be done in anything short of sin.  The truth is that sin is usually precluded by maintaining a theocentric belief system in lieu of anthropocentric priestly emotions.  Secondly, a command in tradition is based on something physical instead, not the emotional run-around that I find in most parish rectories.

What do I mean by physical commands not emotional commands? As I hang out more with traditional priests, I notice the commands go like this, even from a beta-superiors to an alpha-subordinates: “You will take confessions on the epistle side during Mass.” Notice that such a sentence is a physical, concrete command that leaves no room for protest except another physical block.  What is a “physical block”?  Perhaps it would be something as mundane as a dentist appointment.  For example, “Father Superior, I can’t take those confessions because I have a dentist appointment at that time.” In that case, a traditional superior will not act passive aggressive. He will simply take the confessions 1) because he can and 2) because he wants to and 3) because he understands his subordinate is unavailable at that time and that this has nothing to do with anyone’s ego.  (This is true even if the commander has a beta personality and the recipient of the command has an alpha personality.  Or, vice versa.)

When I was in my modernist but “conservative” seminary, if I did something different from the rest of the guys (usually I was more traditional, even though I wasn’t a “traditionalist” yet) I was usually “in trouble” with the formators.  But the formators never wanted to put me under obedience, perhaps because that sounded too traditional for an already-rigorous soul.  For example, once I was caught doing a double-genuflection (both knees, as is the tradition of the Church) at every Holy Hour when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed.  They never said, “We put you under obedience to stop doing a double genuflection before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.” Rather, the run-around was more painful:  “House custom is a single genuflection before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. We aren’t going to tell you what to do, but we want to see you grow in self-awareness and start to think like the rest of the house.”

Well, I didn’t.

I was then called “rigorous” and “disobedient.”  In short, I pricked the ego of my formators (and later, many novus ordo pastors) who didn’t have the guts to command me one way or another.  On the other hand, they couldn’t stop me from doing the tradition of the Church, so their hands were tied by their own modernism.   But it wasn’t just theology.  It was also the sociology that comes with modernism.  My rectory living (for my first five parishes when we did the Novus Ordo) was always based on an effeminate model where emotional interactions trumped physical requirements to the salvation of souls.  (By contrast, the featured image at the very top, St. Francis Xavier had no problem be obedient to St. Ignatius of Loyola, even though they were both alpha males.)

Again, I’m not even sure I’m an alpha male.  But I am straight and I do have a blue-collar background.  And this made the novus ordo world of priestly sociology nearly impossible for me to navigate.   Blue-collar interactions sound nothing like rectory conversations. (To give you an idea of the commands I had to take-in at high-speed before entering seminary:  In high school I cleaned tennis courts; I then worked in an electric wiring factory;  I then made Schlotzky’s sandwiches: I was then a waiter at a Country Club; I was then a bartender in Paris while studying at the University of Paris; I was then an EMT in Boston; I was then a paramedic in Denver; finally I was  a pizza delivery guy Near Dulles Airport just before entering seminary.)

In emergency services, there are many petty egos, but a paramedic taking orders from another paramedic on scene at, say, a Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) generally doesn’t care if the commander has a strong or weak personality, provided he be competent.  In service-based jobs, the goal is usually objective, not subjective.  Hence, a superior is rarely a threat to the ego of an inferior, provided he execute his own job well.  The tone of his voice makes no difference.  When I got to seminary, I was surprised to find that the subjective side of relationships (eg tone of voice) generally mattered more than the objective side of theology (eg the truth of the Gospel.)

In parish life, though, it became even more painful for both parties when I was a parochial vicar doing the new Mass under a pastor who wouldn’t even allow me to follow post-Vatican II rules as outlined in official documents like Redemptionis Sacramentum.  In my five novus ordo parishes before switching to tradition, those “conservative” pastors tried to command me to divert from Church rules on a thousand things—but couldn’t get up the gumption to do so. Thus, life turned very painful for the both of us. I think they feared my “directness” would turn into a “direct no” if their mealymouthed commands became crystalized into real, tough commands. (The only time I received a direct command was on the Eastern Plains.  There, my pastor commanded me to stop preaching Communion on the Tongue from the pulpit.  I immediately obeyed, even though I now regret it.) In any case, my pastors always said I was “difficult to work with.”  Perhaps that is true.  But as I get along so well with traditional priests now, I now see I was actually longing for alpha/beta style commands instead of the omega-emotional games that even my straight pastors had become accustomed to in the Novus Ordo priestly world.

For whatever reason, it really is hard for a beta-male to command an alpha-male in the post-Vatican II priestly sociology.  However, the traditional priestly congregations are mostly straight, and thus their sociological interactions are more based on militaristic commands than rectory emotions.  This is why I suggest to anyone reading this who is former military or first responder to go and look at TLM congregations. In traditional priestly societies, the men are frequently so strong-willed that even their alpha-males must “will” their own humility (as pelagian as some might think that sounds.)   It’s not pelagian—some of us have to literally will our own humility on some distasteful commands (by the grace of God.)  In any case, it’s not that traditional priests are the least humble. I keep finding they are the most humble I meet. Obedience is a joy to them, provided the commands of the superior be not amorphous or nebulous.  Most priests in history have appreciated direct commands from a superior as these avoided narcissistic emotions and insecure interactions.

And it helps if you have the same religion.