I recently stayed with traditional priest who, although Western and a bit older than me, reminded me of a Holy Fool of the East. A Holy Fool in Russian is called юродивый or a yurodivy and it’s its own class of saint. The Holy Fool makes you think he is stupid, but in fact—it’s you he reveals as stupid. The Eastern Church’s holy fool is not insane as the name implies to Western eyes, but is rather an indomitable lover of God who makes you re-think your own arrogance through his prophetic actions in your life. (The older Latin priest I stayed with had little idea he was like the holy prophet of the blockbuster Russian movie Остров that came out in 2006. In fact, I asked if he had ever seen it and he had never heard of it. I highly suggest everyone watch that full movie linked in the sentence above. English subtitles included. Watch the whole thing.)
The East has many Holy Fools but the West only has a few like St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi and St. Philip Neri. Maybe the reduced number of Holy Fools in the West has something to do with our sober Romanitas practices. (Romanitas is defined by Wikipedia as “the collection of political and cultural concepts and practices by which the Romans define themselves.”) But one of the things that links the Eastern Holy Fools to the quiet saints of the West is that they both loved God before man and didn’t care what people thought of them. (Notice when I write “didn’t care what people thought,” this does not mean an arrogant coldness. I think CS Lewis once wrote that vanity cares too much what others think; pride cares too little!) So, when a saint puts love of God ahead of love of man, the saint ends up loving both God and man a lot more than the worldly man is capable of love. Under the saint’s apparent coldness, the traditional Eastern Christian or Western saint has a much deeper love of man than the secularist who wants to love “all of humanity,” for it is the saint who gives out a peace not as the world gives.—John 14:27.
Now, I admit: Some traditional priests proffer their curmudgeon attitude under the pretext of Romanitas. (I once knew a grumpy priest who admired Padre Pio and I think he thought his own grumpiness was vindicated in Padre Pio’s occasional short temper. But I wanted to shake this priest by the shoulders and say, “But you don’t have the excuse of carrying around the crucifixion in your body at all times, so stop being so mean!”) So I’m not saying being a jerk is a sign that you love God more than man.
But all in all, I am going to insist: Trads are not mean. I think we are misunderstood for putting the First Great Commandment (love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, strength and mind) ahead of the Second Great Commandment (love your neighbor as yourself.) As Catholics move from non-trad-neo-con to traditional, they first start to think trads are not as loving. But then they realize that by “loving” all they really meant before their conversion to traditional Catholicism was “silly.” At first, the normy Catholic might think that the traditional Catholic is not as charitable as him just because he is not as bubbly and full of compliments. But then he starts to see: Still waters run deep. As we all get older, we start to see that true supernatural charity can be burning very bright even as shallowness can at first appear to be “Christian joy.”
A few weeks ago I went out to eat with a couple of my old buddies from high-school. After dinner, I drove one friend home, and then drove away. But then his wife called me back to keep my promise to do the dishes that I had made earlier that afternoon. So I drove back and went inside. But she made me do no dishes; it was a ruse to meet her friends. Turns out she had a ladies night for a few cocktails while I was out with her husband. Now, my friends’ wife is from a former Soviet country. She had three women over for cocktails who were also from former Soviet lands. All three of them were named “Tatiana”—not kidding—even though they were each from different former Soviet states. In any case, I sat down and talked to them. During the conversation, I asked them what they liked and disliked about the United States. One of them said she found Americans smiling all the time very annoying and even distrustful. (I agreed with her for I discovered myself from all my travels that most people from other countries find smiling American tourists to be very creepy. Yes, I dropped that permagrin years ago in my missionary travels because I looked like a sociopath.)
You see, we Americans associate a big smile and lots of talking with true Christianity, probably because we are a Protestant country. Feminism plays into all of this too, that the gravitas of real men is less and less accepted in a bubbly and shallow culture. Of course, a traditional Catholic man should know when to have fun and laugh hard and celebrate, so I’m not promoting a stoicism in traditional Catholicism. Also, we traditional Catholics probably need to learn to grow in vulnerability with each other. But the non-traditional world most certainly has to drop this unhealthy battery of symbiotic relationships where the spirituality is either you tell me how good I am and I’ll tell you how good you are or a confessional culture of hyper-vulnerability that prevents growth in the spiritual life.
When normy Catholics meet a trad who will not throw incense the idol of their ego or who keeps good custody of the eyes, they very well might think this trad is “mean.” It’s just not true. They are judging the traditional Catholic through the eyes of a Protestantized, Hollywoodized, feminized culture. Christians never acted so shallow as today. Modernist Catholics need to wake up to see that supernatural charity may very well include warm compliments (provided they are sincere) and occasional vulnerable conversations (provided these don’t become an excuse for stunted repentance) but traditional Catholicism never included ego “back-scratching” or tit-for-tat compliments. Rather, a true Catholic friend can tell you when you’re right and when you’re wrong. He should be able to do this without fear of facing a temper-tantrum in reprisal. If an attitude of sobriety, silence, clarity and honesty seems “mean” to you, then you probably wouldn’t have gotten along with any of the recollected saints of the past—either East or West—who had reached true supernatural charity in the highest degrees of union with the Blessed Trinity—Who is Love itself.