Should you attend a parish that promotes truth or charity?  The obvious answer is both.  But what if you had to choose?  I ask this parish-based question because I have been hearing horror stories lately on some unbelievably mean things that traditional priests have said in the confessional to lay people.  Also, we just saw more priest-child scandals explode from the past in the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) world.  But the question I am proposing here doesn’t have to do with such scandals.  Obviously, one must avoid like the plague any parish with a groomer priest.  I am talking about something slightly more nuanced than the following dilemma but here’s the basics:  Should you go to a grumpy TLM parish or a conservative Novus Ordo Mass (NOM) parish that maintains occasional doctrinal errors?

If I were to argue for the latter, my very best argument (not my strawman argument) but my very best would be:  “There is no parish that is perfect in truth or charity, but since charity is a higher virtue than faith, it’s better to go somewhere missing the truth than fraternal charity.  Therefore, while you might not hear heresy from the pulpit at your local TLM parish, the meanness and arrogance you may experiences leads one to conclude that one must remain at a conservative NOM parish where people are at least kind to each other.”

What is meant by “meanness and arrogance”?  Again, I have recently heard of people leaving other trad priests’ confessionals with some very bad experiences.  (Those trad priests who scare people from the confessional may have as much to answer for before God as their modernist counterparts who never have denied absolution once in their life.  If you don’t have the stigmata like Padre Pio, you probably shouldn’t be grumpy in there.)

Also, arrogance in traditional lay folks’ lives can sometimes hide itself in fake meekness.  Sometimes it seems like a contest to see who is capable of the least amount of eye contact or normal human conversations.  (Keep in mind that approaching the unitive way of prayer doesn’t crush your humanity.  If you’re acting weird just to show how holy you are, you’re probably not holy—just weird.)

But I also have good things to say about the sociology of TLM parishes:  We traditionalists see friendship as loyalty, so it takes more time to get to know us than, say, the bowling and beer club with the local Knights of Columbus.  Keep in mind:  Still water runs deep and charity is not the same as corny kindness.  In fact, I do know of many American traditionalists heavily involved in the spiritual works of mercy (evangelization) and corporal works of mercy (care of the poor.)  So many of the stereotypes are not true that neo-con non-trads speak of the latter category.

Back to the title of this article: Better to Attend a Parish That Lacks Truth? Or One That Lacks Love?  My answer is that you go with the one that has the deposit of the faith down first.  It is precisely because charity is higher than faith that you need to go to a parish that prioritizes the truth above love.  Why?  Because supernatural charity is founded and based on truth.  Not vice versa.  You can fix the love aspect at home, but not a bad sermon.  At least, not easily.

Keep in mind that truth comes in two forms that never contradict each other:  The Natural Law and Divine Revelation.  Natural Law includes all of the basics to human morality that most pagan cultures have understood (like God is one and it is wrong to kill children) but Divine Revelation includes that which human reason can not reach, namely, the truths of the Bible (like God is one in three and it is wrong to have two wives.)  If either Natural Law or Divine Revelation are being denied at your parish from the pulpit or the RCIA classes, then they are denying truth.  And because truth is the foundation of love, that parish will fail at both.

Furthermore, we humans are incarnational, meaning we learn by what is done at liturgy just as much what is taught.  If children see the Son of God manhandled by divorced boomers who moonlight on the weekends as “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion” then they learn that host is not the Son of God.  It doesn’t matter if you have the most orthodox youth-group teacher in your region.  If kids see lay people without consecrated hands touching the Eucharist, it will harm their faith.  “No one whistles the homily on the drive home.”  Bad music will drive your kids away from the Catholic faith, too.  At least trads know the way back into the confessional if they fall away in their young-adult years.

But let’s say the stereotype on cold trads were partly true.  Let’s say the conservative NOM parish in your neighborhood has loving people and decent sermons (but with only occasional heresy) whereas the TLM parish in your area never has heresy from the pulpit and contains mostly-charitable priests and communicants but contains the occasional snarky person who lacks fraternal charity.

Still, I say you should go to the TLM parish.  Why?  Because you can correct that lack of love by how you build a community of charity in your own home 167 hours a week.  But you may not be able to correct some heresies heard in that one of 168 hours a week if your kids learn the wrong doctrine at Holy Mass.  Yes, charity is more important than Faith, and you can have Faith without Charity (cf 1 Cor 13.) But there is no way to have Supernatural Charity without Supernatural Faith, precisely because of foundational principles.

In short, parents can more easily compensate at home for children attending a parish that lacks love than one that lacks truth.  This is because it’s easier to correct for a grumpy priest than a heretical priest (provided we’re not talking about very scandalous activity, as I mentioned earlier.)  It’s easier to tell kids some snooty parishioner doesn’t represent Christ very well than it is to explain why Father allows everyone to touch Our Lord with unconsecrated hands.  Of course, better to have both truth and charity at high levels at both home and parish.  But the title of this article assumed you had to make a choice.

So, once we have the Catholic faith “down pat” (and the Catholic faith is really not that complex as I keep saying on this site and my channel) we need to strive for love of God (first) and love of man (secondly) in all things.  Yes, charity is the ultimate goal of everything, not faith.  But the Deposit of the Faith is the first step in the direction of union with God, the sine qua non of climbing Mount Carmel.  So after learning the faith (or rather, simultaneously), we should consider the terrifying words of the Apostle: “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”—1 Cor 13:2.  St. John of the Cross, a doctor of the Church wrote similar words: “A la tarde, te examinarán en el amor.”—Dichos #64.  That is:  “In the evening of life, you’ll be examined on love.”  

That is: only charity.