Books blog: The Irish ‘fairytale’ to challenge today’s secular orthodoxy

Dublin Millennium Bridge (PA)

An old friend of mine, a steadfast Catholic, emailed me the other day to say she had been to a New Year’s Eve supper party with her neighbours, who were lapsed Catholics. She had to endure much anti-Catholic commentary until “I said in the end that I believed Jesus Christ was who He said He was and therefore I followed Him and the Sacraments – for which you need the Church.” Apparently this silenced her hosts.

This anecdote has been in my head as I have been reading an oddly beguiling little book: The Gentle Traditionalist by Roger Buck, published by Angelico Press (which has also published some of the writings of the late Stratford Caldecott). The book is sub-titled “A Catholic Fairy-Tale from Ireland” and was recommended to me by an Irish friend who has returned home to live after many years in Birmingham.

Written in the form of a Socratic dialogue between the Gentle Traditionalist (aka “GT” or the early Roman martyr St Valentine) and a confused modern young agnostic, its theme is a cheerful one for the new year: that having jettisoned our Christian heritage in the western world from the Age of Reason onwards, we are living surrounded by a culture in a state of terminal decline. In some ways this is a gloomy thesis, not unknown to other serious Catholic writers of today; in another way the book is written with such kindly wisdom and charity towards the young agnostic, and is so full of Catholic understanding of history and gratitude towards the Church’s civilising role in that history, that the description of “cheerful” is not wholly inapposite.

The author of this charming fairy-tale (he blogs under the title “Cor Jesu Sacratissimum”) spent 20 years dabbling in New Age practices, including a stint at Findhorn, the Eton of New Age communities, before having a conversion experience, finding a like-minded girl to marry and then moving to rural Ireland, where he believes the battle for the Catholic soul of the country is still being fought. He asks the question, “How can the Irish spiritual genius be preserved, so that Ireland does not simply become a second-rate clone of the liberal Anglo-American world?” A good question.

The Gentle Traditionalist has scathing words to say about our contemporary western culture: “If you belong to the New Secular Religion, the 1960s revelation is your creed, your Bible. Every generation of people before you, who believed differently, was wrong.” He is also critical of western Christians in the Anglo-American world, who “have all been swept up in this religion of nice. They try to make Jesus nice.” And he laments the fact that “Millions and millions of English people…think a church is somewhere you gather on Sundays for spiritual instruction. Rules!”

I am slightly critical of the Gentle Traditionalist’s somewhat nostalgic tone throughout the book. This goes along with his clear preference for the traditional Latin Mass rather than the Ordinary Form, about which he is dismissive. Bringing back the Latin Mass will not bring back the supposedly “good old days” which, even in Catholic Ireland, had many features that needed urgent reform, as Dubliner Frank Duff, the saintly founder of the Legion of Mary, used to point out.

Yet in the face of moral and cultural anarchy, the author is right to make a plea for a Catholic Counter-Revolution, starting with prayer and sacrifice. He echoes the words of my friend at the dinner party when he tells his young listener, “I’m Christian. I choose Jesus over Freud. And I don’t conveniently forget Jesus when he says tough things about sex… Our Lord knew these things were tough. That’s why he provided the Sacraments! Today we forget that. No wonder sexual restraint seems so impossible.”

If even one person who reads this book begins to challenge the new secular orthodoxies constantly broadcast at him/her by the media, it will have been a worthwhile enterprise.