This may very well be one of the most difficult posts that I have ever attempted, or will ever attempt, to write.
Truth be told, I have no idea where to begin.
Those of you who have followed me over time may recall that on January 4th of this year, I published the second post in a creative installment that was intended to be focused around the topic of discernment.
Particularly, vocational discernment with the Mother of God.
The writing process was moving along smoothly, and I was quite enjoying the unusual experience of entering into what it would be like to meet the mother of Christ Himself, while she was still alive, and receive her guidance.
And then, out of nowhere – it ended.
Not another post appeared, and my blog went into something of a stalemate, as it often has over the course of many years.
I wanted to write, to continue what I had begun.
But something had effected me to the core.
Something had jarred me, shaken my spirit…and as the weeks progressed, I had no desire to return.
Now I shall tell you what, and why.
(Alert: This post is not for minors. If you are under 18 years of age, please click off this post and do not read any further.)
The Internet and Tradition
For a long time, years to be exact, I have experienced something of a love / hate relationship with the internet.
Especially when it comes to promoting / sharing the Catholic faith.
From random comments to popular websites, from informative YouTube videos to flashy Facebook pages, the internet can often be a wonderful platform for sharing the truth – and a devastating one for corrupting it as well.
In a single hours time, I can go from feeling inspired by an extraordinary video that uplifts the soul and stirs the heart, to experiencing a total repulsion by the lack of charity evinced in Catholic com boxes (or com boxes of any denomination) – even by the moderators of the sites themselves.
I can watch while popular Catholic figures cause the faith to appear mundane and trivial through their trite photos and banal interests, and I can browse through blog after blog wherein I find rancid, prejudiced attacks that agitate the spirit without settling the soul.
No doubt, the internet can be a monstrous enough place on its own, when one is faced with the purely “secular” side.
Yet somehow, combine it with faith, and it can become anything from uncannily uplifting to thoroughly discouraging and downright disheartening – and that is partly why I have often disappeared from time to time.
To question if I really want to be apart of such a place.
Yet throughout all of my experiences with the Catholic culture of the online realm, there was to be one experience that was destined to challenge all that I hold dear in a way that no other had, and may ever do, again.
I found that “experience,” or that website to be more exact, last spring.
Little Site of Veiled Horrors
I have no idea how I came across it; that little site of thinly veiled horrors.
Yet somehow, as the dot.com address emerged out of the ether of the internet and onto my unexpecting screen, there I was …. face to face and inescapably confronted with the subtle objectification of traditional Catholic women.
At first, I think I was probably a little bewildered, perplexed, and confused.
After all, there was nothing immediately scandalous about the site.
There was nothing to instantly scream, at first glance: “Warning! Clear and undeniable objectification happening here! “
Yet I had never seen anything quite like it before; at least, not in the traditional Catholic realm.
You know, the realm of….modesty?
Modesty and mantillas?
I may have found myself mentally scratching my head as I scrolled through the colorful, almost professional-quality images, wherein beautiful young women in skirts and mantillas struck affected, “look-how-holy-I-am” poses in a stunning, dynamic church setting.
Perhaps it should have ultimately struck me as innocent. or something original and creative that a photographer had attempted to do for the sake of promoting the traditional faith.
But the clock of first impressions was ticking, and as the movement of my mouse brought more and more images to my eyes, it did not take long for me to have the distinct, foreboding sense that something was wrong.
Something was wrong with that site.
Something seemed too “posed,” too richly “affected,” too consistently focused on beautiful, young, well-groomed, society-looking women … and all of my experiences with interpreting artistic symbolism were starting to send subtle early warning alarm bells my way.
And then, I saw it.
The defining thing that set the proverbial alarm bells screeching at full blast, wailing like sharply flashing red sirens that filled my mind with an unexpected, nuanced pain.
My eyes fell upon labels – terms of objectification that have been traditionally used to label sexualized pin-up girls, or women willing to take off their clothing and parade in a bikini for the sake of a tinsel crown.
Yet here, there was no shallowly earned crown, or half-naked calendar designed to be pinned on a wall.
There was only the covert objectification of women in the name of (for the sake of?) promoting religion, right in front of my face.
I cannot remember the exact wording, for it has been sometime and life has intervened, but the labels went something like this:
“Meet Miss Traditionalist Catholic of the Month! Every month, we take a new girl, and choose her to be the Miss Traditionalist Catholic! This is (name here), and here is a little about her, and why she is our Miss Traditional Catholic of the month!”
Stunned, I continued to scroll through, and felt my heart sinking as the images went from fakely glamorized piety to what could easily be called clearly modeling poses.
Despite their “modest” clothing, the young girls were now striking stances that could have almost found their way into any current, de-moralizing fashion magazine – if the fashions had been a little more revealing, that is.
There was an edge to them, and it was an edge that screamed slightly sexy, slightly glamorous, but definitely well-to-do, beautiful, and on a seeming mission to prove that to the world.
As someone with a background in interpreting artistic symbols, I was picking up a wordless message that was frighteningly easy to read.
“We are the beautiful people,” the message covertly whispered, slithering amidst the professional quality and the apparently respectable design. “We are the traditionalists, and we are young, beautiful, elite, and special. Can you not see? You must! For though we are modest, we are well-dressed, well-groomed, attractive and chic, yet slightly sexy in how we may appear. We belong on the cover of Catholic Vogue. Only the beautiful elite need apply.”
It may not have been what everyone involved was thinking, but the message was there, and it disturbed me to the core.
Was this the direction that traditionalism was headed in?
I clicked off the site, repulsed in the extreme.
My faith that I loved… I had come to it not because of beautiful people who looked like they were posing on the cover of a prestigious fashion magazine, cozying up to the elitist tendencies in their fellow-man, but because of men who slept in pig sties and women who gave up their hair.
Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Teresa of Avila had been two of my most formative influences, and this was surely NOT what their religion had EVER been about.
It was certainly not the traditional Catholic faith that I had fallen in love with, and yearned to be apart of.
It was the touch of the shekel, and anyone who knows me, knows that it is a touch that I often have most thoroughly disdained.
A Return and a Loss
Suffice it to say, I refrained from posting new articles on the internet for much of that summer, and fall.
I avoided most social media, blogs, and traditional sites, only checking in to a few from time to time – and even then I wanted off as fast as I could.
I was afraid that the ugly truth of what traditionalism (and faith online in general) was becoming would rear its misshapen, noxious head yet again, even amidst the sites that I had come to appreciate and find some worth in.
All the bickering, the fighting, the attacking, the insults – the sheer banality that reduced all that I loved to a mere meme, or a rude com box, or a like button on a Facebook page, or a photo of someones lunch…. I did not want to run into it, wherever it might be unexpectedly found.
But worst of all, I was still confused and discouraged by the fact that so many traditionalists were in support of the subtle objectification of women for the sake of promoting their very own faith from a clearly elitist-seeming angle.
What about the pig sties?
Seriously… what about the ideals of Francis and Clare?
Saint Teresa and Saint John?
Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine?
Or was it all doomed to be nothing more than dogma with a fancy tie?
Despite my concerns, in December I began posting once again, hoping to create an online space that offered an alternative to such a displeasing angle, while maintaining the truth all the same.
Things were moving along quite well, when in early January all of my years of growing to loathe the internet culminated when an individual on a social networking site happened to point out a few articles to me.
Articles that were several months old, but which, as a result of my absence, were new to me.
Thanks to this individual, I was soon to learn that the bizarre, creepy, covertly objectifying “Miss Traditionalist” thing had gone from its “subtle” nuances of “sexy modesty” to full-on, clearly overt, purely sexualized images.
Involving. Naked. Women.
With bizarre pagan knives at their sides.
And almost no one had been troubled, until it was too late.
Almost no one.
In fact, many in the traditionalist world had literally encouraged it.
While I was having a crisis over it, feeling discouraged and dismayed, many others had participated in it, liked it (by the thousands!), supported it, and been behind it every step of the way throughout its early stages (or so it seemed).
There had been those who had sounded the alarm, which I admire, but as I read their accounts, I learned how they were treated.
They were scoffed at, told that they were “overreacting” (really?), ignored, and taken for fools that could never be handled seriously.
As someone who has had experiences with being objectified, I really should not have been surprised.
The things that can go on – well, when dealing with fallen humanity, it is inevitable.
No one is innocent in the end. We all have our mistakes we have made.
But this was enough to really set me back for a long time in terms of how eager I was to have anything to do with the Catholic culture of the internet.
It is like dealing with an abusive individual – eventually, their very presence makes you just want to step away, flee, and run.
To this day, I do not understand it.
I cannot comprehend how all the signs were missed.
Certainly, no one can tell the future, but even so – why was what I saw in its earliest of stages even remotely acceptable?
Why were traditionalists not in an uproar, and why were traditionalist men not stepping forth to say, “you will not turn our women into beauty queens, or modestly adorned versions of pin-up girls. That is objectification, and that is not what our faith is all about!”
Aren’t men supposed to protect women?
Well, aren’t they?
But most of all, I am tired.
I am tired of staying quiet.
I am tired of seeing things go wrong, and not saying anything, for fear that some cranky traditionalist (or member of any faith) will jump all over me, and tell me how terrible I am for pointing out the truth.
Sure, if I had said something a year ago, I doubt it would have mattered.
Others tried, and clearly failed.
In the end, it was up to those directly involved to see the signs, and take the actions that could have prevented it.
For whatever reason, of which I do not know and am not here to judge, that did not happen.
After all, the Church Militant is not perfect, just like how humans are not perfect.
It makes mistakes, like we all do.
No one is innocent. We all have our omissions, our failings, and our sins.
But if we are to wash it clean – if we are to reveal its beautiful face once again – maybe we need to stop staying silent when negative things occur.
Maybe we need to first see the spots – and claim them – so that we can then scrub them clean.
Maybe only then can we “reclaim the sacred” from all the levels of filth and grime that time and human history has mired it in.
Perhaps then – and only then – can we find the Church of Saint Francis, Saint Teresa, and all our noble heroes of the past.
But not this remnant.
Please, dear God, do not let this remnant be it.
The Church is so much more beautiful than that.
FOR PART TWO OF THIS POST, CLICK HERE.
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