Lessons Learned From My Last Video

This week’s video is a lesson in public discourse and attention to detail. That’s not what the video is actually about, but the reaction to it warrants that lesson.

You see, my videos often deal with complex topics of philosophy and meaning, things that can never be taken at face value. My titles and thumbnails are designed to attract viewers, and if one is not careful to listen to the actual words I’m saying, they might be misled into hearing what they think I’m going to say, rather than what I’m actually saying.

In this case, I made a video about the role of traditions in our Church. The purpose of the video was to show that traditions are never static, that they never have a purely objective, unchangeable meaning to them, but rather that their place in the Church and how they are perceived grows and adapts as the culture around them does. What something meant to a people in 1200 is necessarily going to be different than what it means to people today.

As an example, I pointed to the cassock. There was a time when it was the main clerical garb of priests. Everyone wore it. It was normal. Today, that is not the case. The same garb, largely unchanged, is perceived differently in our Church and world because it is now the minority expression, because it represents a particular ecclesiology, because it is distinct.

The way traditions are expressed and experienced changes over time. There’s nothing controversial in saying that, and I was not in any way criticizing those who choose to wear it. I could have very well chosen to highlight the latin language, rosary, Franciscan habit, Friday fish fries, or any other tradition, as their role and perception has changed dramatically over time as well.

And that’s fine. There is no judgment one way or another.

My point in sharing this was to move away from a rigid, static understanding of the world, one in which we believe that supplanting a tradition from the past into our world will capture everything that that tradition meant in its time. You simply cannot recreate the past today; the world around the tradition has changed.

This is not to say, though, that I am against traditions, that old things can’t be renewed. In fact, my inspiration for the video was to show the complete opposite! Old things can and should be brought back from time to time with a renewed life to them, repurposed for our world today. The habit may have fallen out of favor with many religious because it came to be associated with clericalism and entitlement, but that’s not how the tradition is being experienced today. The world has changed, and many young people yearn for public witnesses. Unlike those of previous generations, they do not see it as a sign of separation, but rather a sign of evangelization, availability, and commitment. The tradition of old has disappeared because the world that defined it has disappeared, but the action itself has taken on a new life.

Hence the title: you can’t bring back old traditions. As that world fades away, the way the tradition is lived and experienced will necessarily be new. And that’s a good thing!

But that’s not how people read the title. They missed the subtly of the point. Instead, they saw a modernist who hates tradition. They saw someone with a contradictory point because he wears a habit but “belittles” the cassock. They saw a heretic looking to ruin the Church.

And they didn’t hold back from telling me such.

Yes, this video was intended to be about the new life of old traditions, but what it turned into was a lesson in public discourse and attention to detail. It served as a reminder that sometimes things aren’t always as they first appear, and when we jump to judgment and condemnation, we undermine our lives as Christians. I wrote the below message to my subscribers to draw attention to the problem:

“If you believe that I’ve said something that contradicts our Catholic faith, is mean-spirited, or illogical, especially on a highly nuanced theological topic (especially if you don’t have training in that topic) maybe ask for clarification before you jump to calling me heretic or unsubscribing.  I’m pretty good at responding to questions. With a little patience and offering me the benefit of the doubt, you might come to see that what I’m saying isn’t actually contradictory, mean-spirited, or illogical.”

In some ways I find the response appalling. Literally hundreds of comments in less than 24 hours questioning my priesthood, angrily yelling at me, or calling me an idiot. Plenty of others got the point I was making perfectly, repeating it back to me with confusion: “why are people so angry? They’re completely missing the point.” It has left me frustrated and a bit cynical, wondering if it’s even worth presenting complex takes on theology if the masses are going to misconstrue my words. Is it my responsibility to be concerned with how people will misunderstand my comments and be led astray by them? Even if many got the point exactly? Isn’t that on the ignorant, not me? Frustrating, difficult questions.

And yet, what an interesting opportunity. So often, all we do is preach to the choir. So often all we ever hear is positive feedback from those who already agree with us. Had I made this video or not, there would have remained plenty of ignorant people on the internet, plenty of people with underdeveloped, fuzzy, or even incorrect theologies. With a video that angers people to respond—even if that response is a bit inappropriate—there is an opportunity for dialogue. I have responded to many of my accusers and have clarified my words. I’ve listened to their complaints and have attempted to speak to their experience. Have I changed the world? Hardly. At times, I was not as charitable as I would have liked to have been. But some connections were made. Some people began to see things a bit differently, to grow in understanding.

And ultimately, wasn’t that the point of the video in the first place?

16 Comments on “Lessons Learned From My Last Video

  1. Excellent rebuttal Padre, I too was taken aback a bit by the original post, but now I clearly understand your point. Well put. I wish we had more good preachers like yourself, God bless and keep up the good work!

  2. You experienced a knee jerk reaction to a short video that simply reflected on traditions in the church. People responded mean spiritedly because their beliefs were threatened, or they perceived those beliefs to be threatened.
    Imagine a discourse on the Eucharist; Catholic vs various protestant beliefs on the matter..lol

    • John,
      No.
      “Our” beliefs were not threatened. The Christ-God’s were…but why do you laugh about something so detrimental to Humanity’s Salvation? Is intellectual/philosophical/Theological discord or argumentation (Disagreement) a threating obstacle for you?
      We were seriously concerned about our brother’s very confusing contradictory points….that’s called charity. But I understand how your definition soothes your own conscience.

      • “…why do you laugh about something so detrimental to humanity’s salvation?” is the sort of revolting behaviour that makes people like me stop going to Church these days. People make up the church, and ppl like Lady Galadriel is exactly the type: miserable, serious, and unrelenting- that we can have one less in society. Fr Casey, you are doing a great job. And if there’s one lesson I learned from your video, it is the insecurities of the radical traditionalists in their faith. The way they claim to defend the faith is no different from radical muslim terrorists claiming the same thing. Both are the same, just different religion.

  3. Will you please watch the link I sent by Father Ripperger and get back to me, so I have a common ground to meet with you on? Yes or no will do.

  4. “Is it my responsibility to be concerned with how people will misunderstand my comments and be led astray by them?” Honestly, no. If you are speaking the truth, but people refuse to pay attention and listen to what you actually said because they’d rather assume you said something you didn’t so they’ll have something to be outraged about, then that is on them, not you. It’s not that hard to watch the whole video, maybe even watch it twice, and give it some consideration before commenting. People who are too stubborn and close-minded to do that cannot be reached until they have come to a better place and decided on their own that they are ready to listen, no matter how much you dumb it down for them. So please keep speaking to those of us who are actually listening and ignore those who are not.

  5. Fr. Casey,
    If ever one does any real good in this world, this has got to happen. You are called by God to be doing what you are doing. *The trouble is you are doing it a bit too well* and somebody or the other, maybe even many ungodly ones has to get restless.
    There’s an observation that I have been making since awhile; the negative commenters all belong to a few categories. Ignorant yet impetus, people with permanent fixations, those that are forever ‘onetrack’, angry and frustrated people with a need to vent their feelings, some who like to see their opinions in print somewhere (comments section of YouTube videos are their favourite space), those that dislike anyone having more knowledge than them, LOT OF THEM just dull yet do not hesitate to demonstrate their follies.
    Please don’t allow yourself to be affected by these. Not worth Father. Praying for you. Please know there are many many many more that are with you. Thanks for everything you do especially your videos.☆

  6. God bless you Father Casey. As a priest myself, I know how hurtful and at times baffling and nonsensical criticisms can be. For the sake of the gospel please don’t give up. The world needs eloquent, vibrant and intelligent evangelists like you. Your videos are inspiring and encouraging. Keep up the good work.

  7. Thank you Father for taking the comments seriously and writing this. When I first saw the video was uploaded to YouTube, I read the comments first and got angry, as I attend a traditional parish with a priest in a cassock and thought it would be horrible for a good Franciscan priest to mock that. But then I watched the video, and found it as enlightening as most of your videos are. You have helped me in my journey into the RCIA and are a great reason as to why I am, God willing, being received into the church this Easter.

    In summation, thank you for being patient with us, and for understanding us. Thank you even more for showing how this is a moment where we can all grow as Christians in Christ.

    God bless you, pax et bonum.

    Corey B.

    PS. thank you for wearing a your habit with such pride. Christ give you peace.

  8. Dear Father, I understood exactly what you were saying and no offense taken but in these days of highly charged factions and laity no longer reluctant to speak their mind and challenge our priests given the recent scandals, it is certain that some topics will always be misunderstood. Reactions have replaced responses. I’m an old man, dear Father, and I lived in a religious community in the 1970’s and 1980’s when catechesis was reduced to banner making and those wanting to be loyal to Church teachings were labeled dangerous. Religious formation was merely academic. While in formation, I was forced to attend a “beer and pizza” Mass, forbidden to wear a habit, common prayer optional and Mass offered if the superior “felt like it”. Our formation house confessor was an active alcoholic who, in his drunken stupors, broke the seal of my confession and others as well. Those days made living in community a nightmare and a fraternal bond never happened. Life in a house of formation was not much different than a College frat house. The immorality and corruption of clergy/religious now thankfully brought to light was then only apparent to some in the community who were afraid to speak up. I know that I am not the only one who experienced such things and some of your hearers endured the same or worse. You are young, zealous, highly intelligent, gifted with a priestly heart, appear to be approachable and see the beauty and potential of every person. I praise God for priests like you! But you did not endure or experience many of the abominations thrust upon us in the name of renewal nor did you experience the rejection that went with it. It is for this reason alone that I share a bit of my story. When I left community, I spent many hours in counseling and even more hours in prayer. What was seemingly a curse became a great blessing. I spent 30+ years as a clinical hospital and hospice chaplain and am now happily retired. I love the Church more than ever and am involved in several parish ministries as well as the RCIA. Romans 8: 28 is my song! This I can honestly say, I admire you and what you stand for. If you ever find yourself in Nebraska, I’d welcome a chance to meet you and attend your presentations and Masses. Thank you for taking time to read this email. I have no expectation of a response. My only goal is to share an experience that might help fill in the blanks from the reactions received. Thank you for your life, courage, witness and ministry as the Church undergoes a needed purification. Your brother in the Lord, Anthony

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  9. Unfortunately, people will jump to conclusions so often because they fail to employ critical thinking, that is, asking pertinent questions to further clarify a given subject. Do not let this dissuade you from continuing to share thought-provoking pieces that may actually help people dig deeper into their faith and actually grow in that faith. It sometimes requires courage to do so, but you follow in the footsteps of some pretty impressive people such as St. Francis and Jesus Himself!

  10. Thanks for your video. No Catholic should be cruel to you like that (no matter how right they feel they are)- especially to a priest who has sacrificed so much. Come on people, don’t give the evil one an opening with unnecessary anger.

  11. I have to admit that the title was a little off-putting, but your video itself made a very valid point. I thought your example of the cassock was an excellent one. If I saw a priest in cassock and biretta, my gut reaction would be that he was reactionary and not someone I was likely to open up to in the confessional. It’s a big church and there is plenty of room for all of us. I am grateful that there are young priests who are reviving the Latin mass. It is a beautiful and glorious thing to behold, but I grew up in the Vatican II Church with folk masses in English. Nothing warms my heart more than St. Louis Jesuit hymns sung to guitar accompaniment.

  12. Father Casey, May God Bless and guide you in your work making these informative videos. I am sorry that so many people atacked you for this video, and I don’t see any of the things they are accusing you of. I am 66 years old so I received most of my Catholic formation prior to the changes of the early 70’s. Therefore I still kneel and receive communion on the tongue and only from a preist but I have no beef with others receiving the Holy Sacrament in the hand from any Tom, Dick, or Harry while standing. I only ask that those of us who are older and set in our ways be shown compassion. In San Francisco, at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, a priest told me to “stand up, put your tongue in your mouth and stick out your hand, or leave the communion line because we don’t do that old stuff anymore.” Needless to say I felt humiliated and left the church. I went down the street to Saint Boniface, a church served by Franciscans in a poor, mostly Vietnamese and Latino neighborhood, which still has the communion rail. Some people kneel and receive on the tongue and some receive standing and in the hand. The Church is for all of God’s children and there should be room for both Modernists and Traditionalists.

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