There cannot be a nation of millionaires, and there never has been a nation of Utopian comrades; but there have been any number of nations of tolerably contented peasants. —Outline of Sanity, G. K. Chesterton
GKC could make anything sound good. And the way he referenced being a peasant several times in the above-mentioned work makes that sound really good.
At the beginning of Outline of Sanity, he briefly brings up the comparison between the traditional peasant and the modern proletarian, establishing the definitions of the terms from a Distribustist perspective. (Distributism is a way of thinking about society and the economy in contrast to the Socialist and Capitalist ways.) So, according to GKC, a “peasant” is part of a vibrant community of landowners and producers: he owns his land and produces from his needs from it, whether by agriculture or a handicraft/skill/trade, or a combination of the two. A “proletarian” is a wage-slave dependent on the mercy of employers, banks and their loans (including mortgages), and the state of the economy. And that latter person would be, unfortunately, almost every last blessed one of us in the U.S.A. Is that kind of life really worth living?
Having finished this splendid book, I am making another attempt to discern the direction (both literally and metaphorically!) that my family needs to go in the next three to five years. What is a committed Catholic–committed to the Catholic Faith in all of its Tradition–to do, day by day, to live according to the proper order of things that God has established in this fallen world?
From all of the books I’ve been reading and mulling over lately, I have tried to synthesize the main ideas into a workable program for living, at least for my family. As far as I can determine, to live as a peasant means living completely differently from how we live now, and in a very good way. Three specific things have jumped out at me as essentials for Catholic living, true for the past, true in the present, and true into the future.
1. Access to the (Traditional) Latin Mass. We must have access to Holy Mass for Sundays and the major feast days at the least, and be close enough for daily Mass should we be able to attend. If we look at the history of the Church, it is evident that this, indeed, is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. The Holy Mass is the “engine” that propelled humanity to its glory and achievements of the great age of Faith–in arts, in society and politics, and, of course, in the spiritual greatness of the saints. Its sacrificial and sanctifying power is evident in the history of every age, and its lack is the reason for the wasteland of devastation we see today. A Catholic’s greatest need for life is local access to the traditional Mass and Sacraments.
2. Owning land and producing from it. Ideally, this would mean each family unit having no outstanding mortgage, and home enterprise providing the monetary support for the family (raising its own food and breadwinners working from home). That gives to both parents the time and space to raise the children well. These days, “early retirement” is sort of the modern catch-phrase for this concept–living simply, conserving resources that come your way, having no debt whatsoever, and supporting yourselves from home industry skills and gardening. (Sound like the living style of hippies? Before they ever did it, the Distributists were promoting it!)
3. A Catholic community. The Faith flourishes where it is lived. It is lived in communities. The communities of traditional consecrated religious show this most clearly, their lives being wholly subsumed into the cycle of feasts and fasts of the Ecclesial Year. But everywhere there have been Catholics there has been a community of Catholics participating in this as well, and establishing a Catholic culture in the secular world. (What does this look like? You can read in Maria Trapp’s recently republished book about how Austrian families lived the Liturgical Year over the centuries. Such a wonderful book!) Fasting together, feasting together, making Eucharistic processions together, celebrating the daily life of the Catholic Church together–this is something we all need. It is possible, as we know from history. Living the faith with others in our community prepares us for what we will be doing in Heaven.
The question now is how each of us can move towards these three ideals in our lives. It will require great sacrifice for most of us to actually make these things happen–moving to a rural Catholic community, for example. (Having a complete Catholic life didn’t used to be this way, entailing the faithful having to move to specific Catholic areas. For a grim discussion of the cause of this, the cultural genocide that faithful Catholics in the U.S. have suffered since the 1960’s and 1970’s, go here. It’s tragic.)
One day I believe that the time will come when my family moves a great distance to a Catholic community with regular access to the traditionally-done Sacraments and Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is something I look forward to, especially for the sake of my husband and future children. In the meantime, knowing what I know, I have started to implement these things in our life:
- Divine Office Well, I am praying Compline, anyway. Most nights. In Latin! Even as little as this is a great connection to the Liturgical Year and the prayer of the Church. It will give a greater impetus to my family celebrations of feast days.
- Kitchen garden Actually, this means two small planters with herbs in them, set along the edge of my driveway! Sigh… Did I not live on a wooded 1/3 of an acre suburban lot, I would have a big garden. But, here where I am, I do what I can! Nicely enough, besides providing flavorings and remedies (which I have learned about their value because I am growing them), the two planter boxes provide an island of peaceful connection to the natural order of earth, tiny as they are. When I have a different yard, I look forward to growing much, much more. Hopefully I do have a green thumb.
- Sacred Music Choir Never having recovered from being bitten by the chant and polyphony bug, recently I have headed up another group to sing old Catholic music, both for fun and intellectual/spiritual profit. Though this group has nothing to do with providing music for any liturgies, it is a group that prays and sings together beautifully, all for God’s glory. Challenging projects that bring sacred beauty to others helps spread the Faith, evangelizing even indirectly, because the power of God’s truth expressed through beauty is great. It’s satisfying to do this, and fills a great need that I have. Perhaps the members of this group will expand into even more of a Catholic community.
These are the fruits of my thinking and reading lately. It’s not easy being a Catholic, ever, and these troubled times are some of the most difficult of all. But I’m a big believer in the power of little things–little efforts made consistently, days lived well with prayer and work, and a focus on following God’s Will moment by moment. That’s what it has always taken to be a saint, after all. On the way to sainthood, I’m on the quest to become a more-than-reasonably-contented peasant. May our good author rest in peace, and if he’s in Heaven, then: G.K. Chesterton, ora pro nobis.