To Veil or Not to Veil, That Is the Liberty

Genevieve Kineke has written a number of posts on chivalry over the years. It’s one of her blog categories. She has some interesting things to say and links to many good sources.

Of late, Genevieve has been involved in a debate on women’s use of chapel veils, which I have not followed myself aside from what I just read on her blog.

Over the years, I have found myself arguing reciprocally for the formation of a Catholic culture on the one hand, and for a broadminded exercise of prudence on the other. In reality, there is no contradiction between the fighting spirit of prowess and the moderating spirit of courtesy, but that is not to say that finding the balance is easy. I can appreciate what Genevieve means when she says:

The tradeoff which always concerns me is the inhospitality with which many interpret some acts of piety, which bear the aforementioned “code.”

We are always fighting to hold our ground as the swamp of our godless culture encroaches upon the sanctuaries of our homes and churches. As a motley group of sinners, Catholics will not always agree on how best to do this.

Unless usages like the chapel veil are mandated again by Rome there will always be legitimate arguments about the relative merits of such traditions. And even if Rome were to solve such questions, we will continue to disagree in good faith concerning practical discernment relative to our way of living as Christians in non-Christian world.

I think too much is at stake not to seek our advantages in terms of restoring tradition; however, without a great deal of virtue this often translates into a kind of inhospitality, where the ones alienated are often those who would be otherwise most likely to embrace a more Catholic way of life.

I really don’t think there are any pat answers here. I am often told that I should be more black and white. (That should say something about the circle in which I travel). We who crusade for Catholic culture don’t like gray–any gray. Unfortunatley, some things are gray. And upon many things Catholics of good will can and, in a sense, must disagree.

In a lecture entitled “Culture and the Coming Peril,” G.K. Chesterton used the word “vulgarity” to describe modern culture, and he defined vulgarity as “standardization at a lower standard.” Indeed, he argued for a high standard, but not for complete uniformity. He ended his lecture with these words:

[T]here never was a time in the whole history of the human race when it was more necessary to defend the intellectual independence of man that this hour in which we live.

The secularists, as we know, are not at all committed to diversity in the way they contend. They wish to stimy all debate, as they do, for example, in regard to the issue of same-sex marriage. The answer to the dictatorship of relativism, however, is not a to have a rule supplied for everything to which everyone must conform. There is a place for rules. There is also a place for liberty.

In certain things unity. In doubtful things liberty. In all things charity (St. Augustine).

But even where there is no argument asserting the binding nature of this or that practice, but just that its merely “better” or “more Catholic,” we are going to run into tension. And that is not altogether a bad thing. We need a fighting spirit. We need to regain some Catholic territory and burn into our hearts an unambiguous Catholic identity. But we also need to avoid all that is sectarian and narrow minded. We can’t turn the Church into the club of our own opinions, no matter high minded or traditional those opinions may be.

The path, I think, is to be as good natured and as open to the upright intentions of others as possible. G.K. Chesterton and his brother Cecil used to bring a stack of books each to the dinner table and vigorously argue to their hearts content. Later in life, Chesterton said that he had never had a quarrel with his brother because they always argued. There is much to be said for that.