When I served as a high school chaplain the enforcement of the dress code brought back memories of my own adolescent attitude to rules, restrictions and regulations. If those in authority tried to assert their authority by imposing rules and regulations the adolescent mind immediately finds ways to get around it–to subvert the authorities and to do so, very often, with a bright sense of humor, an intelligent insouciance and a cheerful, if stubborn sense of independence.

So, for example, if boys had to wear a tie for the school Mass day they would wear the tie with a ridiculously broad or tiny knot–the wide end of he tie only being an inch or two while the thin end would extend below the belt. If the girls had to wear a skirt and white blouse the blouse would be sleeveless or low cut in the front while the skirt would be a mini-skirt, and if mini skirts were banned they would don a little house on the prairie ankle length woolen skirt. You get the idea.

When I attended a famous fundamentalist college we had a dress code that prohibited the wearing of blue jeans and guys had to wear a sport coat and button down shirt for classes. The Neo-bohemian crowd in the art department wore corduroys that were cut just like jeans, flannel plaid lumberjack button down shirts and old fashioned 1940s silk ties salvaged from the thrift store with flamboyant swirling designs. The whole outfit was usually topped with an outrageous hat of some sort–the total costume thus obeying the dress code to the letter.

In a boarding school in England the boys who had to wear khaki pants, blazer, shirt and tie did a similar thing. The strapping teenagers swapped their jackets and pants with the skinny ten year olds so they older boys strutted around bulging out of pants that ended mid-calf and jackets that could barely be buttoned while the little boys proudly rolled up their pants legs and hoiked up the ample waistbands with belts and suspenders. Meanwhile the sleeves of their jackets drooped below their hands and their little boy shoulders were broadened by the big boys jackets.

According to Cardinal Burke in a recent address in Italy, the same thing is happening in the Catholic Church regarding Pope Francis and Cardinal Roche’s draconian restrictions on traditional worship. Traditionalist Catholics are obeying the restrictions with creativity and respect. So they are not allowed to advertise the traditionalist Mass in parish bulletins? They set up their own network in social media to maintain the necessary communications. They are not permitted to say the Latin Mass in parish churches? So they meet in school chapels, private chapels and other locations. While some priests and people are maintaining their devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass other priests and people are quietly integrating more traditional elements into their celebration of Mass. New churches are being built in a traditional style, altar rails are coming back, and increasing number of people kneel and receive communion on the tongue, girl altar servers are being replaced by boys and young men, traditional devotions are on the rise as is an increased use of Latin in the vernacular masses.

The irony in these two approaches to our Catholic faith is that the modernism is being imposed by supposedly anti-clericalist clerics who are all in favor of the principles and spirit of the second Vatican council while the traditionalist practices are not being imposed by anyone on anyone. Instead, they are burgeoning forth from the initiatives and belief of ordinary, grass roots Catholics–both ordinary local priests, but more importantly, by the desire and prompting of the laity. It shouldn’t take me to point out that the involvement, devotion, voice and participation of the laity is one of the founding principles of the Second Vatican Council.

Thus, for example, in our parish it was the people who asked for (and paid for) the installation of a new altar rail. More and more of the people have choose to kneel and receive holy communion on the tongue. An increasing number of girls in our school and girls choir elect to wear chapel veils. No one has asked them to and certainly no one has imposed this tradition. They have chosen to wear the chapel veils.

When will religious authorities–and not just our Catholic leaders–ever get it through their thick heads that imposing rules and regulations in religion is almost always counter productive? Of course we need rules and regulations and rubrics to maintain order and structure, but for them to work those who are subject to the rules need to understand them and accept them. That is the Rule of St Benedict begins with the words “Listen My Son”

True obedience requires deep listening and the effort to understand the reason for the rules.  Then the heart and mind can obey with a willing and joyful spirit. And if the son must listen carefully to understand the wisdom and justice of the rule, it is the duty of the Father to construct rules that are wise and just in the first place.