This is a reprint of an interview I conducted with Fr. Lawrence Smith, in Silver Cliff, Wisconsin, in July 2006. It appeared in an August or September 2006 issue of the Remnant.
Stephen Heiner: Father, what is “returning to the land?”
Fr. Smith: It’s being Catholic. Without it, it’s meaningless. The Amish and the hippies have returned to the land, but to what end? Catholicism must always be the root.
The Garden of Eden’s existence shows that man is created for the agrarian life, and the New Jerusalem has at its heart trees that will nourish the people all throughout the year.
Here’s the fundamental axiom at work – the rural life can exist without the city. The city cannot exist without the rural life.
The forced migration of the entire earth to cities is the destruction of freedom; it is the corralling of people so that they are wholly dependent on Big Brother – this attacks both the family and the Church. This means the powers that be can starve you to death if they please. The fear of being starved to death allows the powers that be to coerce the obedience of those thus enslaved.
Father, is it essential or an option?
The rural life is essential but not necessary in the same way that the sacraments are essential to salvation but not all are necessary for each individual.
Not everyone has to live there, but it is essential to human life. It is fundamental. Everywhere – lives were agrarian up to 100 years ago. The raw data shows this to be true. In fact, up until the 1950s most Americans lived outside of the city – today most live in suburbs. People mistakenly believe that the city is normative and do not conceive the rural life as being practical – man is now making it impossible to live without the city – they try to strangle the country.
For example, property taxes have to be paid…
Well yes, Father, I own 12 acres and I have to pay $1000 a year on it even though there is nothing on it…
Yes, and the government doesn’t care about that – you have to pay no matter what, or else the sheriff comes and takes it for auction. It’s criminal. In the medieval life you may have had a hovel but you were assured of never being homeless.
What is the difference between the soul of the modern city and the soul of the medieval city?
Well the medieval city was useful because it was a center of trade for the surplus of your household, for education, for governmental jurisdiction, and defense. It was human in element – it was human in scale – it was accessible.
Meaning, I could walk from one side of the city to another in a day, or half a day?
Less. The modern city is soul-less. The modern city is filled with people who have relocated there. People from medieval times might ask a relocator (suspiciously) “Why are you here? You left your family? For what? To make more money? But why?”
So they are rooted in rootlessness?
Yes – so while the city as such is essential to human intercourse – the modern city – is like a cancer – hence I only expose myself sparingly – once a week at the most. Look, it takes me an hour and half to get to Green Bay. Sometimes I’m there less than an hour – so I spend less time there conducting my business than it takes me to get there. I’ve even gone 3 weeks without leaving this property at times.
That’s unfathomable to me. I yearn for such a day in my life…
Well Stephen, for most of human history 20 miles was the limit of human travels – it was how far one could travel by foot in one day.
Yeah, good luck finding someone who would walk 20 miles in one year these days…Well that brings me to another topic, Father. Travel. The fact that I can sleep while traveling the distance it took Columbus to travel in 3 months.
Well, travel in the Middle Ages was to go on pilgrimage. It was penitential, and one’s life was enriched by it. It wasn’t to see shows on Broadway or rush hither and thither, or to run up to the top of the Eiffel Tower or to get a picture next to the pyramids of Giza.
Travel has now cheapened its own experience. We’ve all “been there” and “done that.” I know someone who has 40,000 photographs – how can someone possibly relate to all those experiences? How different would that be from going to Rome once in your life and have that be your sole experience of travel?
You used to leave one place for another that was different – but today if you dropped in on any one of these cities – I could still find people who could speak English. Today anyplace looks like everyplace. If New York’s boast is multiculturalism, then why leave? You can get everything you need there…yet they want tourists still – when other cities are competing in the same way that New York is – by pitching themselves as everything to everyone.
So should I limit my travel to one day’s drive?
Well, don’t go just because you can – we used to take rural drives with my father on Sundays, which was nice, but…
It was like watching TV, in a way…
Yes, because you have a “screen” with “moving images.” We have such a need for motion – look at television, the internet, video games – TV hurts to look at because it is constantly changing – these people have no peace. These images are constantly shifting…
Just imagine the modern man taking the monastic vow of stability – there was a certitude – a rootedness. What was once a proud tradition – stability – is now considered bondage.
Think of Kafka’s Metamorphosis…
The cockroach story…
Yes, exactly – tomorrow I may wake up as a cockroach, the next day a fly, who knows? New York used to be defined by New Yorkers – now, what is a New Yorker? It is always in flux.
So, it’s defined by change.
Yes, which is not a definition. Systemized non-thought – if truth changes there was no truth there.
Someone constantly changing would be considered insane – I’m a jelly donut, I’m a Bostonian, I’m a construction worker…Joe’s from Philly, but he went to college in California, and grad school in Washington, and he’s thinking about getting a job in Miami…you’re like jello nailed to the wall. Try it sometime.
Any particular flavor Father?
Sure, try a different one every day!
Getting back to travel, Father, I feel somewhat bound by the experience of travel I’ve had…
Yes, but you’ve learned from these travels. Talk to an army brat. Most people can’t connect, have a horrible time settling down. They can’t seem to get married successfully. Treasure your travels as contributing to your life – don’t divest yourself of them…
But when I tell them of all the adventures I’ve had – I’ve been on 3 continents, almost all 50 states…they’ll say, Daddy, why can’t we go?
First, tell them that we don’t have that type of money to go traveling. You will have the sorts of experiences proper to your state. Daddy’s experiences are yours – you are me – that’s called the beauty of generations – telling stories and sharing experiences.
Life is not a candy store – you’re not here to eat everything you can before you get sick. No matter how much money you have you’re not going to see everything and do everything – so get used to it now and simplify.
Let me make a point here – visiting family that doesn’t live nearby can be itself a pilgrimage – certainly a corporal act of mercy if it’s Grandma. Going to visit loved ones is a good use of travel.
Well, some might concede that travel is not for everyone, but when people maintain that “city life is for most” what do you think they mean?
Well, when someone says this…well, this “my experience is normative” is total myopia. They will laugh when they hear that I’m from Iowa – but they might say they are from the North side of Chicago and have never been anywhere. In fact, I think it’s an advantage to have been born in Davenport, Iowa, because I have no illusions that Iowa is the center of the universe. People from Los Angeles and New York think that they are that center.
They are “NewYorkCentric.”
Yes, there was a song that said “Just outside of Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.”
It’s like renaming a month Thermidor and making a 10-day week thinking this will change reality.Yes. Lest history indict you, let’s rewrite it. Most people are not reflective – most people just assume. They say such things because they don’t think. They’ve polluted the human existence (the agrarian life) and made it shameful.
Listen, you’ll hear people say “I don’t want my sons to have to go through the things I did – I want them to go to college and make something of themselves.” The sons will say “I don’t want to have to do what my mom or dad did.” Think of how violent the blows must be to make one ashamed of one’s own family line and profession.
I heard a story on NPR the other day about Dairy Princesses – the contest has dwindled over the years from over 75 candidates and a huge pageant in a hotel conference room to 3 candidates in a church basement and 75 attendees, mostly friends and family. The winner would go around and promote the drinking of milk – and one of this year’s competing girls gave a speech talked about preserving family traditions and the family farm – we’ve dwindled to 3 potential Dairy Princesses in cow country – and it is a testament writ large of the destruction being wreaked on the compact agrarian life. We are witnessing the corporatization of the agrarian world, because Capitalists, not having been glutted enough, now seek to destroy farms after destroying merchants.
Yes, the death is everywhere – the death of a way of life – these rural towns…
Yes, and they have such beautiful old churches…
Yes, I mean imagine being able to say to your child as you pointed upwards – “Your great-grandfather helped put that crossbeam in place there after helping to chop the lumber and haul it here. Think about the stability that creates – the sense of the communion of saints – like having the graveyard by the Church – there is a rootedness there.
So why this resistance, this hatred, this refusal of the Middle Ages? Is it animated by a Protestant Americanism? God has given us the modern world – He placed us here – why go back?
That’s simply a concession to modernity and modernism. People say – if you say usury is a sin, you can’t have hot and cold running water, because they condemned usury in the Middle Ages and they had no plumbing in the Middle Ages. Wait a minute. Usury is always wrong. It cannot be reformed. However, the ability to make water flow at certain temperatures can be reformed – happily, gladly – indeed, I shall sing in the shower later in tribute.
What this boils down to is that these people want a medieval liturgy with a modernist economy. They will get either (eventually) a modernist liturgy or no liturgy at all – which is what protestants and unitarians have – pantheism in modern times. God is what you make of Him – a oneness to all things.
Sounds like “St. Teilhard” of the Novus Ordo Church..
Yes, “Sancte Teilhard” (in the tone of the Litany)
Libera nos Domine…
Yes, I would say “Open your eyes!” The Social Security Trust Fund, Global Crossing, Worldcom, Enron, K-Mart, Tyco, Parmalat, 3rd world countries and the IMF.
The only reason there is no generalized collapse is because the capital is no longer concentrated. The crash of 1929 occurred because the overwhelming majority of capital was in the New York Stock Exchange. Now capital freely flows all around the world. Now when there is a crash in one location it is tempered by liquidity in several other locations.
This phenomenon in global markets is directly related to the concept of global indifferentism and religious liberty. If the notion that anything that is marketable is moral then moral considerations from the religious standpoint give way to market forces and hence faith becomes purely an individual matter. That’s why the European Union wants to deny its Catholic roots – to apply the axe to the Church and State – I can do business with these people Monday through Saturday and worship differently on Sunday and wonder at abortion on demand, divorce driven culture, and sodomy roaming the land like a lion looking at whom it might devour.
The medieval economic model was wedded to the Faith. The modern economical model attacks the Faith.
You can have shows like South Park that will blaspheme Our Lady on the Immaculate Conception – but could you imagine such a show making fun of the Holocaust?
Well yes, and when they tried to make fun of Mohammed Comedy Central refused to air it.
Catholics tolerate this blasphemy, this obscenity, directed at the Mother of God!
But I already hear the only verse that these Catholic know…or rather the only two that they know…” We are called to be in the world, not of it” and “be salt and light.”
Okay, I hear confessions. When someone says, Bless me Father do I say – get out, I will have nothing to do with sinners! We do not give these people our money – we convert them!
They are trying to destroy us! Should the Jews have assisted the Nazis? Should the black slaves have assisted their slave masters? Should the peasants have cooperated with Pol Pot?
Should the Palestinians simply surrender to those who have denied them a state?
Right, people have no problem with the proposition that Jews should have their own state dedicated to their religion, but yet Catholics cannot.
Jews are sensible enough to have an anti-Defamation league – they don’t allow attackers.
We Catholics bankroll our attackers.
Catholics are 25% of the population in the United States, nominally at least. Yet we have disproportionally greater representation than anyone in Congress, among teachers, university professors, doctors, lawyers…
And now we have a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court…
Yes, that’s very recent. But look, with all of this at our disposal we have no anti-abortion laws, no anti-divorce laws, no anti-sodomy laws…
And those are just to prevent sin, we haven’t even gotten into practicing virtue – it almost seems as though Catholic Action is now the demesne of protestants – they got the bill passed in South Dakota, the bills that are working their way through Mississippi and Tennessee.
Yes, but Protestants can change tomorrow. Remember, that’s the nature of their religion – change, revolt, upheaval. No one can say that a pro-abortion protestant is not a protestant.
There is no “catechism” of Protestantism. Their name is legion.
Exactly. And surely these protestants are doing good – and perhaps they will convert – and that will be better. Protestantism is caused by its revolt against Christ’s spouse…
Well Father, it’s never boring with you. Do you have any closing thoughts?
One. The Catholic Faith must always be at the center of everything.
Two. The family is the local institution the Church most fervently embraces to accomplish her mission.
Three. The entire thrust of the modern economic, philosophical, and if it can be called, theological movements is anti-Catholic. They attack the Church.
Catholic families must live Catholic lives and attack these attackers.
I can already hear it “Father, we must be in the world, not of it.”
Yes, but do they remember that Christ said “I have overcome the world”? He has overcome the world. That is our legacy as His children. Do not be salt without flavor. Lose your flavor and you will become “no better than to be trampled on.”
And that’s what we see today – Catholicism trampled underfoot because we don’t live enough of a visibly Catholic life – a radical Catholic life. Radical in the best sense.
The world is the enemy of Jesus Christ.
Do not make a friend of the enemy of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Lawrence Smith lives in Silver Cliff, Wisconsin, where he celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass for a small community.
Mr. Stephen Heiner runs a tutoring and test prep company in Overland Park, Kansas. He spends some of his free time editing, among other sites, TrueRestoration.blogspot.com, a website dedicated to the restoration of Christian Culture.