Rural Culture and the Church – Interview
The following is an excerpt from an interview by Matthew Maloney from Know the Faith podcast and Max Becher, a CRL Board Member, California farmer, and band member of Hidden Fifth. This interview took place at the annual Catholic Rural Life Maine Festival in September. To listen to the whole interview, click here.
Interviewer: (…) Now in the culture there seems to be a holiday, or newly created secular festival for every day, whether it is national taco day, or donut day, or talk like a pirate day, or whatever it is. It just seems to me that our Church has always had a cycle of feasts, and has that faded away in the culture, you know like ember days or rogation days, society seemed to want to replace it with what I sort of call the festivals of nonsense. Do you see that connection and our need for something like that? Uh, and that it doesn’t really need to be recreated and that we’ve always really had the access to these sort of cycles in the seasons of the Church?
Max: Absolutely, I see exactly what you’re saying. I think that’s a really good point. Human beings function along cycles. We wake and we sleep. Everything we do in life comes in cycles and goes. This is something that you see very clearly in a rural setting, especially a farmer who has to interact very closely with nature. He sees the seasons come and go. He has to adapt to what they bring to his crops and his life, and we can be a little bit isolated from that when we live in the city. So, when you look at the Church’s liturgical life, and the liturgical calendar, there are also cycles. There are seasons. You know, we move from one liturgical season to the next. We have periods of fasting and we have periods of feasting. And for one who is in tune with the cycles of nature, which is really just the way the world works, and the way we’re created, that liturgical cycle is going to make more sense. So, that’s looking at it one way. I feel like you were pushing it from the direction of man seems to realize that he has a need to celebrate things. He needs to pronounce certain things and set aside time to appreciate them. And, in a situation where you lack that liturgical cycle, I think you’re going to create your own and that seems to be what people are doing.
Interviewer: Right, yeah. How do you think this movement, then, could help the Church which seems to be struggling right now in our modern age. How we can look back to the tradition that has handed down to us, and that might really help us, today, in all that we have going on in the Church?
Max: Well, I feel like the faith is essentially something that is lived. And when you stop living it, I think you do lose your identity. If you stop going to Mass, being Catholic doesn’t mean that much anymore. If you stop celebrating the feasts, it doesn’t mean that much anymore. I think if you.. To the extent that you remove yourself from relating to God in what I like to refer to as “His original temple”, that is not my invented term, but I love the term “God’s original temple” because that is where we first encounter God. So if you are living that, if you are living the liturgical cycle, if you are living in tune with God in nature in his original temple, I think you do recover a lot of that identity that is lost.
Interviewer: Now recently you wrote an article in an issue of the Catholic Rural Life magazine about folk music and how that was connected to farming, or rural culture. Could you expand on that idea, that connection between those two ideas of music and the rural culture, and festivals and life?
Max: Yeah, so in addition to being farmers, my wife and I are also musicians. We play a lot of folk music. We play a lot of contra dances. And so Catholic Rural Life approached me a few months ago and said, “Would you write an article about the relationship between your music and your farming?” In other words, are these related, or is it random that you are a musician and a farmer? And, I spent a lot of time thinking about it because my wife and I always got excited when we saw music and farming coming together in an event. It always made us truly happy, they seem to fit very well together. For example, a music festival on a farm or music in a rural setting. They seem to fit together, and so I wanted to ask the question: Is this random? Are these just two hobbies of ours that we happen to like, but that have no inherent connection to each other? And the more I thought about it the more I saw more a lot of connections between music and farming, music and food. And I think what the connection comes down to essentially is that music and food are both rural products, to use kind of a crude term. But when you look at what rural communities provide to society, the most obvious one is food, fuel and fiber. You know, that’s what people think of as a farmer providing to them. But, if you look a little deeper, folk music is a genuinely rural product. Folk music was born on country porches, around the fire, in the kitchen, and by good old folks coming together and finding a way to spend time together and do something beautiful and meaningful. So, going back to the quote by Pius XII, he says we have to preserve genuine rural culture. I think you can ask what is genuine rural culture? It’s got a lot of elements. I think music is an important one, and I think celebration of food is another one. And here’s what’s interesting: try to think of a celebration without food and without music. And without either one it kind of falls flat.