The Infant of Prague and bricolage

8 03 2010

Recently I bought a medal of St. Peter to wear around my neck. This has nothing to do with any particular devotion that I have to the person of St. Peter, his office of Head of the Apostles, an author of the Scriptures, or even a touching figure from a literary perspective. No, I got the medal because of the prayer, la Sombra de San Pedro, which is a Mexican “unapproved” prayer of protection against everything from highway robbers to witches. I say it everyday before I leave the house. I also wear a medal of St. Expedite, who besides having a cool name, has a special relationship with this city.

I have been accused of being a snob by certain Internet personalities, though I smile every time I read this accusation. Sure, I got a lot of my religion through books and I am not going to hide that. But growing up in my majority Mexican-American town, I came to a lot of what I believe strictly through doing and observing. And not just through observing the Mexicans either. We had a large population of Italian, Irish, and Portuguese immigrants as well, with their festas and devotions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We had the Legion of Mary as well as reasonably well attended First Fridays. This being a fairly liberal diocese, I think one saw these things in an even more pristine setting since the clergy just let the oldsters “have their own way” and interfered little, thinking that all of this would eventually die out. (It probably has by now.) But my childhood faith was not a religion by the book, but a religion of the gut. The fact that a guy who was raised in a HUD project by a single Mexican mother is being accused of being a snob is for me supreme irony.

But I will nevertheless continue roll with the whole accusation of snobbishness, for the benefit of those who did not grow up in the theological school of the hard knocks. For example, I find Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent piece on the Infant of Prague a little problematic and a bit patronizing. I will give him the benefit of having good intentions and say first off that this was probably not his intention. But when he starts off calling this devotion “winsome” and “unusual”, then I begin to question whether or not he has completely gotten this whole “Catholic thing” yet. (Indeed, I will say that he has caught this as well, making the almost self-deprecating remark that “I’m really a Catholic at last”). The piece deserves to be analyzed on another level, however, and that is regarding the question of how we create meaning from religious imagery.

Fr. Longenecker makes his peace with the devotion by turning the Infant of Prague into a warrior of the current culture wars. Within the Church, he associates it with the Counter-Reformed spirituality of relating to Jesus on a personal level: As I’m kneeling I begin to understand the child dressed in royal robes and crown, for the whole image tells us that although he was a child born naked and squawking in a stable he was at the same time the royal prince of the house of David. This of course has its place, and a prominent one. It is the language of Christmas carols of any tongue. But then, he proceeds to attach the Infant of Prague to what he sees as a contemporary war against childhood innocence. He writes,

Then as I’m kneeling there I begin to see that this child is also the focus of our prayers for spiritual childhood and innocence for ourselves, but it should also be the one we turn to pleading for protection for our own children and for the innocence which is being lost every day to the corrupt morals of our day.

This is also a traditional “interpretation”, but only in the sense that the clergy has always had to use symbols popular with the laity to rally them to its own moralizing agenda. Here I am not necessarily disagreeing with Fr. Longenecker’s diatribe. However, I will say that his employment of the Infant of Prague misses some important aspects of the devotion. First and foremost, Catholic devotions are only popular insofar as they work. The Infant of Prague for many Catholics is sort of a baby Santa Claus with a crown on His head. Case in point: at an average parish here in New Orleans, people were handing out “microwave novenas” to the Infant of Prague. Don’t have nine days to pray for something? Shrink it down to nine hours, and say the prayer once every hour. I remember this especially since the card was actually really pretty, but AG took it from me. The things that we do for love!

The other aspect that he is missing, one that is far less obvious to an American evangelical male Bob Jones graduate, is the anthropological side of this devotion. Flip open a Jack Chick comic and you will see a little of what I am talking about. In various religions, people have the tendency to deify childhood. It is an archetype deep in the human psyche. Kind grandmothers everywhere like praying to a little baby, and devotion to a child god is not unique to Catholicism. The pagan equivalent that immediately comes to mind is the image of Krishna as the baby butter thief. When I think about devotion to the child Jesus, I think of my grandmother’s images of the Holy Infant of Atocha or el Niño Dios next to her television set, or the crazy old Argentine woman who crammed a twenty page devotional manual of the Infant of Prague into my hand as a young seminarian. It is the other side of religious devotion to Christ as Pantocrator or Crucified God: it is God as approachable, familiar, and loveable.

Official Catholicism has never really come to terms with that last aspect, and maybe it never will. But the beauty of the Catholic system is that it is the only major religion in the modern West that is still adept at exercising what the recently deceased theorist Claude Lévi-Strauss called bricolage. One website that describes bricolage states that:

The idea of bricolage, which is the linchpin of first chapter (“the science of the concrete”), is one of the hallmarks of Lévi-Strauss’s thought. This Gallic image of the bricoleur, who is something of a handyman, something of a hobbyist, something of a gun-toting, beard-wearing, trash-picking survivalist, has proven attractive to many beyond the ghetto of anthropology. It’s a handy metaphor, a brilliant example of the spirit it seeks to pinpoint, and a marvelous demonstration of Lévi-Strauss’s own tendency to mythomancy.… the bricoleur is active, fully personified, a character. “The ‘bricoleur’,” we are told, “is adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks…. the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’ …. He interrogates all the heterogeneous objects of which his treasury is composed…. he remains within the constraints imposed by a particular state of civilization.

In this sense, Fr. Longenecker’s own reflections on the Infant of Prague are well within play from the Catholic perspective. Catholicism does not try to nail a religious symbol to one particular meaning or another. Indeed, most symbols have their “official meaning” often tacked onto them to make them “acceptable”. Such symbols as the Virgin Mary, the Eucharist, All Souls’ Day, and the Cross, can mean many things to many people, all at the same time. We take “whatever is at hand” and make what we can out of it according to our needs. A symbol might not mean the same thing to the Pope as it does to the lowly street thug trying to scratch out a living, but it is there nonetheless, and they both use it.

Fr. Longenecker’s Protestant sensibility has to perform bricolage on this “fancy Catholic idol” by associating it with his favorite Catholic writings, making it acceptable to a cultural Protestant in the manner of “if you want X, you need to take Y as well, since so-and-so also liked Y”. He also re-creates it as a symbol of a moral crusade that continues to associate him with the sensibility of decent, middle class white folks with Internet access (i.e. his typical audience). This is also what happens with a bishop who might give a fairly chic theological sermon on devotion to St. Jude to members of the Opus Dei. That is one way to employ the symbol. Another is the Mexican drug dealer who wears a St. Jude medal for protection so that he is not shot up with a TEC- 9 while leaving a Tijuana bar. That is just what religion looks like, just as a Ganesh statue at a 7-Eleven is just as Hindu as the Bhagavad Gita.

Considering all of this, Fr. Longenecker’s article still ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. The main reason that the American cultural Protestant has a problem with things like devotion to the Infant of Prague is because modern religion is divorced from culture. American (white, middle class) Protestanism fears color and colorful characters; it believes that decoration and kitsch deflect from what is “really important”. In the end, it believes that religion and imagination don’t mix; faith, like economic activity, is “serious business”. It is the Christianized and kinder version of Islamic Wahhabism. I don’t like bashing converts in a country where so many cradle Catholics are little better than cultural Protestants. Nonetheless, it would be nice if some of these converts would just come right out and say:

“Look, middle class American Protestantism is not a religion. It is some of bizarre mixture of theological premises and moralizing puritanical attitudes. The reason that the Infant of Prague devotion seems so strange to us is that we have been ideologically brainwashed for centuries to think that this kind of thing is not normal. And yes, it is just fine as is, and it should not have to accommodate my own distorted formation concerning what religion is supposed to look like.”

Maybe that is asking too much, and maybe that is just the “religious snob” in me. But I would still like to hear someone say it, particularly since even within the Church, even amongst some “cradle” Catholics, we hear the same voices of “I don’t get it” in reference to old school, “gut” religion.

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30 responses

8 03 2010
Mark

Not to be a nitpicker, but the Eucharist is not a symbol.

8 03 2010
Chris

Really, Arturo, you write as if Church authorities have been on board with every single popular interpretation of every devotion or manifestation of Catholic spirituality throughout Catholic history. Not so, of course, and the history of popular devotion in Catholicism is, in part, a history of battles between clergy and people on this score – clergy who were not American Protestants, but I’m sure you’ll find a way to discover the latent American Protestantism of some 18th century French bishop, just as Morning’s Minion at Vox Nova finds what he calls “Calvinism” behind every door.

Fr. Longenecker is obviously, as they, say, on a “journey”. He’s come a long distance from Bob Jones U. He’s growing in faith and seems willing to admit that. I really don’t see a problem.

8 03 2010
Dwight Longenecker

Thank you for reading my post and commenting. If I may say so, your own intellectual analysis of a post which was simple and from the heart seems to come up with exactly the opposite conclusion of what I was expressing.

I was delighted to ‘connect’ with a Catholic devotion which was, up til that point, alien to me. I agree with your analysis of Protestantism’s lack of culture and lack of understanding of Catholic imagery. Wanting to understand and appreciate the fullness of the Catholic faith has been a hallmark of my own pilgrimage of faith.

Rather than accusing me of such things in such a superior manner why not rejoice that I actually admire such Catholic devotions and want to learn more about them?

Instead of bashing converts to the Catholic faith why not examine the mote in your own eye (if you are a cradle Catholic) and ask yourself why so many cradle and cultural Catholics are abandoning the faith.

9 03 2010
Arturo Vasquez

That has indeed been a subject of many of my posts and essays. The most recent of course was here:

http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/slouching-towards-the-american-jesus-part-ii/

And of course, there was a related article concerning this that I wrote for Inside Catholic:

http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6063&Itemid=48

What I always find strange about such protests of “well, cradle/cultural Catholics are abandoning the faith” is the creation of a false dichotomy between those who were born into the Church in the cradle and those who have converted. The post is quite clear in stating that I don’t believe in this: from a cultural perspective, Catholics have been well assimilated into the American polity for almost fifty years, so such divisions are completely artificial.

On the other hand, the odd thing about such statements is that the implication is that there is some massive wave of American white Protestant converts that are coming in en masse who will save the Church demographically. There is absolutely no foundation for that, other than for people who like to think that the number of blogs somehow equals a demographic growth of Catholicism. The fact is, the only thing holding up the Church demographically in this country is brown people having babies, and a lot of them are becoming Protestants at some points (as in my family). There isn’t some massive movement of white converts coming to fill the gap, so spare me from the accusation of “convert bashing”. If you can’t separate a reasoned argument from your own biography, there is really no point in arguing. You will take anything other than unmixed praise as an insult. Well, it isn’t, but that is something that you are going to have to sort out for yourself.

8 03 2010
ben

The Infant of Atocha is the Lord of my home. It seems to me that the devotion to the Infant is one of inexhaustible depth that has the power to continually draw one in. Obviously, most do not continue to grow in their devotion to the Infant, they stop at what works. But Fr. Longenecker is a “bricoleur”, as you say who wants x, even if it implies y. This tells me that since he has now brought the infant to his chruch, the days are not too far ahead of him when he will look forward in love to the changing wardrobe of the Infant in their midst. It seems to me that Fr. Longenecker is a fish who greatly rejoices at having been caught in the net.

You are too hard on him.

8 03 2010
Han

Arturo,

Could it be that you fundamentally believe that nobody can actually convert to Catholicism? Sort of like how somebody who “converts” to Judaism is not ever really a Jew–their kids might be Jews but they will never be. Are you not just saying the same thing about Catholicism? It seems to me that according to your schema of Catholicism as Catholic-culture-in-your-bones first and doctrine/church attendance/&c. second converts can never be true Catholics.

Han

8 03 2010
Arturo Vasquez

That seems a bizarre conclusion to jump to. Catholicism, like Islam and other more modern confessions, is a proselytizing religion, so by definition, a confession of faith, some basic practices, and abiding by a certain moral code are sufficient. The general topic of this post has nothing to do with conversions; it has everything to do with signs and how people employ them. I don’t think it is a matter of controversy to say that a convert to Islam say, in the Netherlands, would read the Hadith in a radically different way from someone, say, in Algeria or Indonesia. The latter countries would be formed by centuries of context that would not exist for the convert in the Netherlands. Whether or not that is better, worse, or neutral is not of interest at this point. It could very well be that the convert in the Netherlands could be a “better Muslim” than some religious slob in Morocco: he might perform salaat five times a day, fast vigorously during Ramadan, have already made the hajj, etc. What is not arguable is that, while Islam governs the rhythm of life in Morocco and other countries, the same is not the case in the Netherlands, and thus one’s experience of Islam will be different. As authentic? That is up for debate.

It is thus not really arguable that the United States is not a Catholic country, and, indeed, its entire founding premise was anti-Catholic. How right-wing intellectuals have buried the hatchet with the American polity on this foundational ideology is not of interest here either; that has been the subject of other posts. How this fact shapes the experience of Catholicism is indeed the subject, and I don’t feel I have to clarify the theme more than I have above. I stand by my characterization of American religiosity and the general impoverished flavor of cultural modernity. Anyone who wants to confirm with chrism the Purpose Driven Life and the Gospel Frisbee is more than welcome to do so, just not here.

9 03 2010
Han

OK, but then why did Fr. Longenecker’s post leave a bad taste in your mouth? From what I read, he visits the shrine not knowing about the devotion and admitting that from his Protestant background, it seemed a bit weird at first. Then, he learns about the devotion and reflects on what theological lessons he can draw from it. Then he reflects on how this particular devotion can be put to use in dealing with a contemporary problem (Infant of Prague–>invoke for dealing with loss of innocence), then he finishes with a short ejaculatory prayer to the Infant.

Regarding the penultimate point, how is it different from St. Anthony–>invoke to find lost car keys or St. Joseph–>bury statue in yard to sell house? Or for that matter, how is it different from St. Jude–>wear medal to come back from drug deal alive? This guy is a chaplain for a Catholic school and a parish pastor; it seems logical to me that because of this, issues regarding the innocence of children have a lot to do with his own life, and are not merely bricolage.

The tone I read in his post was “this would have seemed really weird to me before, but now that I am Catholic, I like it.” I could not find anywhere in his post some feeling that he still was uncomfortable with the Infant of Prague and needed to intellectually justify it to himself. Certainly Fr. Longenecker was a Protestant first, but if all you can see in his reflection on how he finds the Infant of Prague useful is Protestant sensibility (as opposed to how the St. Jude medal wearing drug dealer finds St. Jude useful is Catholic sensibility), it seems to me that you believe that on some deep level, Fr. Longenecker will always be a Protestant.

9 03 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Well, if that is how you want to read it, you are well within your right. But that is what you are reading into it, and it’s not there.

9 03 2010
Dwight Longenecker

What’s this “massive wave of white Protestant converts who will save the church?” Who ever anywhere has claimed this to be true? Even if it were true, what’s the racist thing? Who cares what color a convert is?

Furthermore, i actually agree with your assessment that Protestantism is not a religion. Check out my recent post on this very topic called “When Religion is not religion.”

You need to get a sense of humor and proportion bud, and stop attacking your friends.

9 03 2010
Arturo Vasquez

With friends like these…

9 03 2010
Against the Protestant Gnostics - God Discussion

[...] The Infant of Prague and bricolage « Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity [...]

9 03 2010
Dr. S. Petersen

Here it is, I’ll say it (I’m a convert): “Look, middle class American Protestantism is not a religion [etc.] …”
Longenecker’s reaction is what you might expect: the righteous umbrage of “bud”. You’re getting at something in these columns (posts) treating of the popular understanding mediated by culture.
A Mexican guy comes into my (ugly, protestant-moderne) Church while I’m kneeling there saying the Rosary before the statue of Our Lady. The votive candles (miraculously enough, real ones) are there, too. He says (what I assume was) a brief prayer, lights a candle, repeats the process and he’s gone–5 minutes. He’s like the drug guy you mention who wears the St Jude medal. To me, they’re like the ones the in the Gospels who trusted Christ to fix their problems of whom the Lord said he hadn’t seen such faith in Israel. Americans mixed up with jobs, investments and appointments are the elder brothers who want to think that their Father owes them for not coloring outside the lines. I had to admire that Mexican guy’s faith certain that it was more integrated into his intellect than mine into mine.
And, though you’re not always precise, I think the destructiveness of the diffusion of WASP hegemony is an important part of what you are trying to articulate and it’s offensive to anyone who wants to trust in his own judgment.

9 03 2010
Dwight Longenecker

Its offensive because it’s self righteous, superior and racist. Just as much as it would be for a White Anglo Saxon Protestant to look down his nose on “all those ignorant Mexican peasant Catholics.”

Why don’t you guys stop judging by appearances? Nobody knows what goes on in the white guys tortured prayers or the Mexican’s brief candle lighting. I’ve seen just as many tortured Mexican devotees and casual white people.

I’m not judging cultural Catholics of any color or ethnic background. All Catholics fascinate me and I want to learn from them.

9 03 2010
random Orthodox chick

Assessing the differences in ethnic culture is not racist and “not seeing race” isn’t the opposite of racism.

9 03 2010
The Western Confucian

I’m a convert from High Church Lutheranism, and enjoyed the post. Fr. Longnecker’s reflections, described as “well within play from the Catholic perspective,” were treated with respect, but seen as symptomatic of a larger problem, one which Mr. Vasquez has tirelessly pointed out.

I only take issue, and slight issue, at this statement: “It is thus not really arguable that the United States is not a Catholic country, and, indeed, its entire founding premise was anti-Catholic.” The first part is, of course, true, but I think an argument, however tenuous, can be made against the idea that “its entire founding premise was anti-Catholic.”

It can be argued that the English Jacobite resistance evolved into the Country tradition, whose hostility to consolidation was taken up on our shores by the Antifederalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans — Jeffersonian Jacobitism.

No, it’s not a particularly theological argument, but it can be seen as cultural in addition to being obviously political. One of the hallmarks of Anglo-Saxon culture has been the jealous defense of liberty, first articulated in the Magna Carta, written in response to King John’s usurpation of both ancient Anglo-Saxon and Catholic liberties, whose first article guarantees “that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.”

9 03 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Far be it from me to romanticize the faith of your average drug dealer. That would be yet another case of regarding him as some sort of noble sauvage, and that doesn’t get anywhere. Besides, when Our Lord said, “sin no more”, I am sure that He was talking about these guys too. And all of the other strange supernatural things that these people do (devotion to black Santa Muerte, employment of witches, outright devil worship) are obviously things I couldn’t romanticize either.

I think what really gets up my nose is when certain people (not necessarily Fr. Longenecker, since I haven’t really explicitly read anything of this tenor from him), will imply that the death of cultural Catholicism in traditional societies is a good thing, and that the rise of a “de-cultured” orthodox Catholicism is right around the corner (i.e. “the New Evangelization”). Again, an analogy that we could give is one of a Bay Area, white Buddhist convert, who I could imagine thinking something like:

“You know, it’s good that we don’t live in those nasty, traditional societies where women are oppressed and gay people are looked down upon. I don’t understand why those places are like that. Don’t they read the Buddha’s teachings?”

Again, not a perfect analogy, but it nevertheless reflects the attitude of a society that is based on secularism and a certain level of education and affluence not available to people in most parts of the world. It is also based on a modern sense of the “consistency of principles” that is a luxury of First World “decent folk”. There is also a sense there of false revivalism (again, a characteristic of American religious principles) that thinks that, since we are now free from the constraints of “Old World” religion, we are now free to get to the “real roots” of faith without unnecessary cultural accretions. I don’t need to state again how much I think that this is baloney. Oddly enough, I do think this was the thinking behind Vatican II, even in its most conservative manifestations, but you can research the archives of this blog to see more about that.

Besides, the death of Catholicism in Latin America, where cultural Catholicism reigns as king, is exaggerated, at least if we look at it statistically. It may morph into something we don’t like, but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Probably because they are still poor, and will continue to be so well into the distant future.

The main point of what is written here is not to state that one view is better than another, but rather to make people aware of what is the foundation of their views. In other words, not what you think, but why you think it. Americans in general tend to think that their experience of anything is normative. Perhaps this is generally an Anglo-Saxon trait, but it is still thoroughly naïve.

10 03 2010
+Wulfila

>Again, an analogy that we could give is one of a Bay Area, white
>Buddhist convert, who I could imagine thinking something like:
>
>”You know, it’s good that we don’t live in those nasty, traditional
>societies where women are oppressed and gay people are looked down
>upon. I don’t understand why those places are like that. Don’t they
>read the Buddha’s teachings?”

I’m pretty sure I teach this guy – and 74 of his best friends.

9 03 2010
ochlophobist

As a father of a 5 year old, and almost 3 year old, and a 15 month old, it is really hard for me to fathom how the anthropological truism that in various religions people have the tendency to deify childhood ever came to be. Small children are terrorists, always looking for new ways to commit crimes against humanity. In my mind, the infant of Prague could just as well be a great icon of Christ at judgment day. But I suppose that is me doing the bricolage thing.

10 03 2010
David

That is one of the truest things I have ever read!

10 03 2010
James Dominic James

I’m still not convinced that this whole evangelical converts v. traditionalists internet thing is not just another version of professional wrestling, rigged and staged. Do you guys do this to boost Web-site hits? How would Vince McMahon talk up the coming Arturo v. Fr. Longenecker and Prima v. Shea matches? And where’s Cyndi Lauper? (Btw, did you guys hear that Captain Lou Albano died? R.I.P.)

Arturo on Fr. Longenecker:But when he starts off calling this devotion “winsome” and “unusual”, then I begin to question whether or not he has completely gotten this whole “Catholic thing” yet.

Thank God? If the Catholic Thing is a form of cultural competence that stops one from permitting the terms “winsome” and “unusual” to appear on the list of acceptable things to say about the Infant of Prague, then is it good? If reality includes the Infant of Prague appearing as “winsome” and “unusual” among other things, then will I want to acquire a disability named Catholic Thing that prevents me from seeing this?

How many other commenters cannot connect to devotion to the Infant of Prague, not because it interferes with the “seriousness” demanded for their functional integration with Capital or for their becoming Marcuse’s Happy Robots who are the inputs and outputs of the Totally Administered Society, but because they find the Infant of Prague to be plain old creepy, like Chucky?

10 03 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Seriously, if people think that the Infant of Prague is creepy, they obviously haven’t seen my Stuff white people wouldn’t pray to post.

Part of growing up in a Mexican family is having grandmothers who have religious imagery that scares the shit out of you. Seriously, it wasn’t my grandmother’s images of Juan Soldado or even la Santa Muerte that freaked me out, but a near life sized badly painted set of statues of the Holy Family that was kept in my parent’s room. I had nightmares about those plastic statues.

10 03 2010
James Dominic James

Yes, I remember that piece.

I like trying to observe by means of your writings what it is that you see, though I don’t always see it. News at 11.

10 03 2010
Dwight Longenecker

Orthodox Chick–whenever a person refers to a group of people by their skin color and groups them all together then bashes them I call that racist. Arturo refers time and again to ‘white people’ and ‘white middle class people’ and ‘white middle class Protestants’.

By all means discuss ethnic differences, but let’s not stoop to racism.

For the record, I actually agree with Arturo’s main arguments. I’m not one to blast cultural catholicism totally. I think there are plenty of good ‘cultural catholics’ and I admire them and want to learn from them all the lessons Arturo is at pains to point out.

However, it must be admitted that cultural Catholicism, on its own, is not necessarily a virtue. A Cultural Catholic may be simply devout and have a profound faith that is integrated with his whole world view in a wonderful way. On the other hand he might just be complacent, self righteous, unrepentant and ignorant.The same can be said of most any category of Catholic.

Converts have much to learn from cultural catholics, but I believe cultural Catholics often have much to learn from converts.

I think much of this debate is a red herring. Let’s consider what’s on the inside and love our fellow Catholics–cultural or convert–and learn from one another.

10 03 2010
Visibilium

An Anglican priest once told me that I looked like the Infant of Prague. I think that was vicar-ese for “you’re a d##khead”.

11 03 2010
evagrius

Very weird thread.

My stepfather got an Infant of Prague statue after dreaming of his being dedicated to the Infant as a child by his mother. He remembered the dream and remembered that his mother actually did this.

My stepfather abandoned Catholicism for a while becoming an evangelical. My mother, being a good wife, went to services with him but she never was comfortable. Somehow he returned to being Catholic.

My stepfather’s mother, “Grandma”, was a devout Catholic, praying the rosary.
She was moved from her rest home by my stepuncle who became her guardian. He was an evangelical Christian who took away her holy pictures and rosary.

When she was dying in hospital, I was able to sneak in a rosary and an icon of the Theotokos. She took the rosary, kissed it, and placed it around her neck. She kissed the icon. I had a Byzantine rite priest give her communion Byzantine style. No problem her knowing what was going on.

I’m not attached to expressions of faith such as the Infant but I don’t think such expressions are weird, offensive or indicative of anything strange. It’s just not my particular way. On the other hand, I have a ton of icons, many in storage but some in a corner of the dining room in their own space, right next to an ink painting of Daruma as a persimmon. Peculiar for anyone but my wife and me I suppose.

11 03 2010
Jared B.

Since I’m a convert (Wiccan / “Neo-Pagan”, then briefly tried out episcopalian/charismatic/evangelical protestantism in turns, wised up and got into RCIA), whenever I learn about devotions and practices that are traditional but feel kinda unnatural or weird to me, I try to make it my response to first look for fault in my personal sensus fidelium rather than looking outward for faults. Getting Confirmed in the Church didn’t magically give me an instinctive knack for thinking with the Church, so who the heck am I to use my gut reaction to say I know better than umpteen however many generations of Catholics who’ve been practicing X devotion and never had a problem with it?

My point is, if more converts made an effort to react that way, traditional or “cultural” Catholics probably wouldn’t *need* to raise their hackles at “neo-Catholics” so much. Instead, we have constant mutual I-know-what’s-best-for-you exchanges that seem designed for maximum hackle-raising :-P which is really a shame, isn’t it?

13 03 2010
Lucian

Hey, Arturo!

I’ve just found the perfect way to piss you off: I’m gonna call you “Arthur” from now on! 8)

13 03 2010
The Shepherd

Great post! i was raised in the kind of disenchanted American Catholicism that’s been described and the first thing that came to mind when I learned of the Infant of Prague, Sedlec Ossuary and other things that shock modern sensibilities was: Where has this cool been hiding and why did they hide it in the first place. I think that Fr. Longenecker’s post and people like me suggest that the gulf is not as impassable as you think.

Also, I find the image/concept of the bricoleur very inspiring. I think Catholicism being able to utilize such a punk rock ethos so well says a lot. Some might say the ideas smacks of “relativism” of “cafeteria catholicism” but from my understanding the idea of bricolage in a Catholic contexts suggests letting the Saints, images, and symbols of the Church and its culture to act as a phantasm and let them work their magic in your life and worldview. But perhaps I’m reading it wrong.

14 03 2010
Moretben

Owen

You sound distressingly like St Augustine. The Infant of Prague is preposterous. What on earth was St Joseph thinking of, letting him out dressed like that?

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