Cultural Catholic serendiptity

25 05 2010

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“I’m looking for a 100 committed Catholics. Are you one?”

Uh, no. I am lucky to get out of bed for Mass on Sunday morning. (He must be selling something.)

I click anyway.

When one considers how vastly different our modern society is when compared with the society in which our parents and grandparents lived, as recently as the 1950s, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that this “interesting” time in which we live is an epoch that is between goodness and evil and, it would seem steadily drifting away from the former and toward the latter.

Okay. Now I know he wants money.

You and I cannot stand by in silence as challenges mount. We must take our places in this struggle and peacefully do our part in the cause of truth.

How much is it going to cost me?

This is why I need to find 100 comitted Catholics [what’s with this guy and typos?] who will stand with me in “fighting the good fight” by becoming a member of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College…

By becoming a member of the Envoy Institute — you can do it today for as little as $10 per month (about the cost of lunch for two) — you will directly participate in the Envoy Institute’s robust outreach to our culture, you’ll directly help preserve the Catholic identity and faith of countless Catholic young people…

Where do I sign up? Wait a minute! No thanks.

I close the browser.

*************************************

Of late I have been dissecting all aspects of cultural Catholicism: the imagery, the laziness, the Voodoo of making deals with God and then breaking them. For most of my sentient life, I have counter-posed Catholicism to the world, even though that was not how I was raised. I was raised a church-going, cultural Catholic. Catholicism primarily informed the rhythm of life in a very low key way. While I went from crazy fundamentalist to strange spiritual seeker, reversion to normal life has driven me to choose once again the Faith of my childhood. While some people con-vert, and others re-vert, I think at this point I am in the process of di-verting. As I have put it before, how can I keep the Faith without the Church being all up in my business?

This is not merely due to sloth, but to the hashing out of very complex intellectual questions. Belloc is famous for saying that Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe. The only problem with that equation is that the terms are ill-defined. What was Catholicism for the average believer fifty, a hundred, a thousand years ago? What is on the books only tells part of the story, and often the most distorted part. Really, my investigations of what my family really believed and how they passed on their beliefs have been most enlightening in this regard. They lived in a world of life-and-death vows, miraculous statues, and “spiritual” illnesses that we don’t even have names for anymore. At best, we try to superimpose a shadow of that mentality on a world that has completely changed.

This is where I realize that Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino and my grandmother have a lot in common. For those who have not had the benefit of reading the Florentine magus, a paragraph of his can include references to Christ, Jupiter, Hermes Trismegistus, Moses, the Muses, Aristotle, and St. Augustine; all in harmony, side by side. For a person in Ficino’s time, Catholicism was a seamless veil that covered everything he thought and Catholicism itself was covered in the veil that is the full breath and depth of the world of Beauty and Ideas. It reminds me of my grandmother’s small altar next to her television, where the Christ Child, a charismatic prayer book, the Virgin of Guadalupe, a liberation theology Bible, and smutty telenovelas all seem to form an organically whole worldview. Nothing is out of place, and no one is left thinking that one thing needs to explain the other.

I suppose I found some parallel thoughts on Cristina Espina’s blog, Sancta Sanctis. I quote a snippet from it:

I’m not sure whether it’s ironic that I can now also say I have no reason for being Catholic. Bring me every argument in favour of Christianity and I’ll have an answer to it. I mean, how do you think I became a quasi-gnostic neo-pagan in the first place??? I wouldn’t have been seduced if it hadn’t been sound. I was also later seduced back into the Catholic Church–not because Catholicism also seemed sound, but because it felt right.

I am nowhere nearly as pious as she is, but I think I know where she is coming from. I have seen so many “committed” Catholics do, say, and believe so many bizarre and disturbing things that I have come to the conclusion that it is almost better for your soul to not take your religion very seriously. Or, to put it more bluntly, if religion is becoming a way for you to be a better asshole, it is best if you just dump it altogether. God doesn’t need to help people be worse jerks than they already are.

The philosophical morale of the story is to put more faith in the things of God than in the skill and understanding of man. Going to Mass once in a while is better than going to Mass under the pretext of being the “last good Christians on earth”, or of social conservative engineering. Openly expressing doubts about this doctrine or the other is better than living in a Potemkin fortress village the walls of which anyone can see through. A soccer player making the Sign of the Cross before coming on the field is far better than the social critics who think that a Puritan God showers His decent bourgeois elect with earthly blessings. In “cultural Catholicism”, the thing is primary: not one’s perception independent of it. The symbol, in all of its earthiness, does not change. How you believe in it and how you employ it does.

I am just trying to get back to the point where having a Child Jesus next to your T.V. seems perfectly normal. Some months back, the radio in our car stopped working. While in a church here in New Orleans, my wife decided to light a candle before a relic of the Curé d’Ars so that he would fix it. Lo and behold, within a couple of hours, it came back on miraculously.

“Thank you, Curé d’Ars,” she said, “now I can listen to my Prince CD’s.”

Now that’s real religion.

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20 responses

25 05 2010
Agostino

As always, beautifully written. Though I’m amazed you kept the browser open to read as much as you did (I probably would’ve closed it after the “good/evil – us/them” tactic in the first paragraph.

“As I have put it before, how can I keep the Faith without the Church being all up in my business?”
Especially in a time where the Church’s institution insists on being all up in your business (OR ELSE!), this is a valid yet tough question, and I think we each have to find our own way. My way, largely formed by a home-aloner upbringing, was found in saying Va f–cul’ and openly going into schism. It’s a path with complicated results, and not something I’d recommend to anybody else. Like I said, I think everybody has to find his or her own way.

“For a person in Ficino’s time, Catholicism was a seamless veil that covered everything he thought and Catholicism itself was covered in the veil that is the full breath and depth of the world of Beauty and Ideas.”
Exactly! That’s what Catholicism is, IMHO, and even the name “Catholic” suggests it. Nowadays it’s as if the average Liberal, Neocon, or Trad just can’t get past the Bush-speak: “If you’re not with us, then you’re with the terrorists.” I think we’re all missing out because of that.

“Going to Mass once in a while is better than going to Mass under the pretext of being the “last good Christians on earth”, or of social conservative engineering. Openly expressing doubts about this doctrine or the other is better than living in a Potemkin fortress village the walls of which anyone can see through. A soccer player making the Sign of the Cross before coming on the field is far better than the social critics who think that a Puritan God showers His decent bourgeois elect with earthly blessings.”
I think this ties in again to the “us versus them” mentality. To me (and I think this is where you might be going with this, too), it’s better to do what you do because you actually believe in it, than to do it because it’s part of the party line. As you said, the difference between the thing itself and the belief/manner in which it’s employed.

“‘Thank you, Curé d’Ars,” she said, “now I can listen to my Prince CD’s.'”
Absolutely beautiful! Btw, I didn’t know you got married (and I dare call myself a fan of your blog, shame on me!). Congratulations!

25 05 2010
Dauvit Balfour

I’ve been fascinated by both your and Cristina’s posts on cultural Catholicism over the past few months, and especially by the post you quote of hers. I’m a midwestern, middle-class, suburban Neo-Cath/traditionlist if there ever was one, I suppose, surrounded by intellectual Catholicism, but much of it is also heartfelt, I think. At least I hope that in our better moments we really are capable of loving without thinking.

A protestant-to-bad-Catholic upbringing followed by a discovery of the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite has a curious effect on a man. I don’t pretend I’ll ever really grasp what you and Cristina are talking about, but it gives me something to mull in between conversations with my intellectual traditionalist friends, my Spirit Daily/Medjugorje parents, and all the other strange influences that I’ve been absorbing lately.

Maybe someday I’ll own a blues and barbecue joint, selling beer and meat to people listening to folk songs about drugs and sex and hellhounds, with a Crucifix on the wall behind the bar and a prayer book next to the cash register.

25 05 2010
Tom

Arturo,

How is the Church “all up in your business?” You don’t have to be a part of any of these evangelization scams or anything else for that matter.

25 05 2010
Agostino

“Maybe someday I’ll own a blues and barbecue joint, selling beer and meat to people listening to folk songs about drugs and sex and hellhounds, with a Crucifix on the wall behind the bar and a prayer book next to the cash register.”

Sweet! If you do, let me know. . . I love some good barbecue!

25 05 2010
Diego

I remember my grandmother in Colombia teaching us to always choose moderation. There was never a hint of fanaticism or sentimentality. Always a calm realization that our intellect only goes so far, priests are people too, respect authority as long as it is reasonable, and love your tradition. It’s so beautiful and simple… Why would you discard it?

Something you wrote caught my attention a few posts back. You wrote that there is this tension between what the people do and how they express their faith, and what theologians, intellectuals, an other people who are too smart for their own good can try to explain.

I used to bemoan my limited abilities, my mediocre intelligence, my lack of education, and my over reliance on intuition. Now, I am glad that my head is no obstacle to knowing God, and that my heart is not so emotional or sentimental that it gets in the way of living a simple, calm, sometimes imperfect faith.

25 05 2010
vinny

Diego,

You said everything I was thinking and much better than I could have.

25 05 2010
MCH

“Thank you, Curé d’Ars,” she said, “now I can listen to my Prince CD’s.”

This will probably terrify/scandalize the neo-trads, but one time, I prayed to St. Anthony to help me find a cheat sheet I had prepared for an important Math exam. I did find it, and just in the nick of time, too. When I got home though, I slipped on the stair and hit my head, leaving me the most brutal migraine I’ve had in years. If anyone needs proof of the truth of Catholicism, this should be more than sufficient.

25 05 2010
Sam Urfer

Heh, that sounds like St. Anthony, all right. Good guy, saintly sense of humor.

25 05 2010
vinny

It works for me.

25 05 2010
Sam Urfer

That Envoy Institute thing is kinda barf-inducing.

25 05 2010
Henry Karlson

Don’t tell Mark Shea

25 05 2010
Sam Urfer

I mostly go to Mark Shea’s blog for the links to humorous YouTube videos.

25 05 2010
vinny

I love to read the pious Saints of the past. Louis De Montfort and the like. I would say that TAN in my favorite publishing house. I am not kidding! Yet I am none of these things and often find so much contradiction within myself. So much that can’t be reconcilled. This is what we are for the most part. Far from those things that we hope to be or hope for and can’t seem to obtain. They are like spiritual love stories that we hope are true. Maybe its enough to long for it and hope its true. Maybe that is at the heart of cultural Catholicism. That distant love story. That plastic Sacred Heart statue or the lawn Madonna. They call to us and remind us of the possiblity that it is true in spite of the ugliness that lies within and without. Most of us are content to live in our mess without much struggle as long as we can hope and find comfort in our cultural Catholicism.

25 05 2010
JoAnn St. Catherine

My lawn statue of the Virgin, which is crowned with flowers right now for the month of May, says what I cannot put into words.

25 05 2010
Manuel

Nothing wrong with supporting Envoy or Ave Maria or whatever publishing house or school they got now. But I see this whole “reclaiming out Catholc culture” culture as if they were all retreating into a giant fortress surrounded by a giant moat where they can live in Catholic utopia. I find the idea tempting myself somtimes.
But then I go to grandma’s house and see el Santo Niño Doctor next to la Virgen del Carmen and Gudalupe, next to a John Paul II picture beside the TV showing a soccer game. I don’t think my grandma even has a bible. But to me, this is all normal and I remember what a real Catholic culture must have been like.

25 05 2010
vinny

I go to church almost daily. I do so not because I am more pious or devout than anyone else it is because I have to. I have to be near Catholic things. I have to be before the Blessed Sacrament. I just have to. I can’t explain it, it is just that way. That, I think, is at the heart of Catholic life this indescribable need that is satisfied by Catholicism.

26 05 2010
Miguel

This reminds me of the “Irish Pub” by my house. Last Christmas season, they had a creche behind the bar. (I leave a few kilometers outside Sevilla.

27 05 2010
faustina

I appreiciate this post. As a backwoods suburban protestant fundie -Catholic convert, I like your Charismatic trash-tv watching grandma.

28 05 2010
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