Sunday, February 14, 2016

In praise of cultural Catholicism

As I like to say, a selling point of Catholicism is we contain many cultures; we're not tied down to one. We are first a shared faith. But the church has shaped those many cultures so there is "cultural Catholicism," the Christian community incarnated and inculturated, adapted to a certain place and time, yet recognizably the same faith. It overlaps with Bad Catholics: lapsed Catholics and those of us who just can't stop sinning but know we are (and things such as Lent are here to remind us). Not the same as heretics, people who are trying to change the faith, or schismatics, people who essentially share our faith but leave or remain outside the church.

There's American Catholicism, Roman Rite and Irish-based with Italian, Spanish, and Slavic infusions. A historical accident is that because of numbers and who got here first, American Catholicism isn't Byzantine and never will be, but I wouldn't mind if it were. Beats the Novus Ordo. My first traditional Mass was Ukrainian.

A catena of quotations too good not to share.
It's understandable why orthodox Catholics deride "cultural Catholicism" but they really shouldn't. In a lot of cases, there's more there than they think.
R. Scott Appleby would praise cultural Catholicism as an example of traditionalism or small-o orthodoxy as opposed to fundamentalism, which is a reaction to Modernism that is itself tainted with modernity, an adaptable (which is not per se bad), modern distortion of the faith trying too to emphasize certain truths so it obscures others. As I like to say, my pre-conciliar Catholicism is a big tent, something that included everybody from mafiosi to Mother Cabrini (Catholic cultures: extreme holiness and extreme evil juxtaposed, spiritual combat's front line, whilst Protestants favor a certain mediocrity, the lukewarmness Jesus condemned), not a micromanaging cult of people who think they're perfect, as critics of Catholic traditionalism accuse us of thinking of ourselves. And in the Christian context, of course the Bible isn't self-interpreting (ever try to read all that sex and violence in the Old Testament?) and nowhere in scriptura does it say sola. Kallistos (Ware) is right that scripture is actually part of big-T Tradition, holy tradition as the Orthodox call it.
Cultural Catholicism is better than no Catholicism.

"Novus Ordoism is not Catholicism." Do you mean the sacraments are invalid or do you mean that Novus Ordoism isn't the same spirit that built Christendom? These are two distinct assertions.
Indeed. It isn't the same spirit that built Christendom. It's a mistake, not heresy. I have no conscience problem with the new Mass in English as reformed by Pope Benedict XVI so I'm not leaving the church. But the old Mass is better. We should have a vernacular option for it; I like the unity of Latin too. Reasons I like Benedict the Great's Mass better than ICEL: the orthodoxy is clearer and it has the same cadence, though not the same idiom, as the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer, my first rite and the symbol, more so than a usable text because it's Protestant, of American Anglo-Catholics' resistance to the Sixties. Like the old Mass it's idiot-proof: in my travels I've fulfilled my Sunday obligation at liberal parishes and, just like before Vatican II, they have to say it right or else. So it's Catholic in spite of them.
"Catholicism is like being alive. Either you are or you are not." We all know tons of Catholics who rarely darken the doorway of a church... And yet they implicitly believe in the power of the sacraments. Without a second thought, the Church is in their life when their basic lack of willingness to live the traditional Catholic lifestyle means she just as well could have been left to the wayside. Call it mere habit if you like, but it's a good habit to have, no?
A naysayer:
Cultural Catholicism is the only compelling aspect of it, realistically. Do you mean to say some people are in the Catholic boat for the... umm... theology? Haha.
The theology? Absolutely! Born Catholics often don't choose their religion, sticking with the one they've been assigned. A few people become Catholic just for marriage's sake but we get real conversions too, from Augustine to Newman to Leonid Feodorov to Dorothy Day to Richard John Neuhaus. We have been handed a theology worth converting to. God the Prime Mover, Jesus the God-man, our holy mother the church giving grace until he comes back, the hope of heaven, the mercy of purgatory, and the justice of hell. Your line is the same as mine about Mormonism. Their theology is indefensible; they don't get intellectual conversions. All of their conversions in the United States are cultural. People are impressed by nice Mormons looking out for each other and, a good thing, want the cultural '50s back. The Mormons keep their people so tied into the Mormon community and so busy that they don't have time to think about the theology. We've been given so much more.
Who says cultural Catholics have no faith? You learn from a religion by more than just books on theology and reciting creeds; it's a life experience.
Vatican II damaged our Catholic culture and in so doing almost killed the church in our country. We didn't need that council to preach to us about "community"; we HAD it and we blew it.
I think it shouldn't be derided, but we shouldn't be complacent with it. "Cultural Catholicism" has kept a lot of souls in the Church. It has a lot more staying power than treating the faith as a set of intellectual principles like most conservative Catholics do.

The most important part is that as we are called to renewal; we are called to far more than a simply cultural way of living the faith.

But I would far more take the cultural expressions of the faith above the overemphasis on the intellect.
Keep the faith, kids.

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