Thursday, 19 January 2012

Cultural Catholicism

This post is prompted by the rather sad and acrimonious dispute about Denum Ellarby.  I am not going to comment on the specific case, because Caroline Farrow has already written an excellent post on it.
However, reading some of the comments in the online papers made me reflect on Cultural Catholicism.

There seems to be a number of people who want their children to receive First Holy Communion because... well because it’s what their parents did with them, because their friends are doing so, and so on.

I am not denigrating that.  I think that a Catholic Culture is a good thing, and we should be very wary of demanding absolute purity of motive in all circumstances.  Many of us would not be Catholics or Christians now, if it was not the way things had always been done in our family.  Ideally we move beyond that, but it is a fair starting point.

However, what I have noticed is that that Catholic Culture itself has been distorted and corrupted.  For time and again I am reading people saying ‘That (or something else) happened to me, and we have never been to Mass since.

That strikes me as a relatively recent phenomenon: to react to some slight, real or imagined, committed by a single priest by completely excommunicating oneself.  That is not something our parents and grandparents would have done, and is a symptom of a deep malaise within the Catholic Community.

In part, that is no doubt fuelled by the media, which love to leap on a story like this and have a fun time Catholic-bashing.  But I think it goes much deeper than that, and is the fruit of years of poor education, poor catechesis, and impoverished liturgical life.

It would be easy to say that such a reaction shows the priest was right to refuse to enroll a child for preparation for the sacrament, as it proves the parents had neither the firm intention nor the competence to raise the child in the Faith, which is the commitment they are expected to make.

But I think that would be the wrong lesson to draw.  The question has to be: why are the parents so poorly formed, intellectually and spiritually, that they think refusing to go to Mass is going to 'show the Church' rather than realise that what they are really doing is risking their (and their kids') eternal salvation?

The responsibility sits with us all: bishops, priests, teachers, catechists, and laity.  We must turn this around.

Prayer and fasting...


Lazarus said...

My impression is that there are at least two general social changes going on here. First, there is a resentment of authority. Many of the cradle Catholics I know who have lapsed can point to a particular incident or area where they were told (explicitly or implicitly) they couldn't do what they wanted to. And they walked. Second, and relatedly, there is the abandonment of humility as a virtue and its replacement by a sense of unchallengeable dignity and right of respect. If someone or something wrongs you, instead of putting up with it or chalking it up to experience, you have to react in an assertive even combative manner.

I can see both those aspects within the Church but also in other areas such as schools and personal relationships.

Elaine said...

This post is really interesting and something I am struggling with as a non-cradle Catholic with children at a Catholic school. Most of the other parents appear to be going through the motions because of culture and from the other side I have no idea about the cultural bit and am muddling through (my husband is an adult convert too). Most of the Catholic children at school rarely go to Mass and when they do they often attend with grandparents.

Ben Trovato said...


An accurate and perceptive analysis, I think: I see the same things.

However, I do think that until recently the Catholic community was sufficiently well-differentiated form society at large that we had more immunity to such trends.

Now we are so enculturated that we follow (if not lead) them...