Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Catholic Culture - Manic, Depressive and Everything in Between

[DISCLAIMER: It's going to sound in this post as if I'm never satisfied, that all I really want to do is find fault with Enthusiastic Catholics, Ghetto Catholics and Muddled Catholics - the Manic, the Depressive and Everything in Between (respectively) - but my criticism is not about Mania, Depression or Confusion as such - but about the artificial cultivation of them, as if they were the end for which we should strive.]

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1. The Artificially Manic - in which the author tries to explain Evangelical and Hipster Catholicism.

Some of the reaction to my latest post Evangelical Catholicism and What to Look Out For came via private email.  It seems that some of my readers, like me, feel that there's something wrong with Evangelical Catholicism or What-You-May-Call-It, which is hard to put a finger on and hard to find a name for.

What some of my readers complained about was not Evangelism as such, but more the marketing notion of  Evangelical Catholics or Rock-Concert Catholics that Catholicism is just another consumer choice that we need to get out there and pitch.  I certainly agree with the evangelical spirit - we are after all, called to make disciples of all nations - and I certainly agree that each of us needs to live the Faith more fully; but I suspect that there's something askew here and it has to do with the Artificial Cultivation of Enthusiasm.

This becomes part of the program of Evangelical Catholicism, the Super-Disciples Movement, Life Teen and so forth because of the mistaken notion that if we don't gin up enthusiasm for the Faith, the Faith will go away.  Now this is a hard criticism to make in an age where 80% of all Catholics have no enthusiasm for the Faith whatsoever, or so it seems.  But I'm not talking about natural or even supernatural enthusiasm, I'm talking about the cultivation of a stoked-up and giddy enthusiasm, a thrilling but what's bound to be a shallow and short-lived enthusiasm. There's plenty of excitement at a Life Teen Mass, for instance, but it's a mile wide and an inch deep, like the Catholicism of Life Teen's founder, who has been accused of having some serious problems.

As an illustration of the mistaken thinking that leads to an over-emphasis on enthusiasm, let me quote G. K. Chesterton, who described the difference between Shakespeare and Milton thus ... "Milton's religion was Milton's religion, and ... Shakespeare's religion was not Shakespeare's."  Milton was Protestant; Shakespeare was Catholic.  In Catholic sacramental theology, God is present for us whether we get all worked up about God or not.  Belloc once talked about something being "automatic" so that you didn't have to think about it, "kind of like prayers".  Knowing Belloc he probably said this as a way to take a jab at Protestants who assume that if you don't "feel" your prayers, they don't count, who assume that saying prayers automatically is an example of "vain repetition" - and not an example of trust; trust in the objective reality of God and His Church, and in the efficacy of Sacraments and sacramentals.  Now we should not make it a point to say our prays in a rote or unconscious way, but if we sometimes do, out of tiredness or simply because we're so used to saying them, God does not thereby cease to listen or cease to exist, as the Enthusiasts seem to suspect.

Artificially Stoked Enthusiasm likewise consists in a degradation of the ordinary.  Christopher West and the Westians wax erotic on sex (an orgasm is extraordiary), but ignore marriage and the family (which is quite ordinary).  The Super Disciples movement is all about intentional and emphatic and extraordinary expressions of faith, slighting the ordinary and fumbling and mundane acceptance and living of faith (the pitchman with charisma who can describe his faith is a valuable Catholic, the soccer mom who lives it is not).  The Rad-Trads, like the Life Teens, think it ain't real if it doesn't move you (though they look to be moved in different ways).  In all cases, normal people and average situations - the sacramental - gets short shrift.

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2. The Artificially Depressed - in which the author brings up the Catholic Ghetto.

But how does this tie in to the Catholic Ghetto?  After all, I criticize the Ghetto for being lame and uninspiring, bad work done for God's glory; a closed and deliberately low quality culture that we for some reason settle for and become content with.

Am I not contradicting myself by saying that habitually fomenting enthusiasm is a bad thing, but not doing our best for God and for one another is also a bad thing?

On the contrary, I think the two are related.

In the artificially hyped religion of the Fervent and in the artificially depressed culture of the Ghetto we see a Faith that's Unreal.  We can't be always excited all the time; that's neither normal nor sane.  And we can't be happy with bad Catholic novels, bad Catholic TV shows, bad (but orthodox) Catholic colleges - or if we can, we can't expect normal people to.

So the two extremes are not helpful, for both seek solace in something that's not real and that can't be sustained.

What about the middle?  What about the Muddled Middle?

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3. The Artificially Luke-Warm - in which the author, to his dismay, describes "Everything in Between"

There's a third home for Unreality that threads the needle between the excitement of the Evangelicals and the boredom of the Ghetto Dwellers: and it's the typical Marty Mass - the Mass of Marty Haugen, Dan Schutte, and David Haas - the Mass where awe and Fear of God are banished and where gay guitar music dominates, the Mass that assures us it's All About Us.  The Mass that you see all around you and that you simply can't avoid, especially if you're on the road and have to go to the closest Mass you can and take your chances.

In none of these cases - the ginned up Evangelical Catholicism, the Marty Mass of the Muddled Middle, or the Depressed narrowness of the Ghetto - in none of these cases is the culture actually engaged.  Real life, daily life, normal people and serious worship are bypassed.  It's all contrived, all made up, all manipulated.

  • Is it good to be Enthused?  Of course.  But it's bad to stoke up a false enthusiasm.  And it can't last.


  • Is it good to be satisfied with the poverty of the Ghetto?  Of course, especially when the culture at large is anti-Christian.  But it's bad to aim for the Ghetto as a goal, and to hail it as true Catholic culture, when it's really quite false and only exists because of the contrived and dissociated nature of the Church in America.  And it can't last.


  • Is it good to come to a run-of-the-mill Mass, even a Marty Mass?  Of course.  But unless we realize such a Mass does far more to drive normal people out of the Church and far more to nip the Fear of God (the beginning of wisdom) in the bud, the more we'll squander any opportunity of real evangelization - not to mention serious worship.  Because it can't last.
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4. Does Anything Last? - in which the author finds hope, for "the last shall be first".


And meanwhile, old ladies still pray the Rosary and believe.  Good but simple priests still say Mass and hear Confession.  The sinner down the street still sits in an empty church and talks to God.

And Jesus Christ still patiently bides His time and waits for the rest of us.

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