In Praise of Cultural CatholicismROBERT ROYAL
As American culture and the West turn ever more anti-Christian, various strategies have arisen to deal with the threat.
Whatever the shortcomings of that older culture, it seems clear that a new cultural Catholicism now must emerge as a living, concrete social reality — within existing parishes where possible, perhaps in new forms elsewhere — or the new strategies, for all their virtues, will likely fail.
Take the much-heralded New Evangelization. It's much like the old evangelization, only adapted towards people for whom the old approach didn't work. It relies heavily on arguments — "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." (1 Peter 3:15)
Rational argument is essential in a Church that values both faith and reason. But as Aquinas noted, God revealed several truths that we could know by reason. Why? Given our fallen nature, most people can't do serious thinking. They live within the practical demands of the world.
Besides, the questions are hard — as anyone who tries to "give a reason" quickly learns. Most people arrive at a confidence in their Faith through other ways.
Evangelical Catholicism, therefore, is attractive. As my sometime colleague George Weigel has argued, a holy and confident Church — popes, bishops, priests, religious, and lay people together — will inspire those of good will.
Reforming structures is part of this, as Vatican II — properly understood — intended. A legalistic and bureaucratic Church is just too much like the modern governments we labor under: ill suited to the saving truths of the Gospel.
And this is where an authentic cultural Catholicism might come in. Russell Shaw, a friend of several of us at TCT, has just published The American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America. Do yourself a favor. Rush out and buy this little gem, then read slowly and carefully.
Shaw brilliantly analyzes the conflict between the "Americanizers" (led by Isaac Hecker, Cardinal Gibbons, and others) on the one hand, and the opponents of assimilation (Orestes Brownson, Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid, etc.) on the other. Assimilation had to come as millions of Catholics began to live and work on these shores — and, up to a point, perhaps had to take the form it did.
But the culture those Catholics accepted was very different than today's. The Americanists argued that it permitted the Church to flourish for a time and even had commonalities with Catholic principles. All that has radically changed in ways even the anti-assimilationists would never have dreamed.
Americans might take this to heart. After Vatican II, we heard a lot about the Church being "defensive" and needing a mature openness. But this was mostly misleading. Sure, defensiveness is not a Christian virtue. But a proper fear of what threatens is not neurotic. It's realism.
T. S. Eliot wrote:
Any Christian oblivious to the threats, approaching persecution, now upon us simply doesn't have eyes to see. Governments and international bodies are determined to make certain Christian moral positions into "hate crimes" and infringements of "basic rights," and to make churches follow state directives as coercive as those in places like China. And they believe — rightly — most Christians will just go along.
That's why we need what I would call a cultural Catholicism, not the ghetto of the past — which, even if it were desirable, wouldn't deal well with the present. We need to create new ways to "protect" Christian living:
The pope has reminded us that the Church reinvigorates itself by turning outwards to evangelize the world. But it also has to nurture the life within. For that, we need a smart cultural community that knows its own business — and isn't afraid to protect and practice it.
Robert Royal. "In Praise of Cultural Catholicism." The Catholic Thing (May 13, 2013).
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