I spent some time the other day trolling through some Facebook pages of Catholics on the other side.
What I mean by the “other side” is the other brand of Catholicism in the USA.
You see, there are two Catholic churches in America. The first is the establishment church. This is what’s left of cultural Catholicism. This Catholic Church has all the big “Catholic” colleges in the population hubs of the East coast, Northern Midwest and California. They have the big old seminaries, colleges and universities. They have the old diocesan structures, the parishes, the schools, the high schools and the big old convents set in sprawling grounds in a country mansion left to them by some heiress a hundred years ago. They have established religious orders in the big cities who march in the gay pride parade and they have their own publishing houses that grind out spirituality books and theology books that nobody reads, but they keep grinding them out because the publishing houses are subsidized either by the big expensive universities or a religious order with hefty endowments.
This establishment Catholicism is something I know exists, but I have no connection with it. I’m in South Carolina, thank God, where Catholics are still fewer than 5% of the population. We don’t have any Catholic colleges or universities and the whole state only has three Catholic high schools. From where I am, the establishment Catholic Church feels more like the Anglican Church in England. It’s a comfortable cog in the establishment machine. It enjoys the wealth, prestige and prosperity that comes with power.
It fits in.
Part of fitting in is that the establishment Catholics have accepted the philosophy, morals and beliefs of the prevailing culture. We used to define “cultural Catholicism” as “I’m Catholic because my grandparents were Polish.” but there is another form of cultural Catholicism–the Catholicism that adapts itself to the culture around it. They do this without thought or pre meditation. That’s the way it is. This is why politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi can support abortion and turn around with a straight face and say they are “Catholics in good standing” and this is also why the members of the establishment cultural Catholicism not only remain silent, but smile on them, give them communion and honorary degrees. This is why Fr James Martin SJ has a huge following on social media, is feted at colleges and churches across this other Catholic Church and why the whole secular moral agenda from abortion to same sex marriage is embraced and integrated into their Catholic faith. This is why they cozy up to big money, big power and big politicians.
This is why the bishops and cardinals don’t stand up for the Catholic faith, but simply go with the flow. This is the way it is. We dine at high table. We don’t rock the boat.
Maybe this used to work, but it doesn’t anymore. This cultural Catholicism is now more culture than Catholicism.
Last week we had a free church layman who works with the poor in our town come speak to our monthly priest’s meeting. He spoke movingly of the work his organization does with addicts, the homeless, orphans and women in crisis pregnancies. He’s a born again Christian with a heart for the poor. He has a deep personal relationship with Christ and love for his fellow Christians.
I reckon he’s a pretty good Catholic even though he doesn’t know it. Certainly when it comes to faith and morals he has a better understanding of the basic principles and premises of the Christian faith than most cultural Catholics.
On a regular basis I hear of all the former Catholics who now fill the pews of the various Protestant sects. I know I’m supposed to blame them for leaving the one, true faith, but to be honest, I have to look at what they left and what they went to, and I understand. I sympathize.
They were looking for a vital and real Christian faith. In the cultural Catholic parishes they got bland and shallow music, a game show approach to liturgy, preaching which was a blend of greeting card sentimentality, Marxist ideology and self congratulatory jokes. They wanted more so they left.
Oh yes, I know the Protestant churches have their faults too, and I know many of the refugees from cultural Catholicism didn’t want more, they wanted less.
But I’m getting to the heart of the matter, and that is cultural Catholicism versus intentional Catholicism. At the foundation of the faith is the personal encounter with Christ. It is the risen Lord looking you in the eye and saying, “Follow me.”
Then there is that shift of the heart we call conversion, where the individual soul is touched and turned and everything is transformed.
I won’t speak for others and I won’t judge them. God knows all, but speaking for myself, I feel more affinity with the born again Baptist brother than I do with a whole busload of cultural Catholics.