This week I attended the Napa Conference in California for the first time.

It was great to meet so many readers of this blog and to connect with publishers and editors I have been working with, but who I have not had the chance to meet face to face.

For those who are not familiar with it, the Napa Conference is hosted by the Napa Institute in California. It seeks to draw together Catholics who are engaged in various apostolates and charities to network, share, encourage and support. Having come away from the conference I am impressed by the professionalism and hard work that has gone into the effort and have come away with three words that begin with “E”

First there is a huge amount of energy. When I returned to the USA from England in 2006 one of the first things that hit me about the Catholic Church in America was the energy of the laity. Folks were fired up about their faith in a way not seen in England and Europe.

This energy was expressed as Enthusiasm and a genuine positive spirit that contrasted with the indifference and pessimism about the faith in the Old Country.

The energy and enthusiasm took form in the great entrepreneurial spirit of American Catholics. In the true Spirit of Vatican II the laity were getting up off their tails, rolling up their sleeves and DOING something. They were starting colleges, schools, and universities. They were founding radio and TV stations, producing podcasts, writing books, starting publishing houses and creating blogs, websites, podcasts and video content. All this takes money, and the funds were also flowing. Folks were investing in these ventures and funding missionary efforts, street evangelization, food pantries, pro life women’s centers, soup kitchens, homeless shelters. They were building new convents and monasteries, starting new religious orders and renewing the old.

I should add that all this energy, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit was almost exclusively among what might be labelled “conservative Catholics.” Meanwhile the old guard had the established colleges and universities, the old Catholic papers and the qging and doomed religious orders decimated by the modernism and infested with secularism.

I discovered that there were two Catholic churches in the USA. The one with energy, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit and the church with another “E” words, “Establishment” The Establishment church was top heavy, bureaucratic, hidebound, clericalist and locked into dated 1970s concepts and ideologies. Wedded to the Spirit of the Age, this other church was not only clinging to the past, but like a madman, kept repeating the same mistakes–and when certain ideas and methods didn’t work they just went on believing that the answer was to do more of the same thing. This is like the person who finds that their car doesn’t go so they fill the tank with orange juice, and when the car still doesn’t go they lower the windows and fill the interior with orange juice.

Not only does the energy, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial Catholic Church exist in America, but the Napa Conference shows it is thriving. One of the themes that emerged in numerous private conversations was that many of the energetic and enthusiastic and entrepreneurial Catholics represented at Napa feel confused, bewildered,dismayed (and even threatened) by much of the present official Catholic leadership.

I’m convinced that this is because the powers that be in the old European Church simply do not understand three “Es” American Catholicism. They have no idea how well informed, well trained and well funded this informal group of Catholics are. They are blind to the growth of the new and newly reformed religious orders. They are blind to the burgeoning enrollment at conservative Catholic colleges. They have no idea not only how well funded these efforts are, but also how generous the benefactors are. My feeling is that the establishment Catholics simply wish to write the whole thing off as a bunch of “rigid Tradtitionalists”.

To be sure, some of the folks about which I am writing are rigid traditionalists. But not nearly as rigid or as numerous as the hidebound, clericalist, close minded modernists who occupy positions of power in the establishment church.

Those who are blind to this movement should realize that all the attempts to suppress them by inhibitions on traditional worship, suppression of their apostolates, cancelling their mission and silencing them will only turn them into martyrs and strengthen their cause–a cause which is just about the only vibrant force for evangelization, ecumenism and renewal in the church today.