Friday, April 24, 2009

Catholic Identity and Christ

Amy Welborn has a good reflection on Catholic identity over at Beliefnet (yes, she's about the best thing that ever happened to that site). The questions she ponders have been swimming around in my head this year, especially. I've been teaching at a small Catholic homeschool academy for almost four years now and am a "parish" member of a university Newman center. The former is not only delightfully orthodox but also distinctly and deliberately traditional in taste: prayers in Latin, Baltimore Catechism, the Fr. Laux books, rosary bracelets, scapulars, etc. The university center, while providing valid sacraments, leans in the other direction: Marty Haugen Muzak, its own peculiar variations on liturgical postures, little interest in Adoration, no mention of doctrine (never), etc. The Catholic styles, tastes, and degrees of orthodoxy I encounter are, to say the least, varied.

Now, I am fully convinced of two things with regard to this discussion. First of all, your "tastes" and preferences in terms of "Catholic identity"--do I like stained glass? am I convinced that it's "cool" to be Catholic? do I find the Novus Ordo completely overrated?--do not matter at all. Second, these tastes and preferences matter tremendously.

Do you see my problem? Let me spell this out.

Our preferences in liturgy, music, or even what we deem appropriate at Mass in a sense do not matter. For example, multiple teachers at my little school have spoken with real disdain or distrust of the LifeTeen movement. They object to the Christian Rock music employed at Mass and what they perceive as the use of emotion to bring about conversion. "It just feels too Protestant." It would be better, they say, for these kids to be exposed to silence, chant, and beautiful architecture. After all, it is beauty that will draw them. Now silence is important, chant is one of the great treasures of the Church, as is architecture; but the point of all these things is to draw us to the person of Christ and to inspire us to submit to his authority on earth. "By their fruits you shall know them," and LifeTeen has borne great fruit in the lives of many of my friends. LifeTeen Masses may not be appropriate for Vatican City, but they do evidence the life of the Holy Spirit living in these teens.

The teens do need eventual exposure to the rich culture that human beings have built up around the Church, but we do well to remember that--however beautiful--human culture is just human. It is Christ who is divine and is the one we need.

On the other hand, tastes matter immensely when they tie directly into virtues of obedience and love. There are human things that every Catholic should know, but not so that he or she can be "more Catholic" or "a Real Catholic" or "a Super-Solid Catholic." We need to encounter some of these things because they may just help us to love Jesus Christ more.

For example, Eucharistic Adoration is not just about me being orthodox. It's a practice that came about in the Church as a result of and a way to foster a deeper passion for Christ truly present in the Eucharist. Some people have a distinct distaste for Adoration, and this distaste needs to be overcome. Other dislikes do not need to be overcome, such as a dislike for Christian Rock, because there's nothing intrinsically necessary about Rock 'n' Roll to your relationship with God. But profound love for the Eucharist and the desire to be in its Presence is necessary to our relationship with God.

These are just my preliminary thoughts (what? she has more thoughts?), and I will end here with Welborn's words. The point of all this is that as Catholics we need to constantly re-examine what value we are placing on our "Catholic Identity." We are not called either to re-affirm the Gothic arch or churches in-the-round. We need to find our attraction to the Church in the person of Christ and in his sacraments:

"When I read Pope Benedict (and, incidentally John Paul II), I don't see the "It's Cool To Be Catholic" or "Let's reaffirm our Fascinating Catholic Identity" in play. I see... ...the assumption that the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, his loving, serving, redeeming presence on earth. ...people today, as they always have, need Christ. They need salvation, forgiveness and mercy. ...Our call as Catholics is to bring that loving Christ to others - through what we do as Catholics individually and institutionally - but the direct, explicit goal is not to get people to like Catholics, think well of Catholics or be impressed by Catholics. The goal is...to put on Christ. And serve. And love. And bring others into his embrace."

Amen. If we put on Christ, the rest--beauty, truth, goodness, culture--will follow.


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