Friday, May 23, 2008

A Cultural Divide

sometimes rears it's head inside the Catholic Church. Given the reputation for lockstep unity that the Church at least used to have, this is more than a little odd. The most striking point of divergence in my experience is the attitudes toward catechisms, in particular the Baltimore Catechism.

My own memories of that Catechism aren't quite as negative as most of my generation. But then, I'm a little too quick to like structure and simplicity. The obvious deficiency (from a perspective fifty-years later) in that training program was it's failure to focus on our relationship with Christ as central to our experience and beliefs as Catholics. Thus, those to whom the memorized answers meant little or nothing became the same generation that left the Catholic Church for a bewildering variety of substitutes, but mostly for nothing organized at all. There was no living, vibrant love of Jesus to anchor them.

In any case, even the word "catechist" is avoided by many "teaching' the Catholic religion, especially to adults. The post-Vatican II mentality assumes that religion isn't something we can share at an intellectual level, with definite answers to specific questions. Rather, it is an almost completely anti-intellectual experience that can only be shared non-judgmentally. Hence, "facilitator" is the preferred title for adult religion courses, such as RCIA. Avoiding hard questions that suggest definite answers becomes a priority in systems of this sort.

Has this generation, the one that thought the Second Vatican Council meant a complete re-tooling of Catholic Teaching and Worship, succeeded in teaching it's disciples that Catholicism, indeed organized religion of any sort, are completely unnecessary? To what degree are they responsible for the one-third of cradle Catholics who have left the Church? And is there a new generation that is ready to re-unite the intellectual and spiritual elements of Catholic Teaching?

Why we're different: "The latest issue of Commonweal contains a reflection by a 'Young Fogey'/JPII priest. The most interesting section concerns the four years he spent living with a baby-boomer pastor during his first assignment. Here's a key excerpt:

Our best conversations took place at the dinner table. My pastor recalled memorizing the Baltimore Catechism in grade school. I told him that I made collages about my feelings in religious-ed class. When he complained that his seminary formation had been too militaristic, I told him of my frustrations with a seminary formation that seemed too lax. When he spoke of the years he spent studying Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, I expressed embarrassment at not knowing how to chant the Pater Noster as I concelebrated Mass with Benedict XVI at World Youth Day a few years ago in Cologne. When my pastor expressed gratitude that the clerical dress code had been relaxed over the years, I said I thought it was important that the priest be a visible sign of the church, to remind the world that God is not dead. But when it came to the abuse scandals, we were on the same page-or at least in the same book. The scandals hit us both hard, though in different ways.

There's a similar dynamic at work among the laity of course. The bulk of the participants in my Monday morning group are post-boomers with no memory of the Council or the 'Old Church.' Another group whose members are about a generation older meets later in the week to study the Sunday readings. I had the pleasure of meeting this 'Wednesday group's' leader after our wonderful May crowning yesterday. He told me I sometimes served as their 'conservative Catholic point of reference,' which I took as a compliment. The conservative qualifier struck me as a nod to a post-boomer outlook that tends to be a bit more Magisterium-friendly. That's reflected by the educational philosophy of the Monday group itself: cognition first, reflection second. You won't find participants debating clerical celibacy, railing against the Church's 'feudal structure,' or using the word 'pharisaical' to describe a point of doctrine. Indeed, doctrine and dogma are seen as 'helps' not hindrances. I'd like to think we take the best of the old -- content, memorization, rigor -- and enhance it with what is good about the new -- discussion, fellowship, apostolate. Let's hope it bears fruit."

(Via Ten Reasons.)

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