Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is Catholicism Really Go Big or Go Home?

Haven't really said much.  Been very busy working at Catholic Lane and Catholic Exchange, look to see some exciting news next week.

A few weeks ago I remarked that a lot of my traditionalist brethren look at Catholicism as a "go big or go home" type of religion.  By this they mean that if you aren't going to become fully immersed into everything the Catholic Church has to offer (the sacraments, her liturgy, her doctrine, her culture) then there really isn't much of a point to becoming Catholic.  This sounds right.  What's the point of doing something if you don't do it 100%?  That's the Alpha Catholic in me talking.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years (especially the past three as my life as a bachelor ended) it is that the whole concept of the Alpha-Catholic is a bunch of nonsense.  In fact, the way many look at the faith in the alpha fashion is one of the reasons why the crisis continues to deepen.

Catholicism is not a religion of big things.  If we are honest with ourselves, even the "best" of Catholics aren't really that good compared to the saints in heaven.  What we are normally saying when we enter Alpha-Catholic mode (and every Catholic runs the danger of doing this) is that the things I value about the faith are the epitome of Catholicism.  In other words, I am the epitome of Catholicism.

People claim this is the Catholicism of Christendom and all the Holy Popes.  Yet for some reason, we never seem to find this kind of talk in the works of the spiritual masters.  Do they speak of the things we do on this earth in terms of "go big or go home?"  Or do they not realize that pretty much everything we do here on this earth is pretty darn small?  How many would think of themselves as the Alpha Catholic after reading a few chapters of The Ascent of Mt. Carmel (to say nothing of the Dark Night!) or The Spiritual Combat?  I think the entire point of those works was that if we were really as good of Catholics as we thought, they wouldn't have to write those books because we are still very spiritually immature.

I think traditionalism should (and does) stand on something else.  It stands on the fact that like the good servants in the Gospel, we are faithful in small things.  Things like frequent penance and regular reception of the sacraments don't require advanced degrees or incredible knowledge.  They only require us to acknowledge our unworthiness and instead of seeking our own route, accepting God's gifts in the sacraments.  We pray the Rosary because 15 minutes a day meditating on the life of Christ can take your further than writing the greatest theological work.

This is why I don't care too much for George Weigel's "Evangelical Catholicism".  For Weigel, the strength of how Catholic we are is rooted in "friendship with Jesus Christ", seems innocent right?  Until you realize a couple things:  1.)  We are all pretty lousy friends with Christ and 2.) The idea that "conservative Evangelicals" have more in common with "conservative Catholics" than "progressives Catholics" is kind of nonsense.  Scratch that.  It is complete and utter nonsense.  I have several Protestant friends, and we value each others companionship, and we especially value discussing doctrine.  I value their study of the Bible, and my friends across the Tiber have educated me in many things, causing me to deepen my own faith. Yet they aren't part of the Catholic Church.  Even the loosest of imperfect communicants of the Church has more in common with me than Evangelical Protestants.

But in the end, Weigel's "Evangelical Catholicism" is just like the Catholicism of my "go big or go home" friends.  Both look to define their Catholicity on their own terms.  Holy Mother Church says that if we are baptized, we belong to the Church, even if we don't know it, or even if we hate it.  From there, we have to recognize we are sinners in need of penance.  After that, we place our trust in Christ in all things, including in the Church He established for the purpose of providing sound doctrine and bringing souls to Christ.  The strength of our Catholicity is instead based on how much we trust in God and accept the authority of the Church he founded.  All of this flows from that original point of recognizing our inherent unworthiness.    If getting to heaven was based on the strength of our friendship with Christ, none of us would get to heaven.

This isn't to downplay doctrine.  Doctrine needs to flow from this mindset.  Christ afterall did establish a Church, and you have to follow it if you dare to profess yourself a Christian.  That includes following everything she is given by Christ and Divine Revelation.  I'd argue this is the mindset that built Christendom and that lovely Catholic culture, and the mindset from which true friendship with Christ flows.

It is also the thing missing the most from contemporary Catholicism of every flavor.  Until we start adopting that mindset, don't expect much to change in the Church.


  1. I don't want a "friendship" with Jesus -- I know it's something I could never live up to and will betray at the first instant. I'm more comfortable with Christ as my Judge and Redeemer. At least I have a better understanding of where I stand in relation.

  2. The importance of "friendship with Jesus" was a major emphasis of Pope Benedict XVI. So I don't think Weigel was wrong about this.

    Instead, the problem with "Evangelical Catholicism" is that it is a poor imitation of Evangelical culture that sprung from a political alliance between conservative Catholics and Evangelicals over social issues. "Evangelical Catholics", including Weigel, tend to put an extreme emphasis on "culture war" issues while ignoring the significant theological and anthropological difference between Catholic teaching and Evangelical belief. Social teaching of the Church? What's that?

    I believe the negative reaction to Pope Francis among some conservative Catholics shows just how "Evangelicalized" the US Church has become, and not in a good way. No, the Pope is not a Republican. (Neither was Benedict or JPII, but I digress.)

  3. James, I have to say, and I've told you this before, pick-and-choose-to-suit-the-Protestant-majority seems to be an all-encompassing American disease. It explains both Weigelirico and Sebelius


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