Saturday, September 17, 2005

What Label?

A friend asked recently what kind of Catholic I consider myself. We have all different kinds of Catholics, don't we? Protestants have their own divisions, which so often seem to fall into convenient pairs: liberal and conservative, mainline and evangelical, high church and low. Once, Catholics were classified either as Good Catholics (go to mass, get married in the Church, don't commit mortal sins in full view of the press--think Spencer Tracy, before Katharine Hepburn) or Bad Catholics (think Charlie Sheen before Denise Richards); there wasn't much else. Today we have liberal Catholics (Sen. Kennedy), traditional Catholics (Rick Santorum), traditionalIST Catholics (Mel Gibson--and how long did it take the media to figure out what every Catholic on the internet knew for years, that Gibson isn't actually a Catholic?), social justice Catholics, lapsed Catholics, Buddhist Catholics.

But the Great Divide in the Church is between those now in their forties, fifties, and sixties, who are all either Pre-Vatican II Catholics or Post-Vatican II Catholics. This is the faultline that will continue to be the normative division until Fr. Andrew Greeley keels over at his word processor, whether the rest of us like it or not.

I don't know what kind of Catholic I am. Post-post-V2 Catholic, I guess. Am I the only Catholic under forty or over seventy who is glad that at last the Boomers and all others who are determined to fight the Vatican II wars are starting to retire out of the system?

Not making this up: When taking the mandatory baptism class before getting Offspring #1 baptized, the nun teaching it started going on about how the Church's understanding of baptism had changed since we were all kids, before Vatican II. We were all looking around the room at each other, silently noticing that we were all in our 20's and not a soul of us born before around 1970. We didn't say anything.

Six years later, sitting equally bored through a mandatory parents' meeting before Offspring #1 could have her First Communion (notice a theme here? the Church is careful to help you expiate your sins before sacraments by forcing you to sit through interminable lectures on stuff you already know), the DRE launched into a philippic against the evils of the Baltimore Catechism which we all (according to her) were forced to memorize by meaningless rote as children. Again, there was the silent glance-around-Are-you-hearing-this-too? around the table; I doubt that any of us had ever even seen a Baltimore Catechism. The DRE, like the nun, had a Catholic identity so wrapped up in the Great Leap Forward of the '60's Church that it had completely overwhelmed any sense that she was addressing a set of Catholics who had no such identity.

We don't want to fight the Vatican II wars. We like the mass in English; and we like pretty churches with statues and stained glass and paint. We like women being able to come to mass without searching their purses for something to cover their heads; and we appreciate nuns in their habits and priests in their priestly outfits rather than mufti. We like having it emphasized to our kids that the faith involves service and social justice; and we want them to have to learn the Ten Commandments and the Works of Mercy by heart. We don't want to go back to the "bad old days" of pre-V2; and we're sick and tired of hearing how bad and old they were, because first we suspect that the same people who brought us the Me Generation and the Decade of Greed are not in fact the best judges of a healthy culture and aesthetics, and second because we Just Don't Care. It's like listening to John Kerry go on about Vietnam, or Tom Brokaw opine about the Greatest Generation. Can we get on with being Just Catholic, already?

Just Catholic.


Blogger sophia said...

So, if Mel Gibson is not Catholic, what is he?

6:21 AM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

As someone famous once said, it depends what the definition of "is" is. "Catholic" in a general sense can apply to all sorts of people. I use it in the common-sense definition of "those who are in communion with a bishop who is himself in communion with the Bishop of Rome."

Previous to "Passion," it was widely speculated that Mel Gibson, like his father Hutton Gibson, was a sedevacantist and schismatic. There were certain confirming data, though Mel wouldn't say: I recall an interview with Gibson back in the '90's after he had traveled to Rome, where the Hollywood reporter asked innocently if Mel had had an audience with the Pope. Mel's response was sharp enough (the reporter didn't give an exact quote, but it seemed to amount to "hell no") to startle the poor Tinseltown scribe who, like everyone else, had bought the "Mel is a very conservative Catholic" line.

Anyway it's been since confirmed that Gibson is not in communion with any bishop in communion with Rome. In other words, while he's free to consider himself a Catholic (though most sedevacantists wouldn't consider the *rest* of us to be real Catholics), he isn't Catholic by the normal meaning of the word: that is, he isn't a member of the Catholic Church.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous amy said...

Well, I for one, know exactly what kind of Catholic I am - a new one. I am a Protestant convert confirmed just five years ago, and as such, I probably have very little businesss chiming in on this family debate. However, Sharon has emboldened me with her latest post to hold opinions less timidly, so here goes...

It seems to me that the comparison of pre-Vatican II Catholics to the Greatest Generation is a good one. For several decades after War II, the politicans who held power in Washington were laregely holdovers or veterans. Their view of geopolitics shaped American policy well into the Reagan years. Their fear of communism bought us a monstrous military and a war in Vietnam. And during the late sixties and early seventies, their values seemed increasingly out of step with those of younger Americans.

However, I do believe it was right and fitting for men who had lived through WWII to continue holding the reins for many years afterwards. My grandparents' generation carried a sobriety, patriotism, and sense of political responosibilty which I have always admired but never possessed. From them I have heard first-hand stories of POW camps and concentraion camps; and I am a bit sad, even somewhat fearful, that my children will never have the same experience. How real will the Holocaust seem to a generation whose only connections will come from textbooks and memorials?

In the same way, the battles of Vatican II are not ours. There are many more relevant issues facing the Catholic Church today. But I also believe it would be hard to overstate the importance of Vatican II in this century. When the stories of that tumultuous era are lost to living memory, I believe the Church will have lost something precious.

9:54 AM  

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