Culturally Catholic, Baby.

Culture baby, culture: The Oberammergau Passion Play

Being the hardcore Catholic folk that you are, the phrase “culturally Catholic” might set you snarling. But grant me just a moment to attempt a turn-of-phrase. I maintain that those who – somewhat sullenly – call themselves “only culturally catholic” – as in “yeah-my-parents- make-me-go-to-church-but-I’m-still-hip-enough-to-think-gay-sex-is-awesome” – tend to have utterly no idea what Catholic culture is, much less a history of practicing it. There seems to be a flawed train of thought in our day to day language; that being a secular, washed-up version of someone who once attended Catholic school is being culturally Catholic. Because to practice Catholic culture is to practice the Catholic religion, and as it turns out, the more old-school, faithful, and stubbornly grumpy religiosity one has about them, the more of a Catholic culture they are embedded in. These apathetic and dismal folk should take a dose of honesty and call themselves “genetically Catholic” or “unfortunately Catholic” or just “not Catholic”. It’s matter of fact that one can only be with us or against us, but if thou art with us – don’t whine.

This culture, by the way, happens to be a cure to the dreaded disease I call “being white”. You see, us white, American, 16-20 something year olds, despite looking great in preppy clothes, are for the large part a people without a home land, and a people without a culture. There really isn’t much to informing the world that you are “1/4 Irish, 1/8 German, 1/8 Dutch, 1/4 Jew and 1/4 Polish, dammit!” though it makes wonderful conversation, and gives an excuse to celebrate a wide plethora of obscure holidays. And while there’s American patriotism, a thing I’m more than a little skeptical of, American culture is nothing more than watered down English culture, which is soon to be a little more than watered down EU culture, unless the Anglicans really do convert. Anyhow, call me a pessimist, but there doesn’t seem to be a massive cultural bond created by admitting common Americanhood. Just try it. Next time someone is about to punch you, give it a good old, “Hey we’re all American here!” Juxtapose your enemies response with some common Irish blood between you.

YouTube Preview ImageBut Catholicism gives us this culture. From the sacred art to the Lost Cause Christendom, the Saints to the drinking,the literature to the Crusades to the Feasts to the music…being culturally Catholic is actually much more intense than being religiously Catholic. The latter means going to Church, the former means carrying a statue of Our Lady down the street in a parade in a stream of tequila-wielding Mexicans singing Ave Maria out of tune. Just saying. Next time someone tells you they’re only culturally Catholic, invite them to ride a horse through a bonfire, in the splendid celebration of St. Anthony’s feast, pioneered by nutcase Italians, an event which is “only culturally Catholic”

As for myself, I am grateful to have Catholic culture. I am grateful and joyful to skip class to attend the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, much in the same way Irishmen are grateful to be drunk on St. Patty’s day. I’m happy to be part of an inseparable community, I’m happy to have something just a little more than this lost generation, something to hold on to in a country where family is underrated, strong culture is non-existent and patriotism is laughable. There is no real way to sum up the emotions stirred by this intangible family I belong to, besides to tell you that late at night, coming home from work, I do firmly believe that I’m returning to a castle and a stronghold, with all the romanticism is entails.

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