I’ve been considering the role of more indirect and oblique routes in building a sense of personal and social Catholic identity for some time now. The main reason, that I don’t share in this essay, is intimate and personal. It was this cultural Catholicism, in my own genealogical ties to the Church the beauty of the Liturgy, that kept me Catholic at a time of immense and serious doubt.
It was as if I could not fall away, no matter what I decided or how hard I tried. It was strangely comforting albeit a bit deterministic. There would be no exit for me, I soon realized.
I put it this way today, in an essay at Ethika Politika:
…the Catholic Church resembles the Hotel California. “You can check anytime you like, but you can never leave.” This is a no-exit Catholicism. Its cultural affectations are useful in describing its external details, but they fail to capture its powerful grip over the imagination, a life, and the soul.
In many cases the expression of this no-exit Catholicism is through the arts and culture. No wonder, then, why it is abundant there, even through negation—even an atheist who has felt the Catholic imprimatur will show it sometimes. Contemporary artists, for instance, cannot seem to help themselves, despite the hegemonic rise of a smug and cynical secularism.
Recently, in the mostly secular academy where I do my work, I have noticed a remarkable number of people who have this “no exit” sense of Catholicism. People cradled, raised, and/or educated by the Church who intentionally left or just drifted away, but never ceased to think and even express themselves through a Catholic lens of some kind, in serious ways—even serious jokes.
Even the rather anti-Catholic cliché of being a “recovering Catholic” expresses the same truth we know of all addicts: You never stop being an addict; it stays with you forever; you can only manage to recover by degrees and proportion. Odd as it may seem, this notion of “recovery” is, perhaps, a more faithful, albeit inverted, expression of the Catholic universal call to holiness through continual and constant conversion.