In the World but Not of the World

A lone Carthusian Celebrates Mass

I’ll tell you what I had in my fundamentalist Evangelical upbringing which the American Catholic church could use a hefty dose:

It was the underlying mentality that we were “in the world, but not of the world”. We went to a little Evangelical fellowship. The families were close. We shared the same world view. We shared the same religion, and that religion taught us that we were a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.” We were committed followers of Jesus Christ and the other people out there were, well, “worldly”. In our fellowship it was expected that you tithed ten percent of your income. You lived modestly. You looked forward to the second coming of the Lord. In the meantime it was your duty to share the gospel–to give your life in service to the Lord. Our heroes were the full time missionaries. Men and women from our own congregation who trained for a few years and then went off to the most inhospitable areas of the world to evangelize lost souls.

The down side of this type of Christian culture is a certain self righteous sectarianism. It could be Puritanical and legalistic. It could be exclusive and harsh to those who stepped outside the narrow world of that little church. But what it wasn’t was “worldly” they didn’t compromise with the world and they lived a life of devotion and fervor and genuine love for God and for his people.

This is what the American Catholic Church needs right now, and because we don’t have it 50% of Catholic voted openly for the most pro-abortion, anti-Catholic, anti-family president ever offered to the American electorate. It’s obvious that 50% of Catholics have simply sucked up the American propaganda un critically. They’ve gone with the flow–as only dead fish can do. The 50% I’m talking about see no distinction between being Catholic and being mainstream, un-critical, materialistic and self centered American. In the terms of the good Bible Christian folk I was brought up with–they’re worldly. They’re not only in the world, they’re OF the world. Their world view, their self understanding, their relationships, their morality is determined not by the Sacred Scriptures or the teaching of the Catholic Church, but by the American culture.

What happened? How did we end up here? I have a theory. I think Catholics in American did once have that “us and them” mentality. I think they did once have a clear identity as Catholics and that they saw themselves as a beleaguered sub group within the larger group of Protestant America. The problem was that it was linked with their ethnicity. “Us? We’re the fighting Irish!” They were an ethnic sub group that just happened to be Catholic too, and they defended their Catholicism alongside their ethnicity, but when their ethnicity faded and they became Irish American (or Polish American or Ukranian American or Italian American etc.) and then they became just American. When their ethnicity was absorbed into being American they lost their distinctive identity and so also lost any sense that their Catholicism was distinctive.

That’s over. Cultural Catholicism is dead. It’s time for committed Catholicism. It’s time for Catholics to get a dose of the mentality of my little Bible church in Pennsylvania. It is time to see ourselves as we really are and always have been–a pilgrim people–sons and daughters of the wandering Aramean–a chosen people–a people set apart–a people who are in the world but not of the world.

The sooner we see ourselves in this way the sooner the winnowing can begin. What’s winnowing? That’s what they did when they harvested the wheat: the wheat was cut and thrown on to the threshing floor where it was beaten with a flail. The beating process broke the grain off the stalk and the husk off the grain. Then the whole lot was thrown into the air with a winnowing fan–a big rake type tool. The breeze carried off the chaff–the light weight husks and stalks while the grain to be ground into flour fell back to the floor.

I sense some harvest about to happen.

 

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