As Hispanics Depart: Does Catholicism Ask Too Little of Us?

As Hispanics Depart: Does Catholicism Ask Too Little of Us? October 28, 2014

muslimstudentprayingatCUA [CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1]

Is the big failing that the Church doesn’t really “require” prayer of anyone, as long as they’re attending Sunday Mass, and that its fasting is not challenging enough to seem meaningful because it misses a real element of sacrifice borne out of love?

How much of this plays into the fact that Mormons are incredibly social among themselves and family-oriented, while Catholicism is still not great at noticing, or welcoming, or accommodating the person in the next pew?

Aside from a small leadership bureaucracy and appointed bishops more akin to how we think of a priest or rabbi, Mormonism’s authority structure is home-based; Islam does not require Sunday obligations, priests, confession — how much of this plays into people not wanting to have to deal with human authority that often seems out of touch and arbitrary?

Both conversion trends start with well-educated women, who claim that the required modesty in dress helps them to be respected for their intelligence, rather than their appearance, particularly in Islam. Here, we have to ask, has Catholicism become too at-ease with Western standards of dress? In some Catholic cultures modesty gets a degree of lip-service, but skin and “sexiness” are prized.

“As a Latina, you are raised, if you got it, to show it, to flaunt it as much as possible,” says Ismail, 44, raised in a Puerto Rican Catholic family.

Now she shows very little of her skin. Instead she wears the hijab, the Islamic veil or headscarf.

This is not true only of the Latino culture. One need only go to Mass in the summer, or to a Catholic wedding, to get an eyeful of how conformed Catholics have become to the culture of the curve.

Both Islam and Mormonism are “patriarchal” and yet both make specific direction to rights and respect for women. In these articles, many women speak of feeling respected and also “safe” because the men have their roles; the women have theirs and they tend to see complementarity within them and accept it, in ways that Catholic women of the West can not or will not.

“There are a lot of injustices, and when I started learning about Islam and the rights of women it definitely helped me liberate and, of course, caused chaos in my house,” she said in an interview at the Islamic Center of N.Y.U. in Manhattan. She was dressed in a long royal blue skirt and a black blouse, her face and neck veiled by a niqab, which covers everything but her eyes. Her family in Chicago doesn’t know yet she covers her face.[…]
Eventually, she decided to look closer, even though she wasn’t thinking about leaving her Catholic faith…In particular, the rights of women in Islam caught her attention. S.A. says she was surprised to find out that men are asked to help women in the daily household chores. She was also pleased to learn that she had no obligation to share her salary with her father or any other male relative as mentioned in Islam.

This speaks directly to a cultural understanding within some Hispanic communities, but how sad is it that Catholicism has apparently not made it sufficiently clear to woman that they are free-in-Christ and not slaves to men? Why does the church do such a poor job of mentioning how consistently the Church has given women their own heads and encouraged their ‘self-actualization in Christ’, right from its beginnings?

Beyond all of this, there is the strange reality that neither Mormons or Muslims in the West have to take guff from their own co-religionists. The ideological in-fighting so rampant among Western Catholics as to almost overshadow its teachings is not a featured component of Mormonism or Islam, and some may find that attractive, particularly those who are sick of ducking the sniping when all they want is to worship God without having to endure sneers for wearing pants or, conversely, for wearing a chapel veil. While we are going full culture-warrior on each other, these religions are quietly attracting our members.

There is much to ponder in all of this. Does Catholicism ask too little of its people, or does it simply do a very poor job of teaching all the ways in which deeper participation in prayer, fasting, devotions, parish life — undertaken not as obligation but as free gift — enrich us, and are made more valuable precisely because they are freely-made offerings to God?

We need to do a much better job of teaching the faith at every level, and of offering continuing instruction after Confirmation, when faith formation, such as it is, simply ends.

Catholicism has always been — rather like the USCCB website — a sort of “well, you’re here; feel free to find your own way amid these strictures, hagiographies and devotions” sort of church, and some people (myself included) rather enjoy that. But these people are saying that they specifically want to be told when and how to pray, what to eat, how to dress, when and how to fast, and they are not afraid to be challenged.

The Second Vatican Council had an idea that Catholics needed and wanted to be treated as adults, able to make their own way, decide on their own “more meaningful” sacrifices than those proscribed by the church. That was part of the thinking behind the end of “meatless Fridays.”

But those Fridays already were meaningful; the fast was an offering and connection to the Crucifixion. It was also a cultural and community marker; a sign of unity.

. . .on Fridays we were all taking cozily meatless meals. If my mother was heating up cans of tuna and cream of mushroom soup, my neighbors were having home-made pizza or scrambled eggs.

There was something comforting about these less-than-formal suppers where the modesty of the meal meant that food became incidental to the companionship and conversation which was brought to the fore. If company was coming, all the better — the sense of unity was broadened as our guest dug into the same simple fare as the rest of us.

Theologically, the meatless Fridays were like the beginning of a weekly, somewhat truncated Triduum: the fasts of Friday, the desert of repentance and confession on Saturday, all leading to the Resurrection of Sunday.

do your own thingThe “relaxations” of the counsel, poorly implemented and largely untaught, replaced all of that with a nebulous sort of “do your own thing, make it meaningful for you, and we’ll see you on Sunday, then,” and that came up empty. Rather than making things “personally meaningful” for people, the church strangely gutted itself. Having lost a very stable structure, people were left feeling unsure of boundaries, bereft of their place. Untethered in the large universe of infinite spiritual sensibilities and choices, they either either chose poorly or passed out.

Parents know that children need and want boundaries; they need and want disciplines that make life sensible and orderly and safe. More and more I’m convinced that ending meatless Fridays took away something sensible and orderly — and culturally and communally unifying, which brings its own safety — and replaced it, essentially, with nothing, because when you leave people to find something “personally meaningful” to do, they often settle for what is new or capricious or vapid, or all three. Or they do the easiest thing of all, which is nothing.

Perhaps that has a great deal to do with why the strictures and obligations of Islam are Mormonism are now attractive to some who have been raised Catholic, but catechized poorly and left unsure as to what any of it means, from the kneeling, to the Crucifix, to the Trinity, and the Communion of Saints.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the worry was that Catholics were rote-bound, existing within the church but only shallowly nourished within the inauthentic constraints of duty and obligation. In light of these conversions, perhaps those lines were absolutely necessary, in order to help focus us and free us.

We are more inclined to cast ourselves out into the deep, after all, when we know our we are well-tethered to the barque.

At the Muslim Channel
, a Hispanic Muslim Woman takes issue with how conversions are reported on.

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