Becoming Culturally Catholic

Lately, it's become popular to complain about the Church's internal divisions—roughly, picky cafeteria Catholics versus those with enough of an appetite for doctrine to treat the Catechism as an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. This can be trying, it's true, but the complainers—and I've been one of them—set the bar very high, measuring the polarized reality against an ideal of unified, or at any rate a harmonious, ideal that may well prove unreachable this side of the grave. Go check out Salon's combox if you want to see real fratricidal fury—with cusswords, no less.

Not long ago, after reading the opening sentence of an opinion piece, I found I was able to anticipate each of the author's high-powered phrases—"narcissistic," "selfish," "lukewarm," "watered-down"—and felt a kind of weary contempt. But it occurred to me later that it was a contempt born of familiarity; "familiarity" shares a root with "family." Seeing bombs tossed may not make me happy, but by gum, it makes me feel at home. If I hadn't sworn off booze, I'd say that those maddeningly overused words could form the basis for one honey of a drinking game.

So here I am, a thorough cultural Catholic. Whether I ever become a political Catholic remains to be seen. ("Christ rode a donkey," I like to remind myself whenever I feel the pull, "not an elephant.") A more realistic goal might be evolving into the sort of Catholic who bears a compelling witness to nearby gentiles.

Here I envy people who live in the midst of intolerant jerks—that's the kind of set-up that gives a Catholic the chance to shine, blood of the martyrs and all that. As luck would have it, when I tell infidel friends and relatives about having to get up early the next day for Mass, they sigh with relief, knowing me for an eccentric who could have done a lot worse for himself than get religion. I'm not sure I could pick a fight with them if I wanted to.

As St. Sebastian was overheard to say, somebody shoot me.

10/24/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Max Lindenman
    About Max Lindenman
    Max Lindenman is a freelance writer, based in Phoenix. He has been published in National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and Salon.