In Defense of Catholic Stuff

Having read Catholic blogger Sam Rocha’s post the other day “Why Serious Catholics Should Hate Catholic Stuff” I wish that he would clarify it a bit, because I think his “I love it so much I hate it” has taken him down a bit of a rabbit hole.

If what he’s ultimately trying to portray is a holy impatience with cheapness and mediocrity in witnessing to the Faith, then great. I’m with him. There’s nothing that aggravates me more than beige Catholicism and the whole “I’m Catholic, but” (Catholic lite) attitude that has taken hold in much of the Western Church since Vatican II.

What I sense from his article though, is much more of an unholy, cynical hatred of all things Catholic, be it good or bad. He’s clearly into the “I don’t like labels” mantra of Marc Barnes, which I agree with to a point. But I might be so bold as to say that Sam has committed the sin that he laments about the Catholic label. Truly there is bad Catholic stuff out there and I see it all the time. I don’t watch EWTN, so I don’t know how bad it is, but maybe that’s my testament to it being so bad that I don’t want to watch it. He’s taken the cheap Catholicism that weakens the Church and makes all of us cringe, and he’s lumped it in with the good Catholic “stuff” that is crucial to our identity and boldly proclaims Christ crucified and resurrected to the world. The logical conclusion of this shunning of all Catholic “stuff” and lamenting all of these “Catholic ghettos” is to say that you only find true Catholicism outside of the Catholic Church.

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If you ask me, Catholic is the only label worth having. The Catholic lite culture has dulled the rich tapestry of the Catholic identity and it needs to be rooted out, otherwise we face demise at our own hands. When the world smacks a label on you, it allows them to tepidly smile, nod their head and go on with their lives. When the world finds out you’re Catholic, truly Catholic, the reaction is anything but apathy. They try to label you, but those labels don’t stick to the Catholic. They try to put up walls so they don’t have to deal with you, but as a Catholic you tear them down with ease to bring them the freedom of living in the Truth, the fullness of life that is being the body of Christ, the complete death of self and the resurrection to new life in Christ. Catholicism is not a call to become Christian. Catholicism is the call to become Christ. As the Apostle proclaimed “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” He always bursts the limits of our puny human reason.

I grew up thinking that nobody did that Catholic “stuff” anymore like pray the rosary, pray a novena, read Church documents, go to daily Mass, celebrate all of the sacraments. Those were antiquated things that were dead and gone. Basically I grew up thinking that the Church was a big giant service organization that went to Mass on Sundays and maybe had reconciliation services twice a year and needed to modernize Her teaching. The last 4 years of my life have been discovering the amazing, rich depths of all of the Catholic “stuff.” And it all started with the New Evangelization, which I discovered through Father Barron. (two very good Catholic things)

Father Barron knows one thing, like St. Paul, and that’s “Christ and him crucified.” (cf 1 Cor 2:2) All of his mind-blowing theology is summed up in that simple knowledge. And that makes him very objectionable. Just read the comments on his youtube videos. Father Barron took the words of St. Paul to Titus to heart when the Apostle says, “Your teaching must have the integrity of serious, sound words to which no one can take exception. If it does, no opponent will be able to find anything bad to say about us, and hostility will yield to shame.” When people argue with Father Barron, they’re forced to wrestle with the content of what he said, not how he said it. It’s infuriating to the trolls, because they just look like idiots for not addressing the content. When people actually deal with what he’s saying, he always brings them to the one great “either, or” of Catholicism, the “both and” religion, which is Jesus. Either he is the Son of God and we owe him everything, or he’s a delusional lunatic who needs to be put down. That’s objectionable. That’s compelling. That’s Catholic!

What struck me as I read Sam’s post was that I felt like I was reading a modern version of Ecclesiastes; listening to the bored philosopher who’s seen everything under the sun, lamenting the impossibility of finding fulfillment to our yearning and the vanity of our human efforts.

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One thing that’s very clear from his post is that Sam is serious. He takes his faith seriously and he takes himself seriously. But the saints don’t take themselves seriously. To take your faith seriously, it must cause you to take yourself lightly. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. ….The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a [happy] self-forgetfulness.”            G.K.Chesterton

The danger he’s running into with this self-seriousness is elitism. “You can’t love something unless you grow to hate it.” What? Seriously? I have to know my Church so perfectly that I can’t stand it anymore and sit off at a distance in my cynical little corner, whining and complaining and snobbishly tearing Her down rather than sanctifying her? That’s not love, that’s borderline Gnosticism. “The serious Catholics and I, we know this and the whole rest of you don’t!” What should the husband say to his wife? “Hi honey, I’m home. Hate you!” If that’s what it means to be a serious Catholic, then no thank you. To take your faith seriously, you have to be able to take yourself lightly. There is no cynical saint, because the resurrection changes everything. If Christ is not raised, then the Catholic Church is truly vanity of vanities and a chase after wind. But He is raised, and so we rejoice.

The cynical people I know are all bitter. Especially cynical Catholics. Pope Francis is merely echoing the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us”

and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati:

“A Catholic cannot help but be happy; sadness should be banished from their souls. Suffering is not sadness, which is the worst disease. This disease is almost always caused by atheism, but the end for which we are created guides us along life’s pathway, which may be strewn with thorns, but is not sad. It is happy even through suffering.”

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Aww yeah!

The Catholic consumed by the burning love of Christ cannot but exude joy that permeates their entire being, even in the face of cheapness and mediocrity.

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Jesus transforms everyone he meets, he never complains about how we aren’t good enough. Of course we’re not. We’re sinners. We’re not even good at sinning. We’re boring when we sin. The irony I find in his critique of Pope Francis’ comment on grumpy Christians is that, (looking only at this one post) he is that grumpy Christian. You might shock people at first, scandalize a few maybe, but in the end your cynicism is very boring, and people will quickly pick up on that and go in search of excitement and life somewhere else. You’re giving them sizzle and no steak. While people fume over Father Barron, they eventually shrug off the cynic.

So I say be still. Stop whining, take up your cross, and follow Christ. That’s our satisfaction. The victory of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. That is Catholicism at its core. That is the Catholic label I will boldly put on, my new identity in Christ. Cheap, mediocre, and wimpy Catholicism? I have no time to bicker and complain about it. None of us do. It’s time to busy ourselves with being authentically Catholic. Go out and break down the walls that people put up in order that they won’t be wounded by the unbearable Beauty that is Jesus Christ. The New Evangelization has given us the courage to go out and do that, to stop wringing our hands and mumbling about beauty, but to go out and convert the world through Beauty. The world has to know that, because we are Catholic, they have to take us seriously. They have to stand in amazement at the Catholic, the way that the people in the Gospels reacted to Christ with amazement. This is accomplished only when we’ve allowed the Holy Spirit to penetrate our entire being, so that His spiritual gifts that He bestows on us transform the world around us to the image of Christ, and those gifts are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Verso l’alto!

Written by:

Marty Arlinghaus

 

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