Monday, March 25, 2013

American Catholic

I was recently contacted* by Nathan, a Mennonite seminary student. He informed me he was using my blog as the subject matter for a response paper in a comparative Christianity in America course. The assignment was to find a first-person Catholic source and compare it to the depiction of American Catholics in Sense of the Faithful (which I haven't read). Here are some excerpts from his paper that roughly summarize it:
The ways in which Catholics negotiate with and appropriate Church teachings, as described in Sense of the Faithful, seem to result in a trend toward either increased noncompliance with Vatican rules (e.g. contraception) among loyal Catholics, or narratives of opposition to the wider Church... parishioners approach their doctrinal strictness from an oppositional point of view, meaning they create “narratives of resistance” to the trends in the Catholic Church and American society. Their opposition is reactionary, responding to changes they don’t like, such as Vatican II reforms and increasing indecency in the broader culture... Liana is not reactionary or oppositional in her obedience, but intentional and positive... Moving toward greater obedience and doctrinal strictness, [she and her husband] are definitely bucking the dominant trend. Doing so in a positive and non-reactionary way is even bucking the resistance to the dominant trend... I don’t think US Catholics are lining up to follow Liana’s family planning choices, but her idea of surrender and obedience bringing freedom may be the start of a different trend.
My personal experience with American Catholics generally mirrors what Nathan summarized from Sense of the Faithful. The vast majority of Catholics I know disobey the teaching authority of the Church and usually not in ignorance. I also know a few Catholics who hold strictly to Church teaching, but are bitter toward the current Magisterium and many Catholic communities.

C'mon, what's not to like?

I think part of the problem is the tension between being an American and being a Catholic. As Americans, we treasure our independence and individuality. Our history boasts of exploring the New World and being revolutionaries. Obedience isn't an American virtue. The fact that the teaching authority resides in another country really goes against the grain. (One of the biggest challenges in JFK's campaign was the perception that the Pope would take over the USA.)

All that being said, I do know other American Catholics who are happily living out their obedience to God through obedience to the Church. A couple in L.A., another in Syracuse, my cousins outside of Dallas, and probably others with whom I just haven't had enough deep conversations to know. Many of them have found communities of like-minded (like-souled? J) folks with whom to share this journey. Perhaps we are starting a new trend. I hope so.

*In his email, Nathan said, "Is there any chance you'd be available to call me tomorrow or Sunday? Selfishly, I could basically guarantee myself an A if you were willing to answer a few survey questions for me. ...Since you are both busy parents, I would totally understand if you wouldn't be available. If you're creeped out by a random dude in Colorado thinking your blog is paper-worthy, I'd understand that too! If you're not too busy or creeped out, my number is..." I thought he sounded fun, so I called. He did get an A. :-)

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