I’ve had a dust-up or two on the blogosphere over Kerry Kennedy’s interview book Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning. Admittedly, it’s dangerous to go out on a limb over a book I haven’t read. But I was concerned to see this piece on Spero News from Robert Barron, an author I have read, and with a high regard. His two problems with the book:
I would like to draw attention to two themes that come up with great, and I must say, disturbing regularity in this book. The first is the favoring of “the faith” or “spirituality” over the institutional church, and the second is the reduction of Catholicism to the works of social justice.
In titling the review “The Sadness of Liberal Catholicism,” I’d say a dangerous prejudice of Spero News is revealed. The original essay substituted “pathos” for “sadness,” which I don’t think is much more perceptive. (Note to Spero: I think DCL’s* are able to swallow the word “pathos.”)
I’m not a fan of books like this, I’ll admit. I prefer biography on a larger scale, and prominent Americans, even Cardinal McCarrick, Martin Sheen, and such, as a rule, are not people I’m particularly inclined to emulate. I wonder if Fr Barron is more disturbed by the bias of the interviewer than the colleciton of essays themselves. He may be rightly concerned that the book offers little to no appreciation for the hierarchy and too much of a social justice temperament.
I’m a happy inhabitant of the Left, and I confess my faith life doesn’t revolve around “donatism,” or a constant expression of the theological or pastoral reality of Matthew 25. Were I in the shoes of Ms Kennedy’s subjects, I might ot might not feel completely at ease sharing theology. Interviewers get religion wrong a lot. And as we see from the recent witness of the Speaker and the incoming VP, Catholics themselves aren’t fully conversant with the theological niceties.
What then to make of a book like this? I think we shouldn’t make too much of it. It captures no more or less of personal Catholic witness than another book would with mostly conservative Catholic subjects untrained in theology being interviewed by a writer untrained in theology.
A person with theological sensibilities would be able to tease out the Christian doctrines of “the Trinity, the Incarnation, redemption, original sin, creation, or grace.”
Being Catholic, now as at any other time, must always involve a living relationship with both the hierarchical church, made up as it is of flawed individuals, and with the doctrines and sacramental practices that flow from and refer to Christ Jesus. Without these connections, it loses its soul.
I would be cautious about the assumption here that the Catholic Left lacks living relationships with hierarchy, doctrines, or the sacraments. Just as a full Catholicism is not dependent on Catholic action, likewise, it is not determined by an active theological reflection. The former works the hands, the latter the mind. Both are part of our nature as human beings. Both need to cooperate with God to access the fullness of what the Divine offers us.
* Dumb Catholic Laypersons