Not Sadness

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

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Not Sadness

  1. Fran says:

    I have read this post a few times and am not quite sure where to begin my comment. Let me say, I thought it was a great post and has made me more curious about a book that I believe I will receive for my birthday this week.

    As another happy inhabitant of the left, I am not too happy about assumptions that I and others lack, as you aptly put, “living relationships with hierarchy, doctrines, or the sacraments.”

    The one thing that strikes me most about this issue is one that I am involved with in life… As is often said, Jesus blessed the children and taught the adults and we have been doing it backwards ever since.

    This is a big part of the problem of our great divide of late and you make reference to that by saying, “Catholics themselves aren’t fully conversant with the theological niceties.”

    Does the average Catholic really know or understand their theology? Should they? I say this as someone heavily involved in church and undertaking a course of study to learn more… but so what, that is my imperative, my interest, my response to a call.

    Where does that leave the rest of folks in the pews?

    So much of church has become a transactional act – one shows up every week, “puts” money in basket, “takes” communion and goes. Lather, rinse, repeat – see you next Sunday. And that giving and taking is all screwed up, but I have become convinced that it exists – and I do not say that with anything other than sorrow in my heart. And my own experience of having understood it that way for far too long myself.

    So is it any wonder about why we have people lining up on two sides of a divide? Those of (pardon the broad brushtroke) “law” versus those of “love.” Of course it isn’t that simple, but I hope you know what I mean.

    This is but one of many things that will make the gathering in Baltimore all the more interesting this week. The USCCB themselves are seemingly not well aligned at the moment.

    In the meantime, that leaves us with the social justice types versus the dogmatic types and no really actionable response to changing that.

    Sheesh. No wonder I have yet to leave this comment, Does it sound so pedantic when I mean it to be otherwise?

    Lather rinse repeat, I will hit submit.

  2. Fran says:

    P.S. – Your blog is a great source of learning for those who wish to avail themselves of it. That is a gift – thank you!

  3. Tony says:

    This has been a problem since much of the AMChurch got caught up in the “spirit” of Vatican II. The focus has gone from God to us. People now attempt to get closer to God by getting closer to one another when it should be precisely the reverse. Churches have been denuded to take the focus away from the angels and saints and focus is on us. We are denying our sinful nature, and reveling in being “Easter people” who no longer need to kneel humbly before our God.

    We are in church to worship God. We can do all the social justice stuff we want when we “go forth to love and serve the Lord”.

  4. Todd says:

    Tony, I think you and other conservatives have drastically misdiagnosed here. The Christian focus has often been on the self, and only grace and saintly heroism gets anyone off point.

    Then you have the particular American breed of individualism: it was there before Vatican II and it hasn’t really gone away.

    Even Pope Pius XII: his experience with sun-spinning–what was that about? A private showing from God? What about the tradition of East and West?

    Saint John was pretty pointed about faith and love needing to get backed up with deeds.

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