Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Catholic Identity and Professional Catholics

Catholic schools all over the country are talking about Catholic Identity.  What this refers to is how they align themselves with or against Catholic culture.  It does not necessarily involve a discussion of whether or not the school teaches the Catholic faith as presented in the catechism, writings of the church Fathers, or biblical tradition.  It may not have anything to do with regular reception of the sacraments.  It may take no notice of church calendars and liturgical seasons. 

In a discussion of Catholic Identity the participants may talk about how they can present themselves as Christians in order to reach a larger market.   The schools are struggling to maintain student populations, particularly in urban areas.  Those who could afford tuition to Catholic schools have moved away from the older parishes.  They need larger donations to support scholarship programs for low-income families, many of whom are not Catholic, but want a Catholic education for their children because of its reputation for excellence.  Yet when these families come to the Catholic school, they may find that the only markers of the Catholicism of the school are uniforms and fish-fries.

We all know that the religious communities and clergy who used to be the primary teachers in Catholic schools don't exist.  They have been replaced by professional Catholics.  These are people who work for the church as lay ministers of music, education, finance, development...  Every lay person who works for the church seems to be called a minister of some sort.  What they are is the equivalent to an employee of any other company or organization.  They are professional Catholics.

I've worked as a paid employee for the Catholic Church twice in my life.  Both times I was overwhelmed by the importance of the work.  If faith comes first, there is no more important work to be done.  My family suffered from my focus on the job.  That's why I think such work should be done only by those who can devote themselves completely to the task, like religious, clergy, and those who do not have children in their care at home.  Francis Bacon's essay "On Marriage and the Single Life" discusses the differences in temperment necessary for certain kinds of work.  It is short and worth reading.  "The Essays" of Francis Bacon

Too many professional Catholics seem to fall into the 'good enough'  category.  Their faith formation has been good enough.  Their participation in the sacraments has been good enough.  Their attention to church teachings is good enough.

When things are good enough in the church, we hear about how it is a big tent, open to all, regardless of whether they agree with the church on premarital sex, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, divorce, capital punishment, just war theory...

In this big tent, our schools are filled with teachers from pre-school to post-graduate studies who do not practice the faith, but claim to teach it.  They produce strange devotions like grade school musicals for grandparents that open on Ash Wednesday, or yoga-stations-of-the-cross.  They use contraceptives to limit their family size to 2, then wonder why there are so few children in Catholic schools.  They promote the Girl Scouts in the parish, and then wonder why girls are influenced by the association with Planned Parenthood.  (Planned Parenthood distributes a brochure called "Happy, Healthy, and Hot" through the Girl Scouts.)

Catholic identity should not be good enough.  Constant striving for true faith is what Catholics should demand from all Catholic schools.  Catholics are Christians.  We are Catholics.  The requirements are hard to meet.  But no one can truly be Catholic and not be striving to meet something more than the basics.  That is most important for those who teach it to the next generation.

Post a Comment