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  They have been replaced by professional Catholics.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.


priest's wife said...

"happy, healthy and HOT"- how awful! all of this is a reason why we homeschool- how can I pay loads of money to have my kids in 'Catholic' school where half of the teachers aren't Catholic and most of the kids aren't?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant. I have been disturbed for years by the "professional Catholic" trend. Like with other Church corruptions in the past, the money gets in the way of honesty and integrity. It's not just that the parish becomes less devout because it becomes staffed by folks who are "good enough" Catholics. It also drives people to "look" Catholic "enough" for the sake of their jobs. This means folks drive the Church towards promoting things outside of its core as "Catholic" -- e.g. the religious ed minister who is not comfortable with the concepts of transubstantiation or sacramental confession so nudges her program until the kids sense that "Catholic" means cleaning up trash from the park and running mini-fundraisers for CRS. Then she gets to be a good Catholic through self-definition, and everyone in the parish begins to lose touch with what our Faith is really about.

Another trend I see is that when you work for the Church, it's bad for the ego. I have felt it myself, and have overheard program administrators that have impoverished the liturgy of the parish bemoaning how tough life is for them because they "work for God" -- as if no one not on a parish payroll does that. It makes people feel justified in getting in front of the captive audience at Sunday Mass and talking about themselves for 20 minutes. I complained once to a priest that our 1 1/2 hour Masses were destroying my family of little kids, because the Mass was extended not through prayer and adoration but through endless repetitions of musical performances and agenda announcements. I was told my faith was incomplete. Same parish put out a graphic of parish life, with the priest in the center of concentric circles, the council in the next, then the ministers and paid admin, then the congregation. Parishioners on the edges and God nowhere in the picture -- no kidding.
Thanks for your insight.