Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heirloom Catholicism

I was re-listening to Vinny Flynn's CD, Seven Secrets of the Eucharist today. (Order it TODAY.) Flynn is so good at trying to rouse us from our complacency, our lethargy, our ignorance, our indifference regarding the Eucharist. His talk got me thinking about the term "cultural Catholic." This term is typically used to refer to people whose Catholicism is a legacy rather than a lived faith. They go to mass, but not generally every week, and perhaps only at Christmas and Easter. The sacraments are rites of passage that "connect the dots" of their lives, but the long stretches between the dots are lived in a predominantly secular way. They tend to be selective about which of the teachings of the church they follow or agree with. This is a broad brush, and some people will fit some of these categories and not others. For an example of cultural Catholicism, see this posting by Creative Minority Report about Joe Biden. (Regardless of your political inclinations, the general portrayal of the nature of a cultural Catholic is helpful.)

However, I began to think more about the term, "cultural Catholic." On the one hand, we may go to mass every day and if the Eucharist does not change our lives, then we are in a sense a cultural Catholic. (Vinny Flynn talks about this idea without using the term "cultural Catholic.") On the other hand, we actually want to promote Catholic culture, which is the "body" of the "spiritual" life of Catholicism. The website Catholic Culture is devoted to the development of such a culture. David Gibson wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal describing Pope Benedict XVI's advocacy of a vibrant Catholic culture. We should all strive to be cultural Catholics in the best sense: sacramentals around the house (holy water, images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, a crucifix in every room), blessing your children each day, crossing yourself when you pass a Catholic church which has the Eucharist reserved, saying grace before meals in public, etc.

I think perhaps a better term is "heirloom Catholic." By that I mean those who treat their faith like a family heirloom which rests on a shelf, gets dusted off and brought down from time to time to look at and remember past times, then to be put back on the shelf. It is itself a treasure, but it is something distant, something outside of one's self. Again, perhaps all of us are such Catholics at one time or another in our faith journeys. But it is a matter of life or death that we not remain such Catholics.

Typically the term that has been opposed to "cultural Catholic" is "devout Catholic." I also think we need to re-think that terminology. There is nothing wrong with being a devout Catholic; we want to be devout Catholics. However, the way the term is used has become increasingly meaningless. Mark Shea has a commentary on this point. I would suggest that we should oppose "heirloom Catholic" with "Eucharistic Catholic." If we are devoted to Christ in the mass, Eucharistic adoration, and spiritual communion, then we cannot help but move outward toward others (this was Mother Teresa's approach); we cannot help but create a Catholic culture that makes the spiritual visible, which is a sacramental way of living in the world.


thepracticingcatholic said...

This is a great post. I like the idea of being a "Eucharistic Catholic." The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives, after all.

I, of course, like the term "practicing Catholic," but alas, it suffers the same abuse as "devout Catholic"--it's applied too often and with too little care for what it actually means. *sigh*

Pete Caccavari said...

I like your use of the term "practicing Catholic." You're right that it is usually used in a superficial way, but in your blog you clearly use it as a term of humility, fidelity, persistence, and process. When we are lured into believing that we have mastered the spiritual life, we need to recall that we are all apprentices our entire time on this earth.