Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Catholic identity - Part IV

In previous posts, I identified criteria for a Catholic identity, and described the crisis of identity we face in the Church today.  I left us in the last part with a question: How do we get our identity back?
If you think I have the answer, then I must apologize for misleading you.  Instead of an answer, all I have is a bunch of questions.
Should we do like the Hassidic Jews and cut ourselves of socially from the rest of the world?  Do we go to mandatory Catholic schooling and fish on Fridays?  Is repudiating the Novus Ordo and the alleged Protestant orientations contained therein the right thing to do, either as a good start or as sufficient to start identity reclamation?  (Here, I have to say that I am neither questioning the validity nor advocating instant repudiation of the Novus Ordo; I merely ask the question.)  Maybe it is simply getting rid of the “big-tent” approach to identity that seems to have descended upon us, perhaps by actually “culling” our membership of folks like Kennedy, Pelosi, Biden, and anyone who supports them.  I don’t know—that’s why I am asking you.  I would love hearing what you folks might think about this.
So, I’ll finish up this topic, finally, with a trenchant observation.  I find it a shame to have to even ask the question “What IS our Catholic identity?”—it seems that McDonald’s has a better idea of its identity than we as Catholics do.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our Catholic Identity - Part III

My last post drew from a letter from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, in which he describes two criteria—pillars, in my view—of our Catholic identity: 1) recognition and acceptance of the teaching authority of the Church, and 2) open participation in our common rites and sacraments.  I further developed and described these two particular criteria as 1) the understanding that there is one exclusive Truth in the world God made, and 2) the recognition that the Catholic Church represents THE Church Jesus said he would establish.

However, I think there is more to our identity than these two criteria, stated either way as above.  I proffer that the Catholic identity, after the essentials of doctrine of course, really revolves around a particular worldview of how to lead our lives.  This worldview comprises a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions within the context of God’s grace.  This sense of responsibility should make us pause and recognize how broken we as sinners are—not just when we are born, and not just before we answer an “altar call,” but EVERY DAY OF OUR LIVES until we face God after our earthly demise.  This responsibility means that we don’t just stop at recognizing our broken nature, for merely doing that isn’t responsibility at all.  Also, this responsibility does NOT mean that we are masters of our own salvation, relying on naught else or other.  In the words of St. Augustine, we pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on us.  And we accept that the Catholic Church—God’s Church—is there to help us if only we accept its help.
Many folks (myself included) see a great crisis of identity in the Church.  Many (myself included) see this crisis most clearly exemplified by pro-choice, CINO (Catholic-in-name-only) politicians such as Representative Patrick Kennedy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Vice-President Joseph Biden.  It makes one wonder how we ever got to this point.  Restraining myself from a protracted and gratuitous lamentation of the crumbling of civilization, I offer my own analysis of the situation we face.
I think that the greatest damage to our Catholic identity came about from a set of circumstances unique in the history of the Church.  For the first time, let’s say starting in the 1800’s, the Church found itself in the position where it wasn’t calling all the moral and sometimes political shots (like in pre-Reformation Europe), but also wasn’t in danger of being stamped out (like it was in first-century Roman times).  The Church is now institutionally stable, and relatively safe, but it doesn’t command allegiance (I use the word “command” intentionally) to its doctrines and moral teachings like it used to.  (As a sidenote, this state of affairs is what I believe defines the “Modern” era, which prompted the perceived need for an “aggiornamento” in the Church which led to the convocation of Vatican II.)  As such, the Catholic Church and its Faith must now compete in the marketplace of ideas; as such, the concept of a single, solitary Truth handed down from the revelation of Christ through the Apostles and down to us just doesn’t cut the mustard for the more “erudite” humanists.  Consequently, there goes the first pillar of particularly Catholic identity enumerated above.
This situation is especially true if one looks at the historical and current state of the Church in America.  Although it is said that the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice is anti-Catholicism, Catholics have come a long way from the time of “No Irish Need Apply” and religious Test Acts.  Unfortunately, we Catholics tried so hard (successfully, I would say) to convince majority Protestant society that we were just another denomination like the Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc., that we unintendedly ended up convincing ourselves of that same fact.  Thus, we ourselves destroyed the second identity pillar noted above.
With those two pillars knocked down, what is left to support the third pillar—the worldview of responsibility for our lives?  With secular humanism on our left and Evangelical Protestantism on our right, most folks can be easily seduced by either the “It’s not your fault—you’re born that way” of humanism or the “You take the bus, leave the driving to God” of Protestantism.  A Gospel of responsibility through grace just doesn’t sell that well.
So, how do we get our identity back?  Stay tuned folks—I’ll treat that subject in the next post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Catholic Identity – Part II

I set out some possible premises for discussion in my first, abbreviated post on the subject of our Catholic identity. In this part, I develop one of those premises, regarding the criteria on which our identity as Catholics rest.
Some of you may have been following last month’s “controversy” between His Excellency, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, and one of the United States Congressmen from that state, Patrick Kennedy (one of, yes, THOSE Kennedys). Representative Kennedy publicized a private discussion between the bishop and him regarding the Congressman’s support of abortion rights, making the following statement:
The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.
Bishop Tobin’s responded to this public statement in an open letter to Representative Kennedy, published in the Rhode Island Catholic, in which the bishop effectively makes the point, “Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does.” The bishop’s letter continues with a reflection on the question, “What does it mean to be a Catholic?”:
Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.
In my reading, Bishop Tobin’s letter proposes a minimum definition of Catholic identity as 1) recognition and acceptance of the teaching authority of the Church, and 2) open participation in our common rites and sacraments.
The bishop’s first prong above means our Catholic identity hinges on a key understanding—the understanding that there is one exclusive TRUTH in the world God made, that applies to EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD, even if we can’t grasp that Truth in its entirety at any one time (i.e., relativism is NOT an option). This Truth by its nature is unitary and whole, and it has been passed down through time from Christ Himself through His Church, the teaching Church that Christ founded personally.
As Truth is unitary and whole, our Catholic identity also requires recognizing we are NOT just the same as other faiths, Christian and non-Christian. We must stand up and proclaim that the Catholic Church IS the fullest—the complete—expression of the Church Jesus said he would build upon the Rock of Peter. We do this through our participation in the visible structures of the Church—Mass (with full interior and exterior participation), sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession), devotions (such as the Rosary)—which represents the second prong of the bishop’s analysis.
Clearly, rejection of the Church’s teaching authority or self-recusal from sacramental participation puts one outside the bounds of true Catholic identity, but I think there is more to our identity than self-subjugation to the Magisterium and Mass attendance—one particular, important, essential item. I’ll cover that in my next post.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Our Catholic Identity – Part I

First, allow me to offer my apologies on the length of my first essay, and for spreading it out in parts over several days. Nonetheless, this issue is right in the wheelhouse of something I have been hashing over and over in my head and heart for some time. Many, many Catholic bloggers (of much greater skills than me) have been adamant and ubiquitous in the mention and promotion of our Catholic identity. But I have to ask the question, just what IS our Catholic identity?
Is it merely our allegiance to a set of doctrines? Is it Mass on Sundays and eating fish on Fridays? Is it simply acknowledgement of our Church leadership as the folks who dress in “funny clothes” like white cassocks and sashes?
More seriously, does our identity rest solely in such things as our belief in the Real Presence, veneration of the Blessed Mother, and Purgatory? Or is it yet even more of an encompassing worldview of the purpose of our lives and how to lead them? If so, what exactly is that worldview which we should uniformly espouse as our identity?
Where do we go to get this identity? Do we need to go back in time? Did we have a complete sense of Catholic identity back in the Fifties? The Thirties? Just before the time of Luther? At the time of the Apostles? The Protestants, especially the charismatic/Pentecostal types, are all too quick to say they have the real identity of the first-century church before “Romish Popery” messed it up. So I guess we have to be careful before engaging in simple “Antiquarianism,” whether we look back fifty years or two thousand years.
I’ll be expanding on this theme over the next few posts, but I thought I would invite some preliminary thoughts from anyone else out there. So, comment away!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hello to the blogosphere!

My name is Michael Val Hietter. This is my first attempt at a blog. I am sure that the quality of this blog (or lack thereof) will show that fact in bare-naked detail.

The theme of this blog is the search for truth in the context of the Catholic faith--the seeking of both the truths contained in and regarding the Faith itself, as well as universal truths as enlightened by the Faith. While most blogs I read are very good at GIVING answers to, or at least one person's opinion upon, matters both trivial and important, I really started this blog with the idea of ASKING questions and LEARNING answers to issues that have been knocking around in my brain for quite a while. Rather selfishly, I hope to GET more than I GIVE.

So, sit back and enjoy the ratiocinations of one soul on a journey through his heart and his mind. Maybe we'll all grow together!