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.