All of that gooey, wholesome Catholic goodness...
The devotees of the Black Nazarene are mostly male; they range from thugs to politicians (the Philippine vice president is a devotee) to businessmen, but in the gigantic blur created by the reds and yellows, social rank and privilege are cast into the wind: one is either favored to have been able to get near the carriage or not. Marching bands, dancing girls, circus acts-- fire-breathers, stilt-walkers-- as well as tributes from the police and the military all hail the Lord in his passing. The noise is deafening, but at the same time mysteriously calming, and the furious swishing of white towels, held aloft and waved by fevered hands, all make the scene seem like it was transplanted by some freak of the supernatural from the 17th century. A curious calm descends on the mind when the Nazarene comes into view. His devotees desperately, madly, cling or try to cling to him, never mind the sweat and heat beating down upon their backs. They see the image as some sort of scapegoat, banging their foreheads in shame and sorrow at its carriage, touching the image's feet and hands in the hope of passing their sins onto him.
from Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me
Being now on an unforeseen vacation, I can now comment on some various converging themes that are coming into my mind. (If you are not on vacation, please don't read this. You won't be any wiser afterwards. You can make an exception if you are in your cubicle and you are so bored to tears that you want to commit suicide by stapling yourself to death.)
First of all, I have discovered that Immaculate Heart Radio has a new station in the Bay Area at 1260 AM. You can listen to it on-line by going to this site.
Even though I have become addicted to this station for the moment (mostly due to the insatiable thirst in my life for novelty), the Catholic media in this country in general seems to be very much its own animal. That is, it seems to me at times more to make a culture than to merely reflect it. Maybe because we devout Roman Catholics are few and far between, and listening to news reports involving the Pope and our bishops seems to be a little bizarre after having come out of a store where Britney Spears or Maroon 5 was being blasted over a loudspeaker. Do these type of phenomenon serve as a refuge from the world rather than a reflection of a society we should be living in? Or to put it another way, is Catholic radio/television/media a bubble we put ourselves in, albeit a necessary bubble?
That's a little what it feels like to me. Having spent months of my youth in Mexico and two years of my adult life in Argentina, I have actually experienced a society where there were shrines to the Virgin on the side of the road, and where most people knew who you were when you were walking down the street in clerical garb. I have been told by AG that one of the shocks of moving from Catholic New Orleans to Houston as a girl was the absence of Catholic statuary in public places. Are we as Catholics in the U.S. so used to being strangers that this can reflect on the tone of our rhetoric, even amongst ourselves?
I get really bored reading most Catholic sites. A lot of them are done by either converts or Catholics whose exposure to religion was little to non-existent as children. This I think often reflects in their writing and how they view the Church. There is a hollowness in it, one that is by no means insurmountable to fill, but is still there. The Church does not have to be re-created in this country, it has to be rediscovered. This is not just through such high-brow activities as restoring Latin to the liturgy or reading the writings of the Holy Father, but also practicing traditions that formed our fathers in their daily lives, such as praying from old prayer books, having statues, and other somewhat kitsch goodies.
Catholicism will not become robust again until it can be conceived as independent from authority. On one of the programs on the above listed stations, they were talking about what Catholic college should a Catholic parent send their child to. First of all, I would think that the idea of a "Catholic college" is itself problematic. Ideally, there should be no such thing as a Catholic college, there should just be a college. A "Catholic college" only exists in a Protestant country, or in countries that have secularized governments and often times histories of anti-clericalism, such as France or Mexico. Secondly, I believe St. Basil and St Gregory the Theologian studied at the Academy at Athens, which was by no means a Christian place. The key to the question at hand is the situation of the latter. Maybe it would be best to send your children to places that may not be necessarily Catholic, but have a strong orthodox Catholic presence, such as Texas A & M.
If Catholicism was a spontaneous, organic phenomenon where everyone from the lowest layman to the Pope himself agreed on the fundamentals of the Faith without having to be scolded by a higher authority, then we would have far fewer problems than we have now. The problem is that there are only two alternatives in many cases: either you don't care about the traditional teaching of the Church to the point that you pick and chose what you believe, or you become a "Papal fundamentalist" who hangs on everything the Pope says/does. A creed cannot be based on a constant exercise of authority. If it can't go on "auto-pilot", if it can't exist outside of the exercise of this authority, then in a real sense it only exists on paper. Even if the Papacy is essential to the Catholic ethos, it is not equivalent to that ethos. There has to be something more there.
The very first paragraph is a quote from a blog that I read by a young man from the Philipines. If anything, the Philipines is still a Catholic country. I think the passage above best summarizes what a Catholic society looked like up to very recently. Catholic societies were not wholesome, edifying places to live in. At worst, they accentuated the hypocrisy ever-present in our fallen condition even more. We can almost thank God that we can sigh to ourselves constantly: "if only this society lived by the Gospel like in the good ol' days..." This probably gives us some excuse: we can turn on our Catholic radio, listen to programs expounding on the attacks of the "culture of death", and shake our heads in dismay. It makes us all the more righteous. But it probably won't make us very holy.
And yes, I will keep listening.