Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Catechetical Problem of Being "Too American"

This morning is NOT a happy catechetical moment for me. In fact, I have to admit I am feeling downright crabby.  In the wake of yet another heated discussion on Facebook with other Catholics where I encountered refusal to accept the teachings of the American bishops based on dislike of the USCCB,  I have to admit I am becoming increasingly tired of those who stubbornly do not accept the fullness of Church teaching - who reject or discount the statements and teachings of bishops duly appointed by Rome to lead us in America because they disagree with the "politics" or the make-up of the USCCB. That body may not be "perfect" but these are bishops the Holy Spirit has chosen for us.  In a hierarchical church, the reality is that these are our shepherds, like it or not. For a significant portion of the Catholic population, however, these leaders are not only discounted, they are downright disrespected.

Consequently, I am going to step out on a limb here and make a statement of faith.  This is important - because as I see it, this is one of the issues that sometimes becomes a significant stumbling stone to adult catechesis.

As an educated, thinking human being in a democracy, I admit I don't always immediately agree with every teaching of the Church either, but I never close the door to what is taught.  I especially do not close the door because I don't like the "messenger." I continue to study the issue and to pray on it - with a view to finding out why my spiritual leaders have asked this of me - to discovering why God is asking this of me.  As a disciple in the Catholic Church, I know my teachers and leaders have been sent by the Spirit, even when I find it difficult to agree with them. Yes, they are human, but they are the ones sent in the name of the Church. I have a duty to listen to them in humility, even when I disagree.

Call me idealistic, but I find it sad that I have been mistaken in assuming that Pope John Paul II's accusation that Americans were "Cafeteria Catholics" was insulting and incorrect. Apparently, it is still very much in vogue, even among those who say they have a great attachment to all things Roman, including the Pope and the Latin Mass, to pick and choose what teachings and which shepherds of the Church to follow.  Sadly, these Catholics often accuse others of the same thing, depending on the issue. Maybe I am not "normal", but I thought that being Catholic calls us to rise above petty, personal and political beliefs to assume an attitude of humility and obedience to those assigned to our spiritual care and guidance - and to work together to make this a better world.

To be Catholic means to accept even Church teachings we find difficult - or to be open to finding our way to acceptance. These discussions have shown me just how closed the minds of some Catholic adults are. As a catechetical minister of the Church, I tell new catechists that no matter what their personal opinion, they must always teach from the "center" of Church teaching or when speaking publicly. Last time I checked, the USCCB was part of the Magisterium - the engine within the Church that interprets the teachings of Rome for those of us who live in America. We may indeed hold private opinions, but in discussion in public - even on Facebook among "friends", it is not wise to air them - that, frankly, is damaging to the unity of the Body of Christ. It is also hurtful.

Sadly, what divides Americans along political lines (liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, Coffee Party and Tea Party) often divides us spiritually as well.To be an adult Catholic in America is not just to be "anti-abortion" in our political beliefs. It is also to follow the teachings of the Church - from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the statements made by the Pope and by bishops around the world, most particularly those assigned to our spiritual care here in this country.  American bishops have issued  teaching statements about the right to health care, fair treatment for immigrants, preferential treatment for the poor, the definition of marriage, and consistently urge our nation's legislators to adopt public policies that promote preservation of families and justice for all - not just for those who are like us.

To be Catholic is is not just to think spiritual thoughts when we are at Mass and to spend hours in Adoration of  Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament working out our own salvation. It is also to rise above self-interest and cooperate as the Body of Christ with the grace of God to build a better world - one in which the vision of Mary's Magnificat approaches reality: when the poor will be fed and the rich sent away empty. In that world, there will be no room for politics, no tolerance for bigotry or lack of charity.  I find that this agenda  is too disturbing for some Catholics. The idea that we are called to a life in the world consistent with the teachings of the Gospel seems to them to be a radical "liberal" agenda.  If so, then Jesus and  Mary were among the most radical liberals of their time. It's no wonder the authorities felt it necessary to crucify him. In their name this morning, I pray that my brothers and sisters in Christ may be guided to find their way not just to personal piety, but will be outwardly directed to charity and love for all people, including immigrants, the poor, and those much-despised bishops of the USCCB.

And no, in the interest of the unity of the Church I will not engage in verbal fisticuffs in the comments. Go ahead - disagree... but in the memorable words of Darth Vader: "Search your heart. You know it to be true." Un-friend me if you must, but you know I have a point.


  1. Maureen Grisanti LarisonApril 14, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    Amen. Thank you for speaking the hard truth that we are not as holy as we imagine ourselves to be. I agree with you completely.

  2. Thanks, Maureen - I know that even I have to pray through it to let go of my own impulses to pick and choose - it is natural in a country where we have such freedom in other areas. Our call to be obedient, faithful members of the Church, in communion with our pastors (the bishops) sometimes IS in conflict with our habit of making up our own minds about things. Freedom of speech is a great thing, but in some cases, it is very damaging to unity.

  3. I really like what you said about what you share with catechists: "I tell new catechists that no matter what their personal opinion, they must always teach from the "center" of Church teaching or when speaking publicly." I tell catechists that what we are passing on is not from us but as Jesus said: "from the one who sent us". There is no place for our own personal opinions about Church teaching - we are called to pass on the truths that have been handed down whole and entire through Jesus, the apostles and their successors. God Bless You!