Thursday, 27 January 2011

Re-creating the Catholic identity - if we know what that is

George Weigel wrote a learned post recently about the Catholic identity but it was done with a heavy bias on academia and I believe that 'identity' or, at least, a Catholic 'identity' is something much more than that. But what precisely?

Notre Dame University had it once but not any longer
It is always tempting to look back on one's own experiences in the formative years and then stake a claim for it being a typical, good, Catholic upbringing. It was; I was blessed to be born into a strong Catholic family with 6 siblings. We were in a parish that had good priests and a varied spiritual and social calendar. We lived in a Catholic world and, in reality, those who were non Catholics might just as well not have existed. In  a parish of c. 2000 folk, only one couple were divorced. All other marriages had the appearance of being intensely Catholic. But that is history, not really identity although it may have a part to play in creating a foundation for identity.

No doubting his identity but appearance is only part of it
In today's world one can look at the Jews and see that they have a relatively clear identity, if somewhat stereotypical. Walk around Finchley or Mill Hill and you see family units walking around, or climbing into the Merc if it is not a Saturday. Father will wear a skullcap, mother will look, well, sort of Jewish mama looking if you know what I mean. They go to synagogue and to Jewish sabbath schools and shop in 
Not so very different from their Catholic counterparts of the 50s and 60s but it was the Co-op in those days. Now we have lost something. And I'm not entirely sure what that something is.
Please do not misunderstand me, identity is something much deeper than appearances or habit; it has an almost indefinable air about it but we had something approaching it when we abstained from meat on Fridays. To decline the sausage and mash in the office cantina invariably provoked a remark, not an unkind one but, often, gently poking fun at the fact that someone would hold back from eating meat on just one day of the week. The openings it created were legion and it became a sort of game to opt for the fish and await the comments and then follow through with the killer punchline: "We do it as an act of penance and as a reminder that Christ died on the cross for us on a Friday".
Ker-booom! Game set and match to the Papists. They struggled to pick themselves up off the floor after that one!
Perhaps that has some kernel of truth about it; it was an act that required a public proclamation of one's beliefs. We don't do that today, we don't have the opportunity to do it when we don't give anything up, we don't put in a plea for time off to attend Mass on a holy day of obligation, we don't have to abstain. The end result is that we don't hold our hands up to be counted as Catholics. We don't defend the Pope, we don't walk away when a pornographic mag is passed around the office, we don't decry IVF, abortion, euthanasia - or, at least, not enough.

So perhaps we do need some outward signs that will give us the prop we need to proclaim our faith. How about these?

1. Say grace before meals in public
2. Recite the rosary (avec beads) on the metro, bus or plane
3. Cross ourselves when passing a church
4. Adorn our homes with crucifix and holy water stoup
5. Start speaking up for the faith
6. Be intolerant of moral decay (homosexuality, abortion, adultery, tax fraud, 
    pornography and so on)
7. Fulfil Sunday and Holy Day obligations if at all possible
8. Proclaim our faith publicly (writing to your MP on an issue etc)
9. Demand more from our Bishops - they need to know that there is a thirst for a deeper
    profile to our faith. We need to invite them to step up to the mark and lead the anti
    abortion rally or whatever
10. Support our priests and encourage those of them who are less adequate to become
    more so

Will all of those things help to re-create our identity? I'm still not sure. I think that much more may be needed before people will be able to nudge their colleague in the lift and whisper: "She/he's a Catholic you know".
Maybe Blessed Sacrament processions through the city streets should be added to the list....any other notions?


  1. Perhaps people will see Catholic identity in our hearts and not so much in outward signs. I would guess that our attitudes express our hearts, people see our attitudes and want to know more about our hearts. Perhaps people seeing outward signs (your example number 2) see them as inauthentic (most Catholics would go to their room and pray privately).

  2. Paul, thank you. I appreciate your comments. But do we not all too often sit on a train and try to say the rosary counting off on our fingers? I think we should appreciate the fact that prayer is normal and acceptable. Praying quietly in a room by oneself is good but it is just as good to pray in public - without wishing to appear as an exhibitionist.

  3. Richard,
    I do say the rosary on my fingers on the train, I know that I am doing this privately. I would not pray the rosary on my rosary beads in public (the rosary is always with me in my pocket everyday) because I would feel it is going against His Majesty's voice for me to go to my room and pray. I would find it very difficult to take out my rosary and pray in public. I think it is more important to see my Catholic identity in what I do and what I say. I really do not think it is good to pray in public (apart from the Mass). But they are just my simple thoughts.