Fr. Dwight Longenecker, whose blog is Standing On My Head, has been writing about What’s Killing American Catholicism. The headings below are links to each of the 5 blog posts he has written on this topic, and each is followed by brief excerpt.
Of course they didn’t all stop being Catholic. Something else happened which was even more subtle and insidious. They became Americans and because their mindset was that their Catholic faith was something which blended with their culture, instead of being Italian-Catholics or Polish Catholics, they became American Catholics. Just as nationalism and love of culture blended with their Catholic faith when they were ethnic minorities, now it blended seamlessly with their new American culture.
The Catholic should always be in a constant tug of war with the culture around him. Here affirming what is good–there condemning what is bad. Here supporting all that is full of life, love, truth beauty and goodness and there condemning and avoiding all that is full of death, hate, lies, ugliness and evil.
The answer to Cultural Catholicism, therefore, is what I call Comprehensive Catholicism–a Catholicism that embraces all things for their essential worth.
How to counter complacency? By another ‘C’ word: Compassion. By ‘compassion’ I don’t simply mean feeling sorry for people. Instead I mean what the word means: “Passion With”. Passion is emotion that is disciplined and informed and active. “Compassion” is emotion and fire for God that is disciplined, informed and active. Compassion in this sense is an active nurturing of the love of God which is put into action to counteract the consumerism, utilitarian, hedonism and materialism of our society.
Cafeteria Catholicism, then is rooted in a deep and abiding worldliness in the American Catholic Church. What’s the answer? Complete Catholicism.
I’m talking about disciples of Christ who, every day of their lives, are turning again away from themselves to draw closer to Christ, to follow him more completely in joy and to be transformed daily more and more into his likeness. Then there will not be a question of picking and choosing which bits of Catholicism they like. Instead they will cry out with St Therese, “I will have all!” They will embrace the wholeness of the Catholic truth because it is a beautiful, complete and dynamic map for the spiritual life.
It is cut off from the deep philosophical and theological roots of the historic faith.
Worship has become for most American Catholics therefore a mixture of civic duty, a way to inculcate good values into their children, a matter of family tradition which is presented in a way that is comfortable, easy going and entertaining. The idea that we are in touch with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the pillar of fire and the burning bush, the idea that we are on the threshold of a life changing mystical experience is utterly foreign to their imagination.
Cut off Catholicism can only be countered by Continuous Catholicism.
It means nurturing in art, music, liturgy, education, prayer and formation a worldview that is counter cultural in America. It mean developing a more sacramental vision of reality–one that is rooted in the metaphysical transaction of the Mass and the daily interaction between this world and the next. It means consciously developing a new way of seeing–one that runs counter to the materialistic pragmatism of everyday America.
The antidote to Coca Cola Catholicism is Contemplative Catholicism. Contemplative Catholicism is deeply rooted in the Contemplative tradition of prayer. It is suspicious of all spiritual quick fixes. It is characterized by stability, obedience and conversion of life.
As usual, the solution is not in great plans for evangelization or catechesis. Instead what is required for individuals to realize the need for change and to determine that–even if no one else joins them–they will become a contemplative Catholic and they will allow their own transformation to be used by God to transform the world.