C is for Catholic… and Categories
This insightful and witty blog was written by NATHAN AHEARNE and is being reproduced here with his kind permission.
By its very definition, the universal nature of the Catholic Church should be characterized by a sense of inclusion and harmony.
Addressing the early Church in Corinth, St Paul explains that the parts of the body (Church) cannot say to one another that they are greater or more important and yet this rhetoric seems to be a pervading tone among many discussions in the Australian 2020 Plenary. We must ask ourselves, how catholic is the Catholic Church?
After graduating Year 12 with a basic understanding of the distinction between Catholicism and Protestantism, I presumed I had explored all there was to know about Christian divisions. However, as I navigated my way through the Church in Canberra, I noted a tendency amongst Catholics to continually sub brand themselves and others.
For instance, possessing knowledge of Church teaching would earn the comment, “she’s just a conservative Catholic” and evidence of commitment to social justice implied you were a “typical lefty”. Finger pointing and name calling always seemed out of place within Christian circles, but it has been there throughout all of history as religious groups try to define themselves as distinct from the other.
The fragmented nature of the Australian Catholic Church is evident when Catholics like Father Frank Brennan are required to refrain from speaking in certain Archdiocese. Paul reminds us, “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Scrolling through the comments in the 2020 Plenary Facebook page reveals the judgmental lines that are etched deeply in the psyche of many Australian Catholics.
The following list of ‘C’ names is derived from listening to the many and varied opinions of Catholics in Australia, and I must point out that it does not reflect my own viewpoint or understanding. Whilst there is some truth in the descriptions I’ve heard people ascribe to other Catholics, the following list is also riddled with unfair and superficial statements, divisive judgements and myopic viewpoints.
- Cradle Catholics are people who have been raised in the Catholic faith since birth (in contrast to a person who has converted to the faith). It is usually implicit that the person has not lapsed in the faith and had a relatively straightforward Catholic journey from one Sacrament to another. This label is also used to imply a lack of choice and judgement of the religious belief system that they were raised in.
- Concerned Catholics by their own definition are “a group of Catholics in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese concerned about a number of governance, cultural and structural issues arising from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse”. They “seek an effective voice for lay people in the administration and direction of our Church” and have been regarded as a strident watchdog advocate for the voiceless.
- Conservative Catholics or traditionalist Catholics refers to a group of people who are in favour of restoring many or all of the customs, traditions, liturgical forms, public and private devotions and presentations of the teaching of the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council. Ronald L. Conte Jr. also notesthat they are commonly associated with an attachment to the Eucharistic liturgy, opting for the traditional Latin form of the Mass and piecing together remnants of times past.
- Churched Catholics are those who attend Church on a weekly basis and understand the teachings of the Catholic Church. This group is set apart from the often regarded ‘unchurched’ group of Catholics who apparently don’t attend Mass or have any understanding of Church teaching.
- Conscience Catholics are those who have received formation as Catholics and their lives strongly reflect many of the values and principles of the Church. They don’t believe in all of teachings of the Church and will inform their conscience through other sources of wisdom.
- Charism Catholics can be perceived to be more in love with the founder of a religious order than Christ Jesus. They worship the spirituality and way of being religious, straying from the Word of God and placing an over emphasis on the writings of the founder. They mistake the gift for the giver.
- Convenient Catholics will select the appropriate time to raise their hand as a Catholic (enrolling children in Catholic School, job interviews) and will shy away from the spotlight if religion is being attacked. They wear the ‘Catholic badge’ with pride, they know how to look the part but are deemed (by other groups of Catholics) to be shallow and superficial, lacking in any real faith.
- Catechetical Catholics or Conscientious ‘Card Carrying’ Catholics are judged to be those who know and adhere closely to the ‘rule book’ (Catechism) of the Catholic Church. They often refer to elements of the CCC and insist that every Catholic should have a thorough understanding of the teachings. Some Catholics suggest this group is characterized by an over emphasis on the rules and a lack of relational discipleship.
- Creative Catholics “believe that every one of us is called to create. It is who we are because it is who God is. We are believe that God is calling his Church to a culture of rebirth and creative energy, a New Renaissance in Catholic Culture to renew the world through to the Catholic Imagination”. Catholic Creatives is an example of a community where creative culture is being birthed every day.
- Cautious Catholics are not willing to make their faith known publically. Their faith is a private practice and many are judged as being too scared to share their faith with others for fear of ridicule or persecution by secular society. Church scandals help to drive up the numbers of people in this group.
- Charismatic Catholics or the “happy clappy mob”, are those who have been drawn into the Charismatic Renewal and are defined by their emotionally charged, spirit filled praise and worship of God. They place a strong emphasis on personal relationship with God and expressing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Many are deemed as looking for the next ‘spiritual high’ and disconnected with reality.
- Cerebral Catholics live their faith through intellectual pursuit. There isn’t much they don’t know about the faith and are hungry for new knowledge. Digesting information comes naturally and they are able to analyze and synthesize theories about faith. They are considered to have knowledge about Jesus, but lack depth in an affective, heart level.
- Compassionate Catholics are the doers, the activists and the sleeves rolled up crew. With a strong sense of justice, but limited understanding of Christ’s teachings and personal encounter with God, this group spends all of their time helping other people. Seemingly ‘obsessed with service of the poor’, they lack any real experience of divine love.
- Contemplative Catholics have an interior focus and theirs is the “prayer of the heart and not of the mind. Contemplative prayer may focus on a word or a saying or one may simply be in the presence of God” (CCC 2715). With a strong devotion to prayer life the inner life, they have been accused of too much ‘navel gazing’ and not being in the world.
What’s with the judgements?
Why do we have such a fascination with setting ourselves apart from the other, looking down on and alienating? Dr David Benner answers this question with reference to philosopher and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung.
“Religious beliefs, and the accompanying sense of belonging within a community that shares the monopoly on the truth those beliefs sometimes appear to contain, feed a basic need of the ego. The ego needs to feel special. It does this by making distinctions that set it apart from others. Possessing the truth and belonging to the small circle of those that share this distinction is like a hit of crack cocaine to the fragile ego” (2018).
Whilst Benner implies each of these subgroups seeks to claim itself to be The Way, I’m not convinced that I want to follow a particular group.
My Christian journey has been an eclectic way of being, perusing the smorgasbord of Catholicism and piecing it together on my plate. Will I eventually settle on a single dish? I doubt it.
I would like to be considered a Christocentric Catholic, but if you didn’t know me well, you could easily assign me one of the above labels. Maybe I should be labelled as a ‘Can’t Choose’ Catholic?
Regardless of the basket I’m put in, I just hope that I’m never considered to be a cranky, cruel, crabby or crotchety Catholic.