Saturday, August 02, 2008

Catholic Shame?

Flagellants, (circa 1349?)

Those of us who are older than 45 can probably tell you a thing or two about Catholic guilt.

In the media, it's a sort of tiresome cliche, as if it's a given for everyone who's Catholic. Among those younger than 45, however, I don't think it's there to any extent at all. They carry around something very different indeed, which may be even heavier to bear, even if in some cases it's covered up by a sort of bravado.

Recently I read a book called The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God, by Scott Korb & Peter Bebergal. It was an unremarkable read as far as I was concerned, but I did see an interesting quote in there attributed to the Catholic writer Paul Elie. I think I do see a lot of this going around...

Among the church's younger members, Catholic guilt has been supplanted by Catholic shame - a deep embarrassment about our church and its presence in the culture. In part we are ashamed for the reasons Christians have always felt ashamed: we associate faith with childhood and are eager to throw off childish ways; we disapprove of the church's doings; we appraise the church by its own standards and it doesn't measure up; or we appraise ourselves and realize we don't live up to what Christ and the church demand of us.

Mostly, though, we are ashamed because we lack the resources of Catholic tradition that might enable us to reconcile seeming opposites and make sense of the absurdity we confront.


crystal said...

That's interesting. I always remember Fr. Philip of Poltergeist: The Legacy saying "Never try guilt on a Catholic - we practically invented it" :)

Brother Charles said...

I agree most with the last part, about resources for reconciling "seeming opposites" and the "absurdity we confront."

For me, in my own conversion to Catholic Christianity, this was the main thing. Faced with the shallowness of late adolescent pseudo-intellectual bravado in myself, the drunken irresponsibility of the college world around me, and the tragic absurdity of the first war in Iraq beyond, such resources were exactly what I was looking for.

Learning, praying, and living around such mysteries as the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the sacraments became those resources for me.

So, over and over I am jarred in ministry to find that people who are otherwise pretty good Catholics don't have any idea of the spiritual richness and depth of the Christian tradition and its applicability to their own predicaments.

It's like the haunting statement of my best friend from college, who is know a philosophy professor, "Christianity has rich and beautiful mysteries, but nobody helps anyone to step into them. The are trained to be spectators only"

Jeff said...


Yeah, that's the media thing I'm talking about. Father Philip Callaghan would have been too young to know or experience that.

As for the claim itself, I know some dutiful sons of old-world Jewish mothers who'd say they can give us a run for our money. :)

Jeff said...

Hi Charles,

Thanks for relating that experience to us. In all the sturm and drang around the culture wars today, we tend to forget that there is really nothing new under the sun, and that the human predicament stays largely the same throughout the centuries. We've picked up a lot of good ideas and practices along the way, and we've enjoyed the benefits of having had great saints (some known and some largely unknown and unheralded) who've plumbed the depths of the mysteries.

There's deep wisdom there to be mined.

Garpu said...

I think it's hard to be proud of one's Catholic identity after the rise of Christian fundamentalism in this country over the past 8 years. Invariably when people discover I'm Catholic I find myself explaining a host of things that are political, not necessarily religious things that are assumed all Catholics agree on.

Jeff said...


Really? Maybe that's a West-coast thing. People here wouldn't necessarily think that even a conservative Catholic had the same political views as a fundamentalist.

crystal said...

I guess I am embarrassed about explaining to non-christians/catholics about why the church doesn't let women be priests, or why birth control can't be used, etc.

But the wealth of spirituality makes up for that. It was just St. Iggy day, and when I think about the spiritual exercises, for instance, I'm proud of the catholic church.

Jeff said...


St. Iggy. I like that. Íñigo, I think, was the company's affectionate name for him. :)

Garpu said...

It could very well be a west coast attitude. I don't remember it in the midwest so much, but I wasn't as politically aware.