Wednesday, October 09, 2002

An open letter in response to, and with gratitude for, M. Dammeyer's comments:

I'm surprised and saddened that you would consider this particular essay a declaration of generational warfare. Even on re-reading my post after reviewing your comments, I don't see it in that light. (And I do apologize for my myopic vision.) Perhaps, it would help to backtrack. If you read the prior essay, you will notice my statement that, in the pre-Vatican Church, parents assumed that, by placing their children in the care of the parochial school, they were fulfilling their Catholic responsibility. In doing so, they allowed the mutually supportive yet separate paths of Catholic authority to merge and overlap into one generic area that was neither the priesthood nor the family. This concentration of authority meant that neither the priest nor the parent was pro-actively involved in their designated duties.

This situation was severely exacerbated in the post-Vatican Church ...And post-Vatican religious education did indeed veer very far from what had been the norm. The change in religious education was the 'fault' of reformers but, as I mentioned in the previous posting, the Catholic education system ...did eventually stray ... and far worse, no one with legitimate authority noticed. Catholic parents had permitted themselves the luxury of complacency. They had abdicated their parental obligations to the professional class of experts.

You ask Did you ever consider that the problem might be precisely that Catholics were "well on their way to becoming the richest segment of society?" Blame the “Reformers” all you will – but the 50’s generation and their children walked willingly into agnosticism with cash gripped tightly in both hands. Of course these weren't the Catholics that I had in mind when I used the phrase. I was thinking about the amazing success of the WW2 generation who were both secularly successful and religiously faithful. In a large measure, it was these faithful Catholics who lost their children to the "Catholic Enlightenment." It is precisely this generation with whom I suggest we reconnect.

Additionally, the 50's generation is one that would now fall within my 'suspect' range. I suggest that, rather than mere materialism, it was a particularly humanistic 'theology' that was most devastating to Catholic culture. It is this substitution of humanism for Christianity that still captivates the commitment of Catholics who, in my mind, distort the Faith beyond all recognition. I think that it is legitimate to argue against these distortions. I consider them more detrimental to the Faith than the 'desert wanderings' of "children who lost their religion while embracing a secular world.". I also think it only fair to point out that many, if not most, of these young people (particularly in the 60's and 70's) left on 'spiritual quests' since the Catholicism they received was deficit in its transcendental aspect.

In faith, I hope that a great many of these stray Catholics will someday remember the Faith of their parents and return to the fold. When they do, I imagine most will 'study the Faith' before their return and that they will essentially be embracing the Faith of their inheritance. In rejecting secularism and/or alternate theologies , they will probably adopt a theocentric worldview. As far as assigning blame for their apostasy, I imagine that, like the rest of us, they are ultimately responsible for their own choices and their own souls.

I don't think that I blame "Reformers" any more that I blame any other group. I think that reformers were prideful, well-intended and naive; I think that parents were complacent, well-intended and naive; I think that children were conformist, well-intended and naive. I don't think that it's a matter of assigning blame. It is an issue of reclaiming our legacy.

You also claim that "American Catholics prior to Vatican II gleefully participated in the greatest acquisition of wealth in the history of the world while simultaneously presiding over the most complete destruction of the family imaginable." To the best of my knowledge, up until the "reform", Catholic families were pretty much intact. Most of the Catholic families I grew up around were wealthy, intact, large and religious. The families of those children, with whom I have kept in touch, are generally smaller (but large by today's standards), intact, wealthy and religious. Wealth does not necessarily equate with apostasy or small families.

By the same token, looking at the larger picture, I think that your observation about materialism ( combined with secular humanism) is on target. I think that more than wealth, our problem was, and continues to be, a certain preference for the self that is a part of the larger milieu. These changes in Catholic society may have been partially the result of opening up the Church to the larger milieu. However, the possibility that this was an unintended consequence, should not be seen as an indictment of Vatican reforms. It could just as easily be seen an indictment of the pre-Vatican Church.

I don't disagree with your claim that "the 50’s generation and their children walked willingly into agnosticism with cash gripped tightly in both hands." Nor would I entirely deny your observation that "The blame belongs with the parents and children who lost their religion while embracing a secular world", but my more urgent concern is with the quality of religious education that the current generation of practicing Catholics have received. Their understanding of their faith is deficit in a lot of ways. I would suggest that people who see the Church primarily as a human service and social justice agent have a distorted sense of religion in general. Yet many current Catholics seem to see the Church in just that light.

I think the Vatican Council was a tremendous blessing for the Church. I think that it was an essential and authentic movement of the Holy Spirit. In the long run, I imagine that the fruits of the Council will far outweigh the costs. None of this, however, changes the facts that the implementation of post-Vatican reform was brutal and that it did decimate "family faith transmissions." My clearest recollection of the reformer's contempt was the often applied metaphor of the "old Italian woman saying her beads." Any one who hesitated or objected to change was met with derogatory comments comparing them to superstitious, ignorant immigrants whose only sense of the faith was to mutter Rosary prayers like a thoughtless mantra. This is just one of the images that were used to invoke shame and insecurity. Whether or not, the goal was worthy, the implementation was savage, unjust and a cheat.

Although my assessment is not unique, quite possibly it is unjust. You are right to point out that possibility. Personally, however, I remain unconvinced by your argument. My memory is too strong. My post accurately reflects that memory. Of course, as I freely point out, my voice is only one among many. I most fervently hope that all of my posts are taken with a grain of salt. After all, I'm just shy of that 'suspect' generation and I'm well within the 'age of apostasy.' To quote my brother, I may be "one of the people who grew up to be the people our parents warned us about."

Anyway, perhaps within this larger context, it might be easier to view my claim that without rejecting the authentic fruits of the Vatican Council, we must reach beyond the gray-haired revolutionaries to the people whose lives they so violently altered...What we are seeking is an integration of personal experiential wisdom with lessons transmitted through a long line of family and faith lore. In reclaiming our cultural past, we lend historic authority to our own efforts to reclaim our rightful place in the Church. We are doing more than starting from scratch. We are starting from legitimate authority. Between the wisdom of the past and the pressures of the present, we can grow quite quickly in authority.

Oh, and for informational purposes only, since I live in immigrant, urban Queens (NYC), my parish doesn't even have a parking lot, let alone SUV's to fill it. ;-)


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