Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rethinking Catholic Identity

But... Why?  What purpose could such a contraption serve?

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, The Church has seen the phrase "Catholic identity" enter it's lexicon in increasing extent.  I go to a Catholic university, and we are dripping with that phrase.  "We need more Catholic identity here" and "Catholic identity needs to improve" and "This campus has a weak Catholic identity" and so on.  We drop the phrase like its nothing, and I wonder if we actually stop to ask ourselves "What does it mean to be Catholic?  What is our Catholic identity?" because all too often, it is the words we use the most that we know the least about.

First off, he never actually said that.
Second, the presence or absence of this mug
in your possessions makes you no
 more or less Catholic.

All too often, I find that when people use the term "Catholic identity", they really mean "Catholic brand".  They want their university/high school/hospital/youth ministry/indoor and outdoor decor to look Catholic, usually to an overwhelming extent.  In the same manner that a guy might make his man-cave a glittering tribute to Budweiser, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Goodwrench tools, he could make it a glittering man-cave dedicated to Mary, St. Francis, and Padre Pio.  Now, its perfectly good and holy to have great devotion to these people, but true Catholic devotion differs in style from a devotion to beer, NASCAR, and tools.  People know our devotion to a certain brand or icon because we put its image on our person and property (or, in the case of one guy who passed away, on his tombstone.  Busch Light cans, sandblasted in stone until the end of time.)  Catholicism is not a brand.  We're not one marketing scheme among others, nor are we one purchase among others in the religious marketplace.  Catholicism isn't one option of religion among others, as much as our society (and many Catholics) seem to think.

All religion is Catholic, Catholicism is all religion, because, as St. Justin Martyr said, "Everything that is true is ours."  We're not one option among others.  We're not even the best option.  We, the Catholic Church, are the only option, apart from the nihilistic option to have no option whatsoever.  If, by any chance, you grasp onto some sort of Goodness, Truth, or Beauty, you're grasping towards Catholicism, whether you realize it or not.  When you progress towards anything except for nothing at all, you progress towards Catholicism.  People think of religion as a series of different camps or schools, when it is really only one camp, and the only difference between religions is how far into the camp you're willing to travel.  Think of it as a hill.  Many will say "I stand on the hill of Islam, or Buddhism, or Atheism, or Deism, or Catholicism."  When really, there's one mountain, with the glittering cathedrals of Catholicism perched upon its lofty slopes, and the only thing distinguishing my faith from yours is from where you approach the mountain, and how far up it you choose to climb.  Perched on the peak, shining brighter than the sun, is Jesus Christ.  All truth, all goodness, and all beauty are measured in proximity to Jesus Christ, and inseparable from Christ, by right of Divine Marriage, is the Church.  Catholicism isn't an option or brand as much as it is a journey to Truth; Catholic identity isn't differentiating yourself as Catholic rather than anything else as much it is merely seeking to be the best possible.
As it turns out, the Vatican actually is a city on a hill...
When we seek to have a "Catholic identity" we cannot treat it as some marketing scheme for our religion as opposed to another religion.  Display your symbols if you must, but not because its cool, or trendy, or you want to others to know what brand you've bought into.  Catholicism must not be reduced to the religious version of a North Face jacket.  We're not a religion of trendy slogans and bumper stickers, each more clever and witty than the last.  We're the fullness of Truth on this side of eternity.  If you wish to identify as Catholic, identify as all that is good and true and beautiful in this world.  Catholicism is the mountain of the Lord, the City perched on the Hill, and our so-called "Catholic identity" resides upon the extent to which we climb that mountain.  As Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati often said, "Versa l'alto!" (Towards the top!)

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