Society Magazine

Is Catholicism in America Dying?

Posted on the 02 May 2013 by Brutallyhonest @Ricksteroni

Fr. Longenecker suggests it is... and that it's being killed by cultural forces and complacency.

From his first in a series of posts on the subject:

The first problem is cultural catholicism. The Poles, Italians, Irish, French, Czech, German and more AmchurchCatholics came here from the old country and the bishops reckoned the best thing to do with them all was to allow cultural parishes. So in the same town the Irish Catholics went to St Patrick’s and the Poles to St Stanislaus and the Italians to St Anthony of Padua. Geesh, a man in my parish who grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania said that when he was a boy a girl from his Czech parish fell in love with an Irish boy and the Irish priest wouldn’t marry them because it was a mixed marriage.

I’m all for cultural customs and so forth, but the problem is that the immigrant Catholics–in a foreign land–clung to their culture for security and happiness and part of that culture was their Catholicism. The didn’t distinguish their culture from their Catholicism. Then, after a few generations, when they were all really American and stopped being Italian or Irish or German they also stopped being Catholic. The Catholic faith wasn’t much deeper than Mama’s special spaghetti sauce or stories of the Blarney stone.

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. Just as Catholicism gave their former culture God’s approval, not their Catholicism gave American values and culture God’s approval.

Thus we have what I call AmChurch: the American Catholic church which is happily and blissfully blended with everything wonderful about America. Except that the “wonderful” values of most Americans are unapologetically materialistic, hedonistic and self centered. Thus at least 50% of American Catholics live like their American neighbors–going to the mall, getting as much stuff as possible, giving as little as possible, having a neat and tidy two children and a double income, and basically smiling their way to success like everyone else.

Of course there's more, to include what Fr. Longecker sees to be a solution but he doesn't stop there.

In Part II, he writes about complacency:

Too many American Catholics are complacent. They are lukewarm, and when a church is lukewarm (as it says in the Book of Revelation) God will spit them out. Why are American Catholics lukewarm in their faith? The problem is not simply laziness. It is linked with the first problem of cultural Catholicism.

Too many American Catholics have soaked up the materialistic spirit of the American age totally uncritically. They have chosen the way of materialism, hedonism,utilitarianism and consumerism, and this has dulled their commitment to Christ and the gospel. What are all these “ism’s”? Materialism is not simply buying lots of stuff at the mall. It is also a philosophy that the physical world is really all that matters. This translates into an attitude about the church in which all that matters is the good works of feeding the poor and doing peace and justice. While these things are important–to focus on them alone makes the church, (as Pope Francis says) no more than an NGO–just another charity.

Hedonism is the pleasure principle. If it feels good do it. You needn’t be a debauched drug addict to be a hedonist. Your a perfectly good candidate for the hedonist party with your dedication to a nice, comfortable middle class lifestyle. If you live for pleasure–even if it is a refined and tasteful pleasure–you’re a hedonist.

Utilitarianism is putting practicality first. It is relying on worldly common sense rather then the Holy Spirit. It is making choices according to the bottom line, efficiency and practicality. Most American Catholics choose birth control, for example, because it is a practical, seemingly common sense decision. While we should be practical and efficient and choose wisely–we are also called not just to be practical, but radical. The saints are never utilitarian. Instead they are devoted to the wild and wonderful and unpredictable love of God.

Finally, consumerism is not just soaking up just as much of the world’s resources as possible. It is also a mentality that one is a customer. It’s Frank Sinatra’s theme song, “I Did it My Way”. It’s the attitude, “I’m paying. I’ll choose.” When this attitude comes into the church everybody is the loser. It breeds discontent, disorder and dissent.

Together these “ism’s” produce a kind of lethargy in the American Catholic Church. There’s a deadness and torpor. Eyes glaze over. Parishes become like yesterday’s porridge: cold and hard to stir. The fire is gone. The Church is complacent.

Again, there's more and it's all revealing.  I believe he'll be writing additional pieces so be on the lookout.

It's well worth checking into and frankly, I'm a little relieved at what I'm reading thus far.

Regular readers know that I returned to the Catholic Church roughly 3 years ago after about a 40 year hiatus.  My return however was offset by a number of people I know, some of them in my own family, who quit going.  I thought that perhaps I was killing Catholicism in America... or at least in my circle of influence.

It's good to know it's actually something else.  I was getting a complex.

Carry on.


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