Peter Avvento offered part 1 of this series on Monday night. If you missed part 1, don’t let that keep you from attending any of the other sessions. This was a great evening, with the promise of more to follow. There are no easy answers, but Peter offers us excellent questions to explore, and the possibility of paths to follow. All are welcome, so please join us! And please share this with friends and on social media.
A Crisis of Faith or a Crisis of Culture?
If you stop and talk with your everyday Catholic I am sure that you will hear them bemoan the fact that we are experiencing a crisis of faith of epic proportions. Evidence of this crisis can be found in the decline in Mass attendance, the challenges to authority, the loss of respect for the institution due to the sex abuse scandals, the decline in priestly vocations, the seemingly rampant secularism that colors the mind and heart of our young people. But is this truly a crisis of faith or is it not a crisis of culture?
We are all products of our cultural environment as well as shapers and architects of that culture. In order to understand what this crisis is about we need to look at three key cultural moments in the life of American Catholicism: culture of need, culture of compliance and culture of demand.
Culture of need – points to our earliest historical memory of being a Catholic in this country. The immigrant experience was one that can be described as a “search for acceptance”. The church provided the safe harbor for our grandparents and great-grandparents. In a country that believed or claim to believe in freedom of religion our Catholic ancestors were shunned, ridiculed and persecuted. They sought refuge in their parish community, typically constituted along ethnic lines – the Polish parish, the Italian parish, the Irish parish and so on, especially in the urban capitals of our country. Our ancestors flocked to the church for acceptance, community and enjoyment. The Church met that need.
Culture of compliance – this next evolution can best be summarized by the phrase, “Pray, pay, obey” and reached its apex in the 1950s as churches and seminaries were full, money was in the bank and everything proceeded like clockwork. This cultural epoch was not about individual choice and commitment. Rather, one could “hide in the weeds” of being born into the Catholic community. One learned the answers in the catechism and without even appropriating the core message, tried to live by a code of decency. This culture was based on a merit system whereby one could “earn” salvation through obedience and compliance.
Culture of demand – emerged as part of the post Vatican II experience and the rude awakening to individual freedom that was heralded in the 1960s. Now we began to be educated consumers who demanded excellence – excellent preaching, excellent music, and excellent liturgical celebration. If we did not get what we wanted to moved to where we could find it. No longer were we bound b y geographical confines. We “shopped” for what we wanted and needed. This continues to be our situation today. We want to be fed and we will move inside and outside of our denomination to find happiness and peace.