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October 07, 2006

Comments

MarkAA

What an article. I just learned more in the last 15 minutes than I have over the past year. Thanks for posting this, Amy.
Mark in AA

gsk

I found it to be an appalling article and was sorely disappointed in it (causing me to dash off an immediate letter to the editor when the magazine arrived). Mr Bottum spoke of Church as moral compass, as behavioural norm, and as comfortable structure that was crumbing -- without ever addressing why. Jesus was not mentioned, nor sin, contrition, nor the personal recognition of a need for a saviour. Rather, hands were wrung over loss of a Really Important Institution that made life pleasant and orderly.

Also, I found it amazing that he never mentioned the great shot in the arm that the Charasmatic Renewal provided, which would have touched on the essence of faith and the role of grace. That's the heart that was missing in the piece.

Gerald

I read it last night and once in while would read parts of it out loud to my wife. As I told her after I read the article: Bottum sets out a litany of troubling and depressing material demonstrating the human all too human failures in the Catholic Church in the last 30 years and yet you finish reading it with the feeling that a corner of sorts has been turned and you feel despite it all a strange confident upbeatness.

Ken

I was proud to see such good mention of my high school alma mater, St. Michael's Abbey, in the story. Interestingly, when I was there, some of the religious would boast that the swallows started to go to St. Michael's rather than Capistrano, because the latter was getting too congested. In the people of St. Michael's, the laity who attend and support it and the wonderfil religious men there, is the hope of reform in Orange County.

www.abbeynews.com

Daniel H. Conway

Boo hoo.

Having grown up in this time frame and learned my Catholicism well in CCD classes and on my own, attending a Jesuit institution Bottum would find anathema, learning roaries, etc, I weep not for whiners.

Pro-lifers and conservatives are not the only Catholic life that exists on campus. A large growing group of post-graduate volunteers, routinely ignored by conservatives have provided the Church and the poor with service and have brought further Life and Love in Christ. Most Catholic ministries at universities demonstrate intense dedication to the poor, and this, of course, is labeled "political" and ignored or considered by conservatives to actually detract from the Catholic ministry.

For anyone paying attention, the Church and its traditions have always been present, confession in my City of Philadelphia is offered four to five times a day within a 2 mile radius of Center City as it has been for over 2 decades, and rosaries, novenas, and perpetual adorations at the "Eagles Wings" and "Let There Be Peace on Earth" singing parishes of South Jersey have always been present.

If now GenX/late-born baby boomer Catholics didn't find a Church full of traditions for them from 1970 onward, they didn't look hard enough. Or at all, just left and whined.

Aren't conservatives all about "taking responsibility?" Well, do so. If you didn't find the Church, its because you weren't looking. A strong tradition of sacrifice and service to the poor has developed in the American Church in the meantime. And this bugs conservatives, too. A whole lot.

I don't read whiny liberal complaints, nor conservative ones. Jody Bottum continues to whine, or promote war. Or do both. I just wasted another thirty minutes on another conservative Catholic's plaintive wail of victimization. While more repelling, Bottum sounds at least a little less pitiful when he is apologizing for neocons.

Sniff.

Mark

So...Dan...you didn't read it? Yet you took the time to comment?

That's interesting. I'd say...is that approach indicative of all your comments here?

Duly noted, and your comments, from this point on, duly skipped ...since they're so...you know...well informed.

Joe Giardina

An interesting, comprehensive and thought-provoking look at the American Church.
Great Article !!! Thanks

Richard

Hello Mr. Conway,

Pro-lifers and conservatives are not the only Catholic life that exists on campus.

Do I take you to say there's a Catholic life on campus that is not pro-life?

While I wait for your answer I'll ponder the implication that conservative Catholics don't give a d*** about the poor.

Kevin Jones

Was a version of this published in the Weekly Standard? I'm pretty sure I read some of this before. That line about even the most liberal dioceses having respect life offices was very familiar.

"And then there are all the Catholic figures who have emerged in the various worlds of public discourse over the past twenty years. At the political magazines, at the think tanks, in the law schools, in the judiciary, on the television talk shows, on the book circuit, across the nation there’s a way Catholics have of recognizing one another: a wink and a nod, a figurative handshake that declares joint membership in a particular intellectual culture."

Claes Ryn has attacked movement conservatives for having been politics-centered philistines, "political intellectuals [drawing] attention and respect away from efforts whose relevance to politics was not immediately obvious."

Bottom's essay sometimes exhibits this political philistinism, over-focused on politics at the expense of cultural and theological concerns. Note how his examples of the "revival" are either in the punditry or in law. Where are the fabulists, artists, and musicians? Mel Gibson, probably a schismatic, is the only notable Catholic in Hollywood. I know Bottum is making efforts to rectify this sorry cultural situation, but the focus of his piece seems to compound the problem.

I am unsure how much this philistinism is his colleagues' fault and how much the fault of the activists to whom they are reacting. The radical, or even the liberal Catholics he describes themselves often eschewed cultural concerns in favor of political action--indeed, they often presented iconoclasm and talentless egalitarian aesthetics as necessary for their revolution against the bad old days.

Perhaps it is not surprising that conservatives mirror their opponents in this respect, but it is sad.

Maureen

I don't know why y'all are complaining. The man says that Catholic culture here has a thinness, and then he demonstrates it by how he writes his piece.

And it is harder to find Catholic artists than natural law scholars. Not to say that they're not out there, but it seems to require quite a lot of digging and pondering and getting confirmation of surmises.

OTOH, ex-Catholic artists broadcast their ex-ness!
:)

Maureen

I did like his piece, though. I want to make that clear.

I also thought his point about impatience is very telling. Our generation is an impatient bunch. In some ways, that's good. We don't wait for permission or forgiveness or anybody else's participation before we start our initiatives. OTOH, we tend to assume that nobody else will want to help, or get on board, and we don't trust Boomers or have dialogues with them. Now, granted, this is mostly because we've been burned so often. Still, there are many people out there who are Boomers, even very liberal Boomers, who might well like to say, sing chant, or have insight into a parish's problems, or actually do have a social justice point worth making. Even if we go in expecting to be slapped, we should at least talk to people and listen to what they say. Even crazy people deserve that much respect.

Christopher Fotos

Note how his examples of the "revival" are either in the punditry or in law. Where are the fabulists, artists, and musicians? Mel Gibson, probably a schismatic, is the only notable Catholic in Hollywood.

That was one of his points--there may be a revival under way, but so far it's pretty thin.

Simon

Not sure how to even respond to certain of the commentators above who want to rant against the "neocons" (the use of which term invariably betrays a complete absence of a Catholic, supernatural outlook). Or the fellow whose ecclesiogy has been so debased by Protestantism that he divorces "Jesus" from the Church, which he considers merely a "Really Important Institution that made life pleasant and orderly."

Seems to me such comments rather effectively prove Mr. Bottom's point about the absence of an authentic Catholic culture in this country -- or, at the very least, of an authentic Catholic vision of life.

I thought Bottom's piece was wonderful on many levels, particularly his poignant observation that development of an authentic Catholic culture in the U.S. is impeded by the one attitude shared by most "liberals," "conservatives," and in-betweens: contempt for the U.S. bishops.

Sad observation, but one that has the ring of truth.

Simon

For anyone paying attention, the Church and its traditions have always been present, confession in my City of Philadelphia is offered four to five times a day within a 2 mile radius of Center City as it has been for over 2 decades

I don't want to take this thread off topic, but Mr. Conway might reflect that thanks to the unusually conservative approach of the late John Cardinal Kroll, his City of Philadelphia is in no way representative of American Catholicism at large.

The "On Eagles Wings" tackiness infected everyplace. But Kroll resolutely kept out almost all of the worst excesses of the immediate post-Vatican II confusion. By the time he left, the worst of the storm was over. Philly wasn't (and isn't) perfect, but at least there was a foundation left to rebuild on.

Compare and contrast with the many dioceses of the Great Lakes region that were utterly devasted by 2 decades of Call to Action insanity.

michael

Simon,

You wrote: "I thought Bottom's piece was wonderful on many levels, particularly his poignant observation that development of an authentic Catholic culture in the U.S. is impeded by the one attitude shared by most "liberals," "conservatives," and in-betweens: contempt for the U.S. bishops."

I believe it is more a feeling of mistrust for the majority of the U.S. Bishops. And I believe that mistrust is there for a good reason. Given, as catholics, we are expected to listen and respect our Bishops, but do we have to trust them. If there is a reason not to I'd say no, especially when it comes to our families.

Brian Day

I thought Bottom's piece was wonderful on many levels, particularly his poignant observation that development of an authentic Catholic culture in the U.S. is impeded by the one attitude shared by most "liberals," "conservatives," and in-betweens: contempt for the U.S. bishops.

I am a resident of the Diocese of Orange (and the St Columban parish mentioned in the article). I can speak only for myself in that every week I find it harder and harder to respect Bishop Brown. In the past in other forums I have given a (mild) defense of the Bishop. But every time a new article is published that highlights his "progressive" attitude toward any form of piety or traditional behavior, I have to hang my head and mutter under my breath.

I am not at the contempt level yet, but I'm getting there. I suppose this is what we get when instead of having a shepherd of souls, we have shepherds of $$$.

Clare Krishan

I don't care for this "today's-church-in-malaise" kind of analysis. As to thinness isn't that what all our human efforts amount to, mere vanities of vanities, as the author of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet meaning assembly/congregation) would have us reflect? Today as the first day of the last of the Old Testament's three pilgrimage feasts, Sukkoth, draws to a close, and some Jewish families prepare to sleep under the stars in their roofless booths reading that very book, let us recall from Mark Shea's recent Catholic Exchange list of allegorical type's of Mary: Ephraim and Ambrose's Tabernacle holding the Holy of Holies and Jerome's East Gate. Recall that the prophet Ezra, after the Chosen People return to the Holy Land from their Babylonian Exile (Mr Bottum's "Swallows of San Juan Capistrano") chose the Water Gate along the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt by Nehemiah near the Tower of Ophel preceeding the temple on the Eastern Wall.

The world is in malaise and has been since Adam and Eve, and we are called, cleric and lay alike, now as then, to the same prophetic relationship of interpreting Divine Revelation in an obedient partnership for our times. There never were any halcyion days, even as Jesus exited the city to his death on the opposite side of the Temple - Calvary - only John and the women had the courage to taste the bitter fruit of the Passion with him. The green leafy boughs of apostolic discipleship preferred to remain hidden behind in the shadowy alleys of the Holy City.

Perhaps the four species of Sukkoth may help us recall this contradiction without descending into cynical scoring of political points (lest we forget, many an Orange County Reaganite ended up in bed with Abramov, happy to fund their "family-values" off the back of Indian tribes whose annual per capita income is one of the lowest among American households at around $8,000). Four types of trees unable to resist drought allude to the fact that all these species require much water to grow. The lulav (date palm) grows in watered valleys, hadass (myrtle) and aravah (willow) grow near water sources, and the etrog (citrus) requires more water than other fruit trees. Waving them in all directions, the Jew symbolically voices a prayer for abundant rainfall for all the vegetation of the earth in the coming year. Apt for today's Feast of Our Lady of Victory/Rosary -- we can pray the four mysteries in supplication for outpouring of His Spirit to revive our deathwish culture.

Like the Gospel admonition re: salt without taste, Jewish tradition speaks of needing taste and/or smell, corresponding to words without actions, as follows:
The palm has taste but no smell, symbolizing those who study Torah but do not possess good deeds.
The myrtle has a good smell but no taste, symbolizing those who possess good deeds but do not study Torah.
The willow has neither taste nor smell, symbolizing those who lack both Torah and good deeds.
The fruit has both a good taste and a good smell, symbolizing those who have both Torah and good deeds. We could consider the bitter citrus fruits our model in enduring gladly for the Lord.

However many of us may resemble the other elements in the bundle:
-- the date palm, prominent and popular with our scholastic bible studies, but too attached to worldy comforts to act on behalf of the oppressed in Darfur, in neighborhood nursing homes, or discard the contraceptives in our own medicine cabinets;
-- the myrtle, gentle and generous, a thing of beauty in mens eyes, liberal to a fault, popular for tolerating "anything goes" if it makes you feel good and keeps the bank account full, ignoring the fundamental injustices against the natural law all around us, like the Bank who's happy to advertise on TV with the red flag of communist China flapping in the chilly winds of atheistis 1-child policy Shanghai, so long as their investments keep your pension funds from falling into the red, all the while our sins crying out to heaven;
-- the willow, symbol of mourning, souls of the faithful in purgatory unable to participate in mass or make acts of reparation, relying on the prayers of the living to intercede for them in Heaven.

The catholicity of these festive symbols is instructive: the Church comprises all four types, a divinely-elected family endowed with gifts to serve Him, in need of imbibing at the source to grow into the abundant harvest of fruits celebrated at this last of the Jewish festivals to occur in our liturgical year, before we close out around harvest-time/ Thanksgiving and move into Advent.

The Water Gate metaphor is at Mass every Sunday. We celebrate the liturgies two parts as a holy whole, first the Word unpacked for us in Ezra-like homiletics, to prepare us to enter the sacred mysteries of the Temple's Holy of Holies, the Eucharist, in a Heavenly promise to reunite us with our Lord and Saviour "on the other side" in Eternal Glory. The numinous workings of the Holy Spirit are as the waters of grace poured forth to slake the thirst of the parched laborers in His vineyard. His action is not merely in the historicity of the scriptural texts but in the contemporaneous explication given to the words by the priest or deacon in his homily. While the author decries the threadbare clerical culture, I am not enamoured of his reports of a "holy-than-thou" lay culture happy to 'contracept' their hearts and minds to 'communio' with the homilist. Do they just as happily ignore the spiritual direction offered when they confess their sins with the same pastor? Are these young people palms, myrtles, willows or good fruits? Is the Holy Spirit able to fertilize their desiccated souls?

tony

I received First Things a few days ago and eagerly look forward to reading the piece. Jody Bottum is a superb writer and is he usually bang on in his analysis. One of the great writers we've got. I've never been appalled at any of Bottum's articles, unlike gsk who sounds down right perturbed :) Hmmm, maybe there's something in the article that for whatever reason some people don't want to hear, consciously or otherwise. Like I said, when I get the time I'll read it! Thanks for reminding us Amy.
Cheers from Canada.
Tony

tony

Sheesh Daniel, can I respectfully suggest that you not complain about someone else's perceived whining when you yourself are doing so much of it yourself? Give us all a holy break! There, got it off my chest. Feeling better already :)
Cheers from Canada.Tony.

scriblerus

I'm not a RadTrad but I thought the Fr. Groaner and Veronica Lueken sections were completely unnecessary. Are these folks really representative of anything?? I never see or hear about them at the various conservative parishes I've frequented; it's only on the internet that they pop up. I've never even heard my more traditionalist-minded friends mention them, except to roll their eyes. Couldn't he have treated traditionalist Catholics a little more fairly without resorting to caricatures? This does seem to be a pattern with FT. Fr. Neuhaus resorted to it in "Catholic Matters."

Anyway, I suppose this was better than having to read one of his absurd, Ogden Nash-wannabe poems.

But with his frequent comments on this topic of American Catholic culture lately, it seems that Bottum is meditating some sort of book on this topic.

Kevin Jones

Regarding anti-episcopal sentiment, are there any good studies of Catholic anti-clericalism, in both its rigorist and laxist varieties?

Cathy

I thought that a lot in the article bears some thinking - especially a critique of 'faddiness' on both the right and the left.

I was astonished however at the seeming dismissal of Cardinal Bernardin and his 'consistent ethic of life' speech. (and his subsequent 'declining reputation'....) For one thing, I think that the path blazed by that speech is enshrined in Evangelium Vitae, and also in the revision of the Catechism which made clear that capital punishment was not an option unless there were no other options. (When I teach, I use the example of a psychopathic killer in a nomadic society.)

Also, it is one of the things that can bind together the 'left' and the 'right' - those pro-life and those pro-justice. Basically, what it has done has made both groups discover their common bonds and goals. (For example, there is no justice if one is killed before birth and there is no quality of life if one doesn't have housing and health care after birth.)

I think it is one of the ways that some of the silly carping about songs can die down (or kneeling or artwork in the bulletin or whatever else isn't to someone's taste) and instead move Catholics to work for something a bit more important and lasting - like maybe converting American society to embrace both life and justice.

Cathy

Pes

I'd rather be a swallow than wait for one.

gsk

Tony said (referring to me): "Hmmm, maybe there's something in the article that for whatever reason some people don't want to hear, consciously or otherwise."

It's the exact opposite. I didn't dispute what he said -- all sad and true. I converted over 20 years ago and have waded through all this to the present day. It's not what he said, but what he neglected to say. One cannot have a rich culture for long without the underlying faith. The bottom fell out long ago and yet the visible shell remained, deceiving many who thought it was authentic and healthy.

To use another analogy, fussing over flowers is useless when the roots and soil are decayed. Mr Bottum never addressed Jesus as the heart of culture, but simply pointed out how the flowers have wilted.

Charlie

GSK,

I don't think that anyone disagrees with the fact that Jesus is the heart of culture. Mr. Bottum's article was only one small statement concerning a particular church in a particular time - ie., american catholicism after the 2nd Vatican Council. His article wasn't intended to be a statement of systematic theology or anything like that. Keep in mind, Mr Bottum's article can only take up a certain amount of space in a magazine like First Things.

gsk

It was over 13 pages -- the longest I've ever seen in FT. Jesus was mentioned exactly once (in reference to Veronica Lueken). I didn't want systematic theology, but an explanation for what he calls the "silly season." It was a simply a sequence of anecdotes, without ever surmising that the bishops and their flock had lost a connection with the Touchstone.

Glenn Juday

Dear GSK,

Perhaps the author assumed that Catholics, exposed as they are to the preaching of the words of Jesus and literally taking Jesus into themselves in the Eucharist, were in fact focusing on Jesus through their participation in the life of the Church and the sacraments. The audience made up of those familiar with the Catholic Church might reasonably be assumed to not need an elaboration of those things.

Clearly Catholics have not been comming for the morally edifying examples of the life of many priests, the iconic leadership of their bishops, or the intellectual and moral coherence of the fads encountered.

Finally, I perceive a coherence between the contents of the article and the subtitle "Catholic Culture in America." And I think it would be a mistake to make the assumption that the absence of the energetic, repetitious, and loud invocation of the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ necessarily represents a neglect of Him or even a failure to participate in His ministry in the way He wished and intended. The cultural expression of Christian faith represented by those elements clearly can be valid and salutary, but may, perhaps, fall somewhat short of all-encompassing.

Bill

"I thought Bottom's piece was wonderful on many levels, particularly his poignant observation that development of an authentic Catholic culture in the U.S. is impeded by the one attitude shared by most "liberals," "conservatives," and in-betweens: contempt for the U.S. bishops.
Sad observation, but one that has the ring of truth."Simon posted this and most who followed agreed.

I say this is wonderful. Because now we have the whole church after the bishops to practice what they preach and to realize that they have to give an account, a more powerful example, since they are leaders. It is no longer you know best but rather "you must perform best."

This is our best hope yet if we stick to it.

gsk

I hate to continue to be a crank here, but please explain to me where "love of bishops" creates culture? Is that what built Christendom centuries ago? It was built despite the corruption of the clergy, the political posturing within Europe, the claiming of this bishop or that by each sovereign to justify his ambitions.

Culture is built on love of Christ. It is a bottom-up phenomenon, not a "leadership" thing. Our culture is crumbling because the faithful have lost their love and need for Christ, pure and simple.

ron chandonia

I couldn't put the article down, but I can't say that I liked it exactly. Many of its observations were right on target and hit close to home, yet it seemed short on solutions--especially on RELIGIOUS (specifically, Catholic Christian religious) solutions. I particularly hate it that Father Neuhaus and company dismiss the consistent life ethic so easily; its meaning and power were clearly evident in the response of the Amish to the violence that befell their community. I can't think of a better solution to the spiritual malaise Bottum describes than a return to the ethic of the New Testament. Certainly that is what JPII was about.

Simon

I hate to continue to be a crank here, but please explain to me where "love of bishops" creates culture? Is that what built Christendom centuries ago? It was built despite the corruption of the clergy, the political posturing within Europe, the claiming of this bishop or that by each sovereign to justify his ambitions.

"Love of bishops" certainly does not create culture. But constant irritation with, or contempt for, bishops impedes it.

By the way, I don't think Bottom is saying (and I'm certainly not saying) that this hostile attitude of so many American Catholics of all stripes toward their bishops is unjustified. The don't-rock-the-boat, keep-everyone-in-dialogue-at-all-costs, gentlemen's club mindset that predominates the US bishops conference is, frankly, not worthy of respect. But endemic dissatisfaction with the leadership is not conducive to building a Catholic culture, the root of which is love.

Jeff

It is unwise to pin the hopes for a renaissance of Catholic culture squarely on the pro-life movement. Catholic culture is and must be broader and deeper than this.

Ultimately an essentially secular political movement cannot substitute for moral formation provided by the Church itself.

Look at what the identification of Quaker culture with the abolition movement did. Did it result in a rejuvenation of Quakerism? Quite the contrary.

scriblerus

I think "contempt for bishops" is too strong. Yet, Bottum did remind me of something I have noticed several times in my own life. My own life as a Catholic proceeds on a fairly even keel without much intervention from the bishops. I try to follow what the Pope is doing and saying but can't remember anything special done by my various bishops. I've been pretty indifferent to them (except Grahmann in Dallas, who it seems is doing his best to run that diocese into the ground).

I think that part of this indifference is actually due to the success of Catholics (especially conservative ones) in creating para-church organizations (pro-life groups; magazines like FT, Crisis, NOR; internet groups; book sellers) that allow us to exist and operate outside of the oversight of liberal oversight groups that took hold in dioceses after the 1960s (e.g., chancery offices). So, Jody Bottum, in his capacity as editor of FT, might be a symptom of the very process he is critiquing.

Is this a healthy thing? Is it a good thing that liberal and conservative Catholics interact with each other so little? Would it be better for me to run for my parish council instead of sinking into my easy chair with the latest FT? Of course, these aren't mutually exclusive but it sometimes seems that way. On the other hand, perhaps, it might be best to let liberals age and die off and then the swallows can come back to Capistrano.

Richard

Scriblerus,

Couldn't he have treated traditionalist Catholics a little more fairly without resorting to caricatures? This does seem to be a pattern with FT. Fr. Neuhaus resorted to it in "Catholic Matters."

Probably a little unfair. But it's probably because Neuhaus and FT get such grief from so many Traddies.

Hello Simon,

"Love of bishops" certainly does not create culture. But constant irritation with, or contempt for, bishops impedes it.

Well said indeed.

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