So. A kind soul recently inquired about the unpublishable book two, and I directed her to this bit, which was to have served as the opening.

She replied:

“Here’s what struck me:

‘…Conversion can mean upheaval and uprooting – a break with loved ones, the sacrifice of a common culture, the crucifixion of old, familiar habits. And to hear Alexander tell it, conversion could mean a skewed vision that threw things out of proportion. If there was a cradlish tendency to treat the faith as just another part of life, it seemed there was a converted tendency to treat it as the only part that mattered. And such a tendency could take its toll.’

And I believe this is true of reversion, as well. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit over the last few years – and even more over the last few months. (Maybe too much time in the blogosphere?) It’s that increasingly diminishing (? oxymoron alert!) sense of proportionality, which is fundamental to human interaction, it seems to me. Without it, we are reduced to babbling tribes, recognizing nothing human in those with whom with we resolutely disagree.

Here’s the concrete take: When I was a young university student, wholly in the thrall of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ and all its fuzzy ecumanist/humanist feel-goodness, the people I simply could not abide were the ‘orthodox’ liturgical prescriptionists, who I derisively and regularly referred to as the ‘Pre-Vat-II’ set. Two of them were my roommates, and I called them friends even so. But their reactionary, un-nuanced (to me) mindset I found to be one of the arguments against ‘the True Faith,’ effectively preventing me from engaging the principles to which they so ardently clung (rightly, though at the time I could not see that). So fast forward a decade, give or take, and suddenly lo! various life-changing events conspire to bring me around to a position pretty much identical to my reactionary friends’. And lo! I have become exactly like them in my disdain for all things smacking of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II.’ And I hear myself making the same kinds of contemptuous proclamations about the Masses at St. Thus-and-such and the committees behind the workshops at Catholic Group Retreat.

So I am asking myself – what has happened here? Does the embrace of Truth as a real thing necessarily do away with one’s ability to hear/speak to/celebrate/love The Other? Why cannot we acknowledge Truth=Beauty; God=Love without invariably continuing on through to Us Vs. Them? Because it seems to me more and more unlikely (speaking for myself, though the culture would suggest as much). And I do not see anyone within or without Holy Mother Church who has any answers.*********”

To which I replied, rather grumpily:


I haven’t gotten into an online dustup over Catholic Crap in years, because I don’t want to go to hell for hating my fellow Catholics. I almost broke that policy last night, after reading a bunch of The Orthodox go to work on a priest who dared to criticize a BROTHER PRIEST (gasp) for telling parents to PULL THEIR KIDS FROM SCHOOL RATHER THAN LISTEN TO OBAMA’S SPEECH. The critical priest runs a parish of 10K in the South, hears confession six times a week, quotes Evangelium Vitae from the pulpit, but don’t you know it, he’s a liberal traitor to Christ because he watches American Idol and suggests that sermons ought to avoid this kind of bs isolationist scolding.

I am so grateful that I have known holy men and women whose embrace of the faith has been so complete that they are able to be orthodox and yet continue to love the Other.”

p.s. Why do I consider attending the Trid Mass at St. Anne’s? Not in the least because of liturgical prescriptionism. Because I want to AVOID it. Because I would like to attend a Mass where I can worship instead of being tempted to critique. Liturgy matters, but I hate the prescriptionism, the discussion of failure. Or rather, I hate myself after doing it/listening to it.

p.p.s. On a practical level, what has helped me, prosaic as it sounds, is keeping Christ as the center of my attention, and not His Church.”

To which she replied:

“Well, yes. And weekly adoration (and Mass) is the principal reason I’m still doggedly pursuing heaven, in spite of the nagging knowledge that in all likelihood, if I ever get there I’ll be standing next to … that guy.

But the question that still troubles me is…WHY do Catholics suck? Why, if we are the heirs the Tradition, Truth, sacraments, grace, countless saints? C’mon God, what is it about Catholicism that makes us MORE likely to become imitators of Lucifer than his Enemy? Hm, maybe the answer is there and I just haven’t read the right books (that’s what [mutual friend] would probably say). Of course it’s a given that I haven’t read 90 percent of the Bible: I was catechized in the Spirit of Vatican II!

One of the things that I found so appealing about postmodernism is that I think its hesitancy to acknowledge truth exhibits a kind of humility that is lacking in modernism and POMO’s totalitarian offshoot, relativism. I think Waiting for Godot has heart and humor–and even the potential for hope, though that often depends on the staging. What it doesn’t have–and what too much of Orthodox (TM) Catholicism has in spades: Disdain for The Other. And maybe this is one reason Catholics suck in general: They don’t understand art, nor do they make any effort to do so. They either fear it or they think it needs to Be Important or Uphold the Faith, but they mostly just ‘know what they like and don’t like.’ Us Vs. Them.”

To which I replied:

“Art is dangerous, sister – there’s a reason so many of the sterner saints warned against attending the theater. It’s dangerous because it deals in particulars, and particulars are a lousy place to search for universal truth and affirmation of doctrine.

Tribalism flourishes in lots of places – the [REDACTED] have built higher walls than we ever will. Their own music, their own novels, their own worlds in those [REDACTED]. [REDACTED]l authors make more money because they have a captive audience. So I don’t know if we’re worse than everybody else.

When you get to heaven, you and that guy will both be lovely people. So that’s all right then.”

So. There it is. Thought it worth sharing, if only for my interlocutor’s observations.

UPDATE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MAKING THINGS CLEAR: Yes, I homeschool. Yes, I think the President has a right to address children in public schools. No, I am not a fan of President Obama. Yes, I think parents ought to be able to pull their kids if they want to. No, I don’t think a priest should suggest that letting your kids listen to the President give a speech on education is tantamount to leaving the gate open for the wolf. Yes, I think he has the right to say that, even if he’s wrong. I also think a fellow priest has a right to criticize it without being tarred and feathered by God’s loving family. Great line from an old Jesuit: “Do I not conquer my enemy when I make him my friend?”


  1. j. christian says

    It's dangerous because it deals in particulars, and particulars are a lousy place to search for universal truth and affirmation of doctrine.

    Could you elaborate a little more on that, please? I'm really curious — what would be an example of that?

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Psalm 73:
    A psalm of Asaph.
    How good God is to the upright, the Lord, to those who are clean of heart!
    But, as for me, I lost my balance; my feet all but slipped,
    Because I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
    For they suffer no pain; their bodies are healthy and sleek.
    They are free of the burdens of life; they are not afflicted like others.
    Thus pride adorns them as a necklace; violence clothes them as a robe.
    Out of their stupidity comes sin; evil thoughts flood their hearts.
    They scoff and spout their malice; from on high they utter threats.
    They set their mouths against the heavens, their tongues roam the earth.
    So my people turn to them and drink deeply of their words.
    They say, "Does God really know?" "Does the Most High have any knowledge?"
    Such, then, are the wicked, always carefree, increasing their wealth.
    Is it in vain that I have kept my heart clean, washed my hands in innocence?
    For I am afflicted day after day, chastised every morning.
    Had I thought, "I will speak as they do," I would have betrayed your people.
    Though I tried to understand all this, it was too difficult for me,
    Till I entered the sanctuary of God and came to understand their end.
    You set them, indeed, on a slippery road; you hurl them down to ruin.
    How suddenly they are devastated; undone by disasters forever!
    They are like a dream after waking, Lord, dismissed like shadows when you arise.

    "Though I tried to understand all this, it was too difficult for me." The Psalmist looks around at the particulars, and wonders how it can be thus, given what God has promised. How does he console himself; how does he make sense of things? Not by what he sees before him, but by what is to come.

    Or consider Brideshead. It's the story of grace working in and through a family, yes? (At least, that's what Waugh said.) But Catholicism in that story drives a marriage asunder, cripples a mother emotionally, drives one son to drink and another into unbearable priggishness. People like to concentrate on the ending, and rightly so. But along the way, being Catholic takes an awful toll on the Flytes. It would be easy to look at them and say, "This is life in abundance? This is the fulness of grace?" The story as a whole is friendly to faith, granted, but in many of the particulars, maybe less so.

    Granted, this is not all terribly well thought-out. But it's a start. I also find myself recalling responses to some of my movie reviews. People asking, "Why would I ever want to see a film about sinners?" (As if there were any other kind of film.)

  3. cubeland mystic says

    I'm confused. Did you write this? Is this a snippet of a snippet of some inside baseball stuff?

    Should "critical priest" read "criticized priest"?

    I can see you're ready for the desert. It's time. I have an extra set of filthy rags with your name on it.

    This part is brilliant:

    "Because I would like to attend a Mass where I can worship instead of being tempted to critique. Liturgy matters, but I hate the prescriptionism, the discussion of failure. Or rather, I hate myself after doing it/listening to it."

    I uninstalled the liturgical criticism module about five years into my reversion. I'd like to find a devout mass presided over by religious order priests. But until then, I'm in the zone.

  4. Matthew,

    Good exchange.

    Two observations:

    1) You are at the crux of the problem – why Catholics are lost in modern culture – when you undestand the loss of liturgy. Like it or not, the Old Mass was the powerhouse of the Church's culture. Which isn't to say that when the new mass came along, all that culture was washed overboard. Rather, it's to say that culture had been washed overboard – because Christendom itself had crumbled to pieces (When? Perhaps as soon as Luther nailed his hate mail to the Body of Christ to that church door) and the Last Man Standing was the Latinate touchstone which at the very least gave Catholics one last oasis, one place to go which was not like a sports arena, a mall, or any of the other constructs of secularity. It was, in fact, a completely useless (from a secular standpoint) act loaded with so much beauty, goodness and truth that it almost made up for the loss of the Holy Roman Empire, or at least of a cutlure that could produce a Chaucer, an El Cid and a Shakespeare. Doesn't Percy say there are still signposts around for those who have eyes? It is what Christ said himself – but then we were able to build on those signposts and turn them into something called Christian culture. When we lost that, we were set adrift, unable to explain why we ought not to stick to reading only that which had an imprimatur on it.
    Put another way, while I share the frustrations of many a Catholic writer or artist regarding our fellow Catholics – they really are culturally illiterate (at least if you're speaking about modern culture) – but what do you expect? We have none of the advantages of culture that our ancestors did; at the same time we have way more leisure time available than any of them did. Together, that makes a deadly combination.

    2)The animus to defend the truth at the expense of the other reminds me of something that a professor of mine said in defense of the apparent haughtiness of TAC students. "Most kids leave college with some good things in their possession; a pride for their college football team; great memories of great parties; perhaps a few travels abroad. I see the students from TAC possessing something else – the truth. I don't mean they have it all; but they have enough of it to know that they can know it. That's worht a world of touchdowns, kegs and tanned young things on a Daytona beach." I might mention that this professor was neither a TAC tutor nor a Catholic (as far as I know). But he recognized that the push of modern culture oftentimes demanded a push-back from those who recognize and possess and know they can possess (even if they don't always live out) the Truth. That said, one could make the case that when the gloves come off in modern culture, it's the only weapon Catholics have. Oftentimes, Catholics suck because they're that boy on the bus getting beat up by his classmates. And culture is the busdriver – raising an occassionally threatening voice over human rights infringements – but never once thinking to stop the bus…


  5. p.s. Your haha's are still showing.


  6. Matthew Lickona says

    I don't wish to try to diminish what you're saying here, but this wasn't Catholics pushing back against modern culture – this was Catholics pushing back against one of their own priests, a priest who was clearly (and without bitterness) pouring his life into his parish.

  7. Matthew,

    Sorry, I should have been more clear.

    Were they pushing back against him because he was "pouring his life into his parish" or because he had been perceived to be taking up one or the other sides in the culture war? (i.e. In its Catholic form, this means Catholics with stodgy imprimaturs and uptight matillas on the one side and Catholics with Henri Nouwen books studding their back pockets and the glean of pop-culture elan in their eye on the other?)

    I make no comment about the prudence of Father Kev Kevin criticizing the prudence of Father Cranky Smith, but I think one is naive (and the priesthood does not exempt either) not to know that one enters the milieu surrounding the present administration at one's own risk.

    We are, after all, before all else, Americans in our cultural responses. Even the Triddywackers.


  8. j. christian says


    Thank you for your reply, and including the Psalm. This is why I read your blog. I'd write more, but I need to think it over first and there are other things to do.

  9. Matthew Lickona says

    J. Christian,
    You're most welcome. I don't pretend to wisdom, but it's worth thinking about, I think.
    Judge for yourself.
    The sermon:
    The blog post concerning the sermon, in which Fr. Paul criticizes said sermon and is taken to task for it:

    In short: the sermon says that parents Have To Keep Their Kids Home. He says of Obama, "Who is this mysterious person inserting himself between parents and children in a fashion that seems like something out of a George Orwell novel, or maybe a scene out of Triumph of the Will?" He calls Obama "this man who supports baby killing and every kind of perversion under the sun." Every kind? Really? He reads from an encyclical concerning schools in Nazi Germany (concerning said schools aim at destroying religion) and says, "it kind of feels like the pope is writing to us here and now." Really? He says that Obama is "trying to usurp your God given authority as parents." Really? And he warns, "Do not let this strange man speak to your children," as if the President was some kind of molester out behind the dumpster. It doesn't get much more Us vs. Them.

    To which Fr. Paul says (in addition to his criticism), "When I preach on abortion, the people go home enlightened, inspired, and active in making the Good News known. On one occassion I simply asked for support for the local CPC. In that one second collection we doubled the largest amount we had ever done in a second collection.

    When I preach about abortion, I place a particular emphasis on Evangelium Vitae #99. When you preach to 10k+ people every weekend, chances are you've got a few who need to hear it. The FSSP priest should have read it."

    And later: "I have given talks in such schools. Funny, actually. I won the kids over by showing the kids the science of human life, and my debating opponent, the Planned Parenthood representative, could only talk about "we don't know when the soul enters the body", which was hilarious to the students because she didn't believe in the soul.

    I have taught in my former university ministry Pope John Paul's "Theology of the Body" and they loved it. College students begged me to come teach because they wanted a positive view of human sexuality rather than the "hooking up" culture and nihilism of the other students or the "you're going to hell" of the Fundamentalists.

    We complain when we see political candidates who support abortion speak in churches. We complain when the preacher openly supports or opposes political candidates from the pulpit. We do so because we believe in the Constitution. So do I. The Catholic Church is probably the only church that follows those rules. Why? Because we are perhaps the easiest to persecute and as they say, "anti-Catholicism is the last accepted prejudice."

    So yes, I'm going to call-out priests who abuse the pulpit supporting or opposing a political figure or a political party."

    And later: "I guess what got my dander up was the insult to the public schools (and the Nazism stuff), when 95% of our kids go there and many of our parishioners teach/principal/or administrate there. I've seen lots of good there, and the statistics actually show that a public school graduate is more likely to keep his/her faith than one who goes to a Jesuit school. :-/ Hehe."

    So I don't really see him as taking up an opposing side in the culture war.

  10. The Original Interlocutor says

    I am fascinated by the discussion that has sprung up around a couple of e-mails scribbled during my lunch break.

    Like J. Christian, I need some time to mull all of it (especially JOB's push/pull analogies).

    But I will say that I almost walked out of a Mass at a traditionally minded (not Traditionalist) parish shortly after 9/11. The homily was largely committed to reminding the congregation that the Moslems were Out to Get Us. Now, maybe that shouldn't have been entirely unexpected given the timing, but I found it rather difficult to swallow coming from a priest at Mass even then. I get that "love your enemies" doesn't mean we meekly surrender to a disembowelling…but wouldn't it have been a better occasion to remind his flock that there is, and has only ever been, one Enemy?

    But I guess reminding Tradition-deprived Christians about the age-old battle against world, flesh, devil is a tougher sell than "save your children from the Current Boogeyman."

  11. Matthew,

    Upon review of the fuller context (thank you!), I agree.

    So, no, I don't think you've diminished the more lugubrious pontifications of my previous response.


  12. Matthew Lickona says

    Oh, good. How about a guest post on Ye Olde Mass? The way it does all those things you mention?

  13. "Please, please just give us Book II!"–From your Book I-loving friend in Peekskill, NY

  14. Matthew,
    Very enjoyable reading, and kudos to the original interlocutor for starting things off. I wanted to toss out a few comments of my own. The original interlocutor early in the conversation quoted you paraphrasing Alexander Waugh "…there was a converted tendency to treat it (the faith) as the only part that mattered. And such a tendency could take its toll." Isn't the faith meant to be the only part that matters? If the faith in its essence is our relationship with the Triune God, how can it be otherwise? What toll could that take?
    Second, to echo, I think, JOB, maybe why Catholics suck is that the devil gets us in the little things. We do our very best to avoid serious sin (and perhaps succeed fairly well), take it seriously when we do fall and rush to confession. We really screw the pooch though when it comes to things like living charity, carefully and privately offering fraternal correction (instead of launching torpedoes through the internet), and proclaiming the truth unfalteringly but humbly. I don't mean to diminish these faults, especially as they alienate others from the truth, but their effect on our relationship with God, on the presence of sanctifying grace in our souls, is not fatally injurious. Nonetheless, these faults make us very unlikable. I think of St. Jerome, a notorious grouch. On the other hand, I know plenty of kind, polite, charming, attractive, sophisticated people (like Barack Obama) who embrace and promote horrendous evils. I’d say if we, Catholics, need to be a little more cognizant of how even our little faults eventually lead to our downfall, of how our little faults constrict and scar us making us petty and little (and repulse others). Maybe if we, Catholics, lived as if our relationship with Christ was the only part of life that did matter, we’d be better imitators of Him. I think we have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for getting the big stuff right, and let the little stuff slid. As I get older, not only do I realize how much more I like the extraordinary form of the Mass, but also how much of a jerk and an ass I usually am.

  15. j. christian says

    I think we have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for getting the big stuff right, and let the little stuff slide.

    What an interesting thought! That the things Christians perceive as "the little things" (the charitable attitude, being "nice") are actually "the big things" for others. Maybe that's why non-Christians think of the Other as such intolerant jerks: We might be right and upholding the truth, but we're grouchy and grumpy about it because, well, that stuff ain't the big picture. I concur with P White about the charming, sophisticated people I know — and how much evil they tacitly support.

    Friendships are harder than ever now that I'm straining toward orthodoxy. Does it have to be that way?

  16. Matthew Lickona says

    This is one thing I admire about Chesterton. He was going at it with the heavy hitters of his day – notably, Shaw – but, in his writing at least, there is always a sense of good cheer. At his best, he really did make orthodoxy sound like a happy adventure, or at least an adventure tending toward a happy ending.

    Having mentioned the man, I find myself tempted to offer some sad version of a Chestertonian paradox in reply to P White's "isn't the faith meant to be the only part that matters?" Yes. But if pure religion, as James says, is caring for widows and orphans and keeping oneself unpolluted, well, doesn't that mean, to some extent, living as if kindness and charity and all the rest of it are the thing that matters? Not trying to be clever or seem wise here, mind you. I'm grateful for all the contributions to the discussion.

  17. Matthew Lickona says

    Dear Peekskill,
    It's funny – a lot of book two is about darkened faith, and the inability to see what believers would call providential signs in my life. But if ever I got one, it was the one I got that told me not to publish book two. The DAY I was set to sign the contract, I got an email from a reader I had sent the ms. a solid six months before, explaining in excellent, concrete detail why the book's skeleton was not strong enough to support everything I was hanging upon it. Maybe someday, maybe when I'm older and a little wiser, I'll have at it again. Thanks so much for your kind words.

  18. I think that's it exactly. …"Living as if kindness and charity and all the rest of it are the thing that matter." I might add diligence, attention to detail, excellence in all things. Isn't that the real spirit of Vatican II, the Universal call to Holiness? Each of us has to be a saint, another Christ, doing even the minutiae well. I know that sounds impossibly lofty, but isn't that another great beauty of the faith–enormous expectations of us mere men. There's a great quote of St. Josemaria Escriva my wife has above the kitchen sink about heaven and earth merging not at the horizon, but in the hearts of the faithful when they offer their daily work as prayer. In some ways it makes it easier. I don't have to go to Tehran to be martyed converting moslems; I just need to be nice to my kids.

  19. notrelatedtoted says

    Fascinating discussion.

    Not to get off on a tangent, but I've often wondered if the "us vs. them" mentality is the byproduct of politics in America. As warped as that may seem, I think the faith is an extension of their political beliefs for many. Or at least their politics and their religion are so intertwined that there is some cross-pollination in their attitudes. And when you live in a two-party political system, there is no choice but to have "us vs. them."

    It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure the "us vs. them" mentality is addressed in the Screwtape Letters. How rattling to think that Satan can enter the Church from both the left AND the right….

  20. This is a great post, and an excellent conversation to follow up on it. Let me add my two cents, first, by (almost) agreeing with P White that we must treat the faith "as the only part that matters." Where I don't quite agree — and this is Alexander Waugh's mistake, not P White's — is in thinking of faith as a "part" of life. I rather prefer George MacDonald's view that "Life and religion are one, or neither is anything."

    As regards Catholics "sucking," I'm sure it can sometimes seem that way, especially if you spend too much time in the comboxes of the blogosphere, but is that really a good picture of the facts on the ground? First, you can find such nasty bickering in ANY type of blog or page that accepts comments. Have you seen the type of stuff that gets posted by the "sophisticated" and "enlightened" readers of the NY Times? It's no less embarrasing that what you find on the Catholic blogs, if not more. That leads me to conclude the problem is one of modern culture and perhaps internet culture, not so much of Catholic culture. At least I will say that on the Catholic blogs you always find a few people calling for greater charity, even if they are often ignored.

    More importantly, my experience with real-world groups in which Catholics abound has been overwhelmingly positive. The Newman Center in college was like a second home for me, and I've had good experiences with young adult groups in parishes I've attended after college. Sure, all those groups were still human and people were flawed, but I found a lot of good there among people who strongly believed in the the truth of the faith, and did a decent job at practicing Christian charity. I would say that even the fact that we are having this discussion at all lends credence to what I'm saying.

    Yes, there are some very angry or very critical people out there, but my experience with Catholics overall leads me to think without hesitation that the faith is a great aid to anyone trying to be a more decent human being.

    FINALLY, let me point out that an obvious danger in finding the most beautiful thing in the world is that anything that fails to live up to its perfection may begin to seem quite monstrous. And we live in a fallen world, so if we choose that route then the world becomes very monstrous indeed. The other option is to let the beauty of the faith — the beauty of Christ — pierce through the fog of sin and ugliness to the goodness and beauty in everything, until you can see that "Christ plays in ten thousand places."

    If that all sounds too abstract let me make an analogy with my first reading of the Lord of the Rings. For a long time after I finished the book, I was almost depressed because the world seemed so dull and ugly by comparison. In that sense, reading LOTR made me uninterested and even disdainful of the world. But that was only the first stage. Later — perhaps with a deepening of my faith and a bit of Chesterton — I began to understand and, more importantly, to *see*, that this *is* Middle Earth. That everything from a tree to a teapot is the greatest marvel that ever was, because none of need have been at all. Now, in large part because of the Lord of the Rings, I live in a constant state of wonder (that many people often find quite silly) at what the same book, through its beauty, had previously caused me to disdain.

  21. Matthew Lickona says

    Let me clarify about Alexander Waugh. The graf that the Original Interlocutor referenced was mine, not Alexander's, but it does speak to what Alexander was saying, and deserves to be presented in context. So here's the context.


    Auberon Waugh was Alexander’s father, and Evelyn was Auberon’s. Evelyn was a convert, and he burned with a convert’s zeal. But in Alexander’s view, that zeal crossed the line into obsession. “My grandfather was really, really obsessed, to the point of madness,” he said. “I think cradle Catholics are much healthier. Evelyn Waugh got so immersed in his Catholicism that life itself began to mean nothing to him. Everything was beyond that – it was all to do with Jesus and the afterlife.” When Auberon was injured in Cyprus after accidentally shooting himself while trying to repair a machine gun, Evelyn didn’t visit him. “He very nearly died. He was in the hospital for four months, and Evelyn didn’t bother to go and see him. He said, ‘If he dies, I’ll go and come back with the coffin.’ The only thing that impressed Evelyn was that Auberon was whispering the De Profundis in the ambulance.”

    Long before that accident, Evelyn had brought his zeal to bear on Auberon’s inculcation in the faith. “When Grandpa went to Church every week with his children, he would say from the front of the car, ‘Now, Auberon, what are we going to celebrate this Sunday?’ If Auberon didn’t get it right – ‘The fourth Sunday after Pentecost’ – he would be made to cry about it.” Relief came in the form of Auberon’s Catholic nanny, who began coaching him before he got into the car.

    Alexander’s praise for cradle Catholics like myself fascinated me. I had always envied converts, and not because they had enjoyed some portion of life outside the strictures of the faith. (“Dude, you got to get it on before getting in!”) I envied their zeal, their delight at having found the pearl of great price. I envied the way they were able to see everything fresh, to wonder at their discoveries. In some cases, I envied their learning. By reading their way into the Church – its doctrine, its theology, its history – they had dug deeper than I ever had, than I had ever felt inclined to. I understood why my own father loved to read conversion stories: they gave him new eyes through which to see the faith.

    But conversion can mean upheaval and uprooting – a break with loved ones, the sacrifice of a common culture, the crucifixion of old, familiar habits. And to hear Alexander tell it, conversion could mean a skewed vision that threw things out of proportion. If there was a cradlish tendency to treat the faith as just another part of life, it seemed there was a converted tendency to treat it as the only part that mattered. And such a tendency could take its toll.

    Being the son of a convert, said Alexander, “unbalances you in a way that I think is not good. My father was very religious…no, that’s wrong. My father was very irreligious, but he believed in God.” When Alexander was born, Auberon had him baptized, and even saw him confirmed. But “he was very irritated by the Catholic Church. Like many, many people, he felt, ‘I want to maintain faith, but I cannot glue myself like a Yes Man to the Church.’ His brain didn’t tell him that it was all rubbish, but his brain did tell him that the Church was a bunch of loose cannons. It happens to everybody to different degrees. We all have personal problems about God. Most people of any single intellectual effort have queries.”


  22. Matthew Lickona says

    Also: Life and religion may be one, but the sense of proportionality that the Original Interlocutor mentioned still ought to hold.

    I actually stay away from the blogosphere comboxes almost all the time now. I went to the combox in question because the blog owner invited readers via Facebook. "Catholics suck" is, instead, an answer I find myself giving to a number of questions that arise from real-world experience. (And they aren't always experiences having to do with anger or a critical spirit.) Though I'm very glad to hear about your own, more positive real world experiences.

    And as long as I'm complaining, I should be quick to point out that I do not exempt myself from the Catholics Suck tag. Nor do I see said tag as some kind of excuse for giving up. But grumpy as I am, I don't say it without reason.

  23. j. christian says

    I don't think Catholics suck. I'm pretty grateful to them.

  24. Matthew Lickona says

    Good! Believe me, I'm not out to convince anybody. This is not an attempt to lead folks away from the faith. More an attempt to lance a boil – even if said boil is situated only on my own bottom…

  25. No worries Matthew, I perfectly understand your intentions with all this. I guess my point is that in being self-critical about the Church and its members, we need to make sure we don't over-generalize. I recently was hearing about Von Hildebrand's conversion story and one part about it that I found particularly interesting was that a fallen away Catholic — a professor of some sort, I think — was one of the first people to make him interested in the Church. On some occassion not long after meeting him, this fallen away Catholic flat out told him "The Catholic Church has the truth." (Yeah, don't ask me why he was fallen away.) When Von Hildebrand asked him to elaborate, the man said "The Catholic Church produces saints" and went on to explain what holiness was in such a magnificent way that it shook the young philosopher.

    But, of course, just as not all Catholics are mean, angry people, not all Catholics are heroic, charitable saints. You just can't generalize when you're dealing with people…

  26. O(riginal) I(nterlocutor) says

    Bless you all. Some rich material for serious reflection here. These kinds of conversations (I won't used that charged word "dialogues") are why I ultimately disagree with Mr. Lickona that Catholics suck (yes, I read your qualifying statements). The Catholics I know have the wisdom of the ages, and live accordingly. You too, Godsbody.

  27. I personally like to think that the "catholics suck" part of being catholic, is a phase…it's a phase we kinda all go through, like the teenage years. When we think we are too cool for school and being catholic just makes us better than everyone else. You know, thank God, we all eventually do grow in faith (God willing) and become (God willing) more humble. We grow spiritually and we realize that humility is, in fact, the gateway to greatness. We get older, and we embrace the cross. We pray more, we and begin to know God's love. God's love for us and for all. Thank God you know? We come out of it. I would hazard a guess we've all been one of those judgmental bozos at one time or another. God knows we'll be tempted to go there again, when they play banjos in church, or women forget to wear their veils…or God forbid, people don't kneel at the railing, and those alter girls, who can stand the alter girls? (I am kidding here….) Humility is the mother of sanctity. mcm

  28. Matthew Lickona says

    It may be a phase, but it's not an attitude. It's a specific response to specific events, and they don't have to do with liturgical shenanigans or bad bishops. They have to do with the Church meeting the world. Remember that my first use of the term in this exchange came from OI's mention of the tendency to become a babbling tribe, seeing nothing human in the Other. Not arguing with any of the humility stuff though.

  29. As Bernardo, OI and anonymous point out, Catholic's don't suck. On the other hand, to paraphrase Matthew and the Gospel, one ought to lance the boil on one's one arse before squeezing the pimple on another's. (I'm sorry I couldn't resist.) Perhaps the "catholics suck" phase and the phase that makes us and others say "catholics suck" are things we fall into everyday.

  30. j. christian says

    Personally, I was always a little grossed out about specks and logs in the eyes, but now…


  31. cubeland mystic says

    Catholics suck and don’t suck simultaneously all the time. Here is a visual representation of concurrent Catholic sucking and non-sucking. When I encounter my devout Catholic brothers and sisters at a gathering of some kind I feel the probing and scrutinizing. While they are probing me, I am probing them for the same reasons. So I suck too. On one hand I want to be part of the community, but then on the other I want to build a stone hermitage away from them and their probings and scrutinizings. The greater benefit would be for the community since they would not have me in their midst. As I grow older it’s become clear that it is the stone hermitage for me. I am better suited to deal with the devil in a lonely place. I don’t want to find Jesus in community anymore. I just want to find Jesus. The paradox is that you live in a stone hermitage because Catholics suck, but someone from the community has to bring you your bread and lentils which doesn’t suck. So what is the true purpose of community?

    Once you start lancing your butt it becomes difficult to stop. There is no good purpose in it, it can become disordered, and it is a waste of a butt because you keep lancing till there’s nothing left. I know from experience. The bigger question is why at this particular moment did you decide to lance your butt? What is the source of your orthodox boil? For example, these same people in a gathering of the pious, create a zone of safety in which you feel comfortable leaving your children while you enjoy some adult conversation. The conversation might be about throwing Fr. Paul under the bus, but you know the kids are probably watching Vegi-Tales in the TV room. The zone of safety isn’t really brought to you by Fr. Kev Withit, to borrow an example from JOB. Fr. Paul certainly wasn’t Fr. Kev, but he is perceived to weaken the zone of safety. They have a point.

    A bigger question than whether Catholics suck or not is if you can ignore all the different iterations and manifestations of personal faith? Politics, rubrics, epistemology, money, theology, career development, Fr. Paul, Fr. Kev, and Fr. X are all trivial concerns when compared with the real purpose of our being–which is divine union. Without that realization, eventually these concerns take on the fragrance of incense and become part of our personal cannon. They interfere with or even block spiritual growth. Ignore the boil, and detach. In the desert these concerns become meaningless. Out in the desert you begin to realize that these are just souls on a journey, and that they really don’t suck at all–except when they suck.

  32. j. christian says

    Metaphors, people. Really now.

  33. I guess I didn't get that-I thought this was about Catholics judging Catholics…..I thought that was what made us suck. Rather-you are saying it's the Catholics who don't want to meet the world, judging those who do? Maybe that's what you mean. I fall on the opposite side of this argument because I do have my kids in public schools, I do meet the world. I had no problem with Obama talking to my kids (of course as long as it stayed specific to education) I told my kids this. They are clear-they know why we couldn't vote for him even though he seems like a pretty slick character. They got that immediately. My kids meet the world everyday and so do I. I have a thing about it, because I actually believe meeting the world is important-and it's my job. However, I have to be careful because I am tempted to judge those who don't want to meet the world. So, I am as bad as everyone else. Hence, my need to just get over
    myself. You know? That's the inherent problem here. GET OVER YOURSELF because it's not about you (that's a royal you, not directed at anyone in particular)….This is about GOD and what GOD wants from you and I think He wants something different from everyone and it's about discerning what that is and not worrying about what's going on with someone else because frankly it's both really childish, and speaks to our self-love/pride. As I begin to realize that true spirituality is not about ME, then I get beyond (hopefully) sucking….mcm

  34. Maybe it isn't a Catholic judging Catholic things at all-I thought is was because we were talking about one priests reaction to another priest and Catholics reaction to that priest. Maybe you are just talking about our inability to meet the world well in general.
    That is a problem….it really is. Because I absolutely agree with the idea that there is a necessity to protect ourselves and our catholic integrity. Meeting the world gracefully, it's hard to distinguish this from simply tacitly agreeing with it, or at least they can judge from your silence about it that you do. I don't drive to school with any bumperstickers on honda that say I am pro-life, however, I did have that conversation with someone
    during the election and she knows my views, and we get along very well in spite of differing on this issue. It's such an incredibly fine line to walk between our faith and the world and honestly being out there and trying to do it, I would be the first to say that I don't know if it works. or will work. Ask me in 20 years. Let's see if my kids keep their faith. I see TOTALLY why people don't want to risk it. I do. But the other side of me is like, how can I do good in this world if I won't meet it???????? (that could be pride talking too. LISTEN God may be saying, don't think YOU can do any good any way.)
    It's all about GOD. We pray every morning before school. Sacred Heart of Jesus, help us to bring YOU out there. If we aren't doing that…than it isn't worth it. BUT we aren't going to even have a HOPE of doing it, unless we GIVE it over to God. Seriously. mcm

  35. Much of this gratifying and stimulating discussion could be pithily summed up by Flannery O'Connor's observation that "one is called upon to suffer ever so much more from the Church than for her."

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