A video from my home diocese of Sioux Falls (here) drew me to Sherry Weddell's book on promoting discipleship in the Catholic Church and also gave me the American expression which would not come to me in my previous post where I resorted to the German expression "Volkskirche". The equivalent as Sherry points out is "cultural Catholicism" and she opposes it to what she terms "intentional Catholicism", which ought better to guarantee a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ:
"If this trend does not change, in ten years it will cease to matter that we have a priest shortage. The Builders will be largely gone, the Boomers retiring, and our institutions — parishes and schools — will be emptying at an incredible rate. Sacramental practice will plummet at a rate that will make the post-Vatican II era look good, and the Church’s financial support will vanish like Bernie Madoff’s investment portfolio. So let’s be clear: In the twenty-first century, cultural Catholicism is dead as a retention strategy, because God has no grandchildren. In the twenty-first century, we have to foster intentional Catholicism rather than cultural Catholicism." [Weddell, Sherry (2012-07-05). Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (p. 39). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition.]
In the first chapter of her book, tagged "God has no Grandchildren", she quotes all the most reputable statistical information and seems to imply that cultural Catholicism once worked as a retention strategy... I don't know how old Sherry is, but my life experience tells me a very different story. American Catholicism has always been marked by powerful "shots-in-the-arm" through immigration and no small number of conversions from Protestantism or from the "nones" category at the time of marriage. People have always "fallen away" from the Church and in big numbers; I know how this has worked in an older generation of Catholics, all long dead, in my mother's family. American Catholicism has always been more of a "free market enterprise" than was Catholicism in the "Old Country".
Culturally Catholic immigrants have never done well in the U.S. especially when isolated in non-Catholic areas, but even when dispersed among other good and active Catholics in parishes of different ethnic heritages. Italians, for instance, were never many in my part of the world and invariably when I was growing up an Italian family name could denote most anything but Catholic practice. The great challenge today among immigrants to the U.S. from Latin America is to offer them a cultural context within which to insert themselves. I think Sherry is sorely mistaken in contrasting cultural and intentional. There's nothing more intentional than a welcoming cultural context. Defection among Catholics stems from a sense of alienation within the community. They wander off for lack of intentional social support. My personal relationship with Christ, nourished by prayer and Divine Worship (liturgy) cannot be without an intentional/cultural context. The visible Church is the sine qua non for a relationship with Christ, the Bridegroom. My intention is not without its cultural context.
Perhaps the crisis of marriage and family today can be of help in understanding the gist of my argument. People who marry for love are no more likely to remain faithful a whole life long. Not only do the couple have to choose each other again and again, day by day, year by year, in the course of their marriage, but they really need a supportive social context to carry them through those days when personal intent or resolve seems to flag.
Sherry wants us all to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; she wants us, like good evangelicals or pentecostals, to be able to mark that conversion experience. I think she may be seeking a greater heroism than the one of the martyrs, even greater than that of a true giant of the early Church, St. Ignatius of Antioch, would have claimed for himself in seeking the support of the Christian community of Rome on his path to martyrdom:
“I have prayed to the Lord to see your godly faces and I have persevered in prayer until I have been granted this — for I hope to greet you, as a prisoner in Christ Jesus, if only I am found worthy to reach the end of my journey. Things have begun well and all now depends on my receiving the grace to reach my goal and receive my inheritance unhindered. But I fear your love for me and I fear the harm it can do me: it is so easy for you to do what you want and so hard for me to reach God if you do not spare me your help.
You habitually do what pleases God: do what pleases him now and not what pleases men. I shall never have a better opportunity of reaching God, and you will never have the opportunity of performing a better act than now, by keeping silence. If you remain silent, I shall become the word of God; but if your love of my physical life makes you speak, I shall be nothing but a meaningless cry.
Grant me nothing more than this: that I should be poured out to God, while an altar is still ready for me. Form yourselves into a chorus of love and sing praise to the Father in Christ Jesus for permitting this bishop of Syria to be summoned from the place of the sun’s rising to the sunset lands. Just as the sun sets only to rise again, how good it is to set to this world, to set and then to rise in God.”
I want to read the rest of Sherry's book, but chapter one seems lacking in balance. Our cultural context is ineluctable; it is the fertile soil needed for yielding thirty, sixty or a hundred fold.