The Well-Sheltered Catholic

In 1971, a group of distinguished individuals — artists, writers, musicians, intellectuals — sent an appeal to Pope Paul VI requesting that he preserve the classical Roman Rite of the Mass. This group, composed of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, had as their aim not the maintenance of a particular theological mode of worship so much as the source and summit of much of the best of European culture. In part, the appeal read:

The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts — not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians.

There were 57 signatures, and some were surprising. While there were prominent Catholics on the list, such as Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge, others, like the flamboyant homosexual writer and dilettante Harold Acton, unrivaled soprano Dame Joan Sutherland, and former British poet laureate (and one time Communist) Cecil Day Lewis, had no particularly religious axe to grind. Anglican novelist Agatha Christie, in fact, has long had her name associated with the request, because (according to a popular anecdote) it was Christie’s name that Paul VI took note of, being an admirer of her stories.

It is no secret to the historian that the rich spiritual and human tapestry of Catholicism that so infused the Western world has served as the inspiration for more art, architecture, and music than any other subject. From Mozart’s Coronation Mass to the sacred art of Michelangelo, Bernini, and Caravaggio, to the cathedrals of Chartres, Cologne, St. Vitus, and St. Peter’s itself — Europe is teeming with art that that draws its substance from the Faith. Even Hollywood had a tryst with Catholicism, producing movies like Bells of Saint Mary’s, It’s a Wonderful Life, Ben Hur, Come to the Stable, and The Song of Bernadette.

Can anyone imagine the Catholic Church inspiring art in a similar fashion today, or a coalition of artists, musicians, and actors clamoring for the restoration of this or that liturgy or custom? Rather than finding a common cultural muse in the Church, contemporary artisans have rebelled against its teachings and severed their work from its traditions, and Catholics — also subject to the forces of the zeitgeist — have lost their own moorings, and have all but given up on the arts.

We see pockets, of course. There’s been a small resurgence in fiction written by Catholic authors, and The Passion of the Christ was a masterpiece, but unless there is some great renaissance lying in wait beneath the surface of postmodern secularism, it appears we have conceded the fight.

In an interview published recently in Lay Witness, Barbara Nicolosi, Catholic blogger and founding partner of the Act One program designed to help Christians break into the movie business, lamented this loss of Christian artistry. She noted that while the Church used to be considered the patron of the arts, we have by and large lost our sense of the beautiful, both inside and outside of our parishes. We see it not only in the ecclesiastical sphere — liturgies and architecture and music — but in our general failure as Catholics to engage and uplift the culture by helping to shape it:

I’m very sad that we have had so few Catholics go through the [Act One] program. I have gone to these schools — the Catholic schools, the special Catholic schools — I’ve gone to them all several times and spoken there and pleaded, and what I find there is that kids do not have any apostolic drive. After getting these great Great Books educations, what they want to be is maybe a DRE in a small country parish in the backwoods where nobody will notice them and they can just shut the world down and out. You know, there’s nothing apostolic in that. St. Paul could’ve done that — the Church would be nothing if we had done that. We have not received a mandate to head for the hills.

While Nicolosi might overstate her case, her point is valid:

While we certainly need DREs in backwoods parishes, we cannot be satisfied with that. If our most faithful schools are creating isolationist Catholics with bunker mentalities, how can we ever hope to speak to the world? The Mystical Body is made up of many parts; surely we need directors and writers and musicians and artists nearly as much as we need religion teachers and catechists and priests. When the two are separated, the result is a Catholic ghetto, rather than a culture with Catholicism at its heart.

Nicolosi identifies the problem:

There is something wrong in a Church in which we are preparing kids to only play in the Catholic subculture. [whispers] There was never supposed to be a Catholic subculture! You know what disciples do in the Catholic subculture? They have personality fights and power struggles.

For many Catholics — especially those with children — a retreat from the world seems at times the only option. Overwhelmed and surrounded by a secular, hedonistic, over-sexualized culture that grows increasingly antithetical to the faith, it becomes a constant battle to shelter our families. But in doing so, we risk losing touch with the very world in which we are meant to be the leaven.

If the popular culture is an unhealthy environment for Catholic families, so too are echo chambers filled only with the ideas we like and agree with. This can transform into fantasy, a microcosm where — as my friend and Catholic journalist Hilary White recently described — Catholic enclavists have gone off into the woods to create a happy and comforting little Catholic world, well insulated from Outside. The kids are homeschooled, the women commonly wear the trademark shapeless plaid jumper/white t-shirt and sneakers combo, the men work at home, the books on the shelves are all from Ignatius or Angelus press, the jokes are clean and not very funny, conversation is always holy, the horrors of the squelching, seething pornographic world Outside are clucked at primly and the introduction of ironic humour is a wild and somewhat scandalous sensation.

This is precisely the sort of mentality that is incapable of confronting the culture. Rather than trying to bring the light of the Church into a hostile world, such people find it safer to keep the light under a bushel basket. The reasons for doing so are noble, no question: We parents will stand before God and account for the formation of our children and want only what is best for their souls. But what also of the souls entrusted to our care? What of those individuals in society who, lost and needing a lifeline, find that all help has been withdrawn and they are alone?

Those of us who have been blessed with a Catholic education and who wish to avoid being contaminated by a sinful culture may wish to consider the wisdom of the venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, who famously wrote in his Idea of a University, “It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless literature about a sinful man.” Understanding that what we want man to be is something loftier than what man is, Newman believed that engaging the world meant understanding the reality of it. He continued:

If then a University is a direct preparation for this world, let it be what it professes. It is not a Convent, it is not a Seminary; it is a place to fit men of the world for the world. We cannot possibly keep them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and maxims, when their time comes; but we can prepare them against what is inevitable; and it is not the way to learn to swim in troubled waters, never to have gone into them.

And those troubled waters are ripe with possibilities, though we won’t see them if we avoid them out of fear. I’ve watched tremendous “R”-rated movies, found brilliant satire in shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, heard poetic Christian allegory and a pining for salvation in the dark rock ballads of U2, been soothed by the tragic voice of Amy Winehouse, and seen gripping accounts of dystopic consumerist futures in the writings of William Gibson. Critical consumption combined with a Catholic worldview allows us to recognize artistry even when the artist falls short or the message misses the mark. Art is both an inspiration for and a reflection of the culture it derives from, and where it fails to inspire, it cannot help but provide insight (even if only to shed light on what is broken in the heart of postmodern man).

At its best, it can also be a lot of fun.

We can try to avoid all of this in the interest of avoiding danger, but there is no guarantee of safe passage in this life. If we do not bring Christ to the world, who will? We alone have the sacraments, and the rich intellectual and cultural and moral tradition of the Catholic Church. What we can learn about artistry from the master storytellers of our age, we can infuse with the hope of the greatest story ever known.

Of those who are willing to speak to the world through culture and the arts, it must be conceded that their message is often the last thing the world needs to hear. That’s why it’s so important for the faithful to once again inspire and create culture, not only in an explicitly religious sense, but through the wider lens of the Catholic worldview. This is the worldview that encompasses both sinners and saints, that professes belief in a God made Man who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, and died on a cross. Catholicism encompasses the breadth of human experience, from the height of ecstasy to the darkness of death. We have something to say because our Faith does not find hope in the notion of sinless man, but in the recognition of fallen man redeemed.

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 edition of Crisis

By

Steve Skojec serves as the Director of Community Relations for a professional association. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a BA in Communications and Theology. His passions include writing, photography, social media, and an avid appreciation of science fiction. Steve lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jamie and their five children.

  • Brian

    Thank you, Steven. I too am working in solid, rounded formation of creative skills in service of the Gospel.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    Good article, Steve, although I would put a different emphasis on the point.

    One thing that really bothers me is that I have known many good, solid, orthodox Catholics – even traditionalists – who own successful businesses and do not bring their faith into the workplace in a tangible way. I am always surprised (though I shouldn’t be) when I walk into the business of a Catholic and do not any sign of his faith – no crucifix, no statue of Our Lady, no icons, etc. The music playing on the office stereo is usually “soft rock” or country, which is bad enough, but sometimes it is worse. I walked into the shop of traditional Catholic a few months ago only to have my ears shattered by hard rock music cranked up to the max.

    I’m not suggesting that a business owner push his faith on his employees or customers. Far from it. When I owned a print shop I had Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and total worldlings working for me. I did not proselytize. But there was a small crucifix in every room; an icon of Our Lady of LaVang hung on the wall behind the service counter; Catholic magazines were on the table in the lobby; the shop was closed on all solemnities including Good Friday; and the music on the radio was classical or something more wholesome than standard pop rock fare (though I did let my pressman play his country music in the back room). In some small way, a Catholic atmosphere was created in what was otherwise a very ordinary business. If orthodox Catholics don’t care enough to do these little things, it’s not surprising that they’re not creating great works of art either.

  • M. H.

    “[They] have gone off into the woods to create a happy and comforting little Catholic world, well insulated from Outside. The kids are homeschooled, the women commonly wear the trademark shapeless plaid jumper/white t-shirt and sneakers combo, the men work at home, the books on the shelves are all from Ignatius or Angelus press, the jokes are clean and not very funny, conversation is always holy, the horrors of the squelching, seething pornographic world Outside are clucked at primly and the introduction of ironic humour is a wild and somewhat scandalous sensation.”

    With the exception of the father, Louis, working outside the home as a watchmaker of some remown, this sound like a good description of the Martin family — which produced St. Therese of Lisieux! And of course, there weren’t sneakers in 18th century France. :-)

    I understand the desire to chuck everything and head for the woods, but it’s not just because of the anti-Christian culture of the world.

    I’d like to isolate myself and my future children from the “new” breed of so-called Catholic who can justify voting for pro-abortion candidates by recourse to amorally defined and utterly denuded term, “social justice.” Or doesn’t think the Mass oblication applies to him or her. Or. . .on and on.

    For myself, I’m ready to tuck the Church Fathers’ works under my arm and build a cabin. Even what passes for good these days looks a lot like evil.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    Someone wrote: “[They] have gone off into the woods to create a happy and comforting little Catholic world, well insulated from Outside. The kids are homeschooled, the women commonly wear the trademark shapeless plaid jumper/white t-shirt and sneakers combo, the men work at home, the books on the shelves are all from Ignatius or Angelus press, the jokes are clean and not very funny, conversation is always holy, the horrors of the squelching, seething pornographic world Outside are clucked at primly and the introduction of ironic humour is a wild and somewhat scandalous sensation.”

    The contempt for those of us trying to raise Catholic children in this pornified culture of ours is getting really tiresome. I’ll be honest: the only thing that comes across in Nicolosi’s rant is a hatred of innocence.

  • Todd

    Thank you for this essay, Steve. You and I butt heads often here, but I suspect we would share a desire to see a more vigorous Catholic culture both within the Church and influencing the world.

    This would be an example of a conversation that would be forwarded by the mutual sharing of dissenters and plaid jumpers alike. A few observations:

    - You and Barbara both lens this situation through your own American mindset. The arts are not an American strong suit. They never have been, and Catholic parishes with rare exceptions toe the line on this. Too many traditionalists are in recovery mode, but the truth is we’ve never had an arts tradition to lose in the first place.

    - The poverty of architecture, music, and art is not a deliberate settling for the trite, but a response to pragmatism of the post-WWII, post-Catholic culture ghetto. Attitudes that predate Vatican II: Why commission a sculptor when buying plaster from a religious good catalogue is cheaper? Why commission a classical composer for a Mass setting when publishers bury us in what people have already written, and besides, let’s just photocopy what we like? Why build a church when we can erect a gym for Sunday Mass and sports the other six days of the week?

    - Personally I’d like to see more Catholics who believe the culture has more to fear from them than the other way around.

  • Joe Marier

    Good stuff. Unfortunately, I have nothing to add.

  • Steve Skojec

    Jeff Culbreath wrote: The contempt for those of us trying to raise Catholic children in this pornified culture of ours is getting really tiresome.

    Call it contempt if you like (I’m not sure here that you’re referring to what I wrote or to Nicolosi; but since I mostly agree with her perhaps the point is moot) but I’m raising kids in this culture too. There’s a difference between contempt for individuals and criticism of methods, but we’ve discussed all of this before so this is old news.

    Todd wrote: You and Barbara both lens this situation through your own American mindset. The arts are not an American strong suit. They never have been…

    Perhaps this is true, but I think that the American Catholic mindset is very much rooted in the European one. American Catholics were, for most of their time here, so very ethnic, that those traditions are probably stronger in their minds than anything that has sprung up here.

    I will grant you the lack of American artistic tradition. I place the blame at the feet of the country’s Protestant origins – Protestantism just doesn’t inspire great art, and American Catholics seemed to have found this contagious.

    Todd wrote: Attitudes that predate Vatican II: Why commission a sculptor when buying plaster from a religious good catalogue is cheaper? Why commission a classical composer for a Mass setting when publishers bury us in what people have already written, and besides, let’s just photocopy what we like? Why build a church when we can erect a gym for Sunday Mass and sports the other six days of the week?

    I think this answer ties to my previous one – we Catholics, when we are thinking like Catholics, think like Europeans. We borrow heavily from that tradition. Now that some of us are saying that the tradition has been spread too thin, we’re realizing that the post-modern sensibilities that have worked their way into the art that IS being produced isn’t something we want in our art, architecture, and music, so we continue to use the old stuff nearly exclusively.

    In Front Royal, Virginia, students from Christendom painted new sacred images for the local parish, and I did once hear a mass composed and conducted by Leo Nestor that was pretty impressive, but these experiences seem rare.

    Todd wrote: Personally I’d like to see more Catholics who believe the culture has more to fear from them than the other way around.

    You’ll get no argument from me on this one. I like the way you put this.

  • Donato Infante III

    It seems like there would be a golden mean between engaging the culture as mature adults and protecting children who are not ready. I don’t think Catholic parents should be letting their children watch the same garbage that non-Catholic parents allow their kids to watch but full grown adults should be able to handle it.

    And I do think our fear of the culture stems from a Puritanism which we have adopted from the Protestant culture which results in artistic minimalism. Or maybe I’m completely wrong.

  • Adriana

    Yes, Steve, in an attempt to keep out the uncleanness of contemporary culture, many catholics are having a cultural diet devoid of vitamins.

    I have nothing against Ignatius Press, but has it published authors like Sigrid Undsett? Graham Greene? John Lukacs? Any Simone Weil? True she died before being converted, but still she is powerful reading.

    There is good challenging stuff out there, and we do ourselves no service if we accept authors who are happy to write for a little Catholic ghetto out of the belief that they may not be good enough for mainstream publishing.

    In popular novels, I wonder that no one comments on Tanya Huff, and her very Catholic vampire, Henry Fitzroy. Or Jacqueline Carey’s powerful and disturbing “The Sundering”. As with the Simpsons (and Futurama too), there is meat there, and can give rise to many a fruitful discussion.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    [quote=Someone]The contempt for those of us trying to raise Catholic children in this pornified culture of ours is getting really tiresome.

  • Hilary

    I would take this criticism more seriously Jeff, if I didn’t know that you know that I have left the fleshpots of Toronto to go live in a country village in England specifically because I couldn’t stand the godlessness and horrors of the inner city.

    You know, after years of reading me, that I am never satisfied with the easy answer, either that of the world, or that of the self-appointed “Catholic revival”.

    It isn’t meant to be easy to live in the world, but I honestly don’t think that we do ourselves, or even our children, by, as they say increasingly in Britain, “wrapping them in cotton wool”.

    But you have disappointed me Jeff and, honestly, rather hurt me with your quick judgment. From the likes of the Leathern-winged harpies and quasi-pro-life British Parliamentarians I expect such things. But you’ve been reading me long enough now, I thought, to know what my opinions are and know that they are nothing like as simplistic as “hatred of innocence”. I was under the impression that you knew me better than this.

    The world is what it is, and though we are told not to be “of it” we are actually instructed to be “in it”.

    The world is fascinating. People are interesting. Even people who don’t agree with us have much to offer.

    I’m curious to know which video so offended you, however. Was it Pat Condell?

    Do we automatically dismiss everything and everyone that is not in complete agreement with us on every point? Is that how we are supposed to be Salt n’ Light?

  • Histor

    “Catholicism encompasses the breadth of human experience, from the height of ecstasy to the darkness of death.”

    So that explains the raunchy stories in “The Canterbury Tales.”

    To Mr. Culbreath: as for contemporary music, I’d say quite a lot of it shares something with traditionalist Christians – a keen, and mostly just, disgust for modern civilization.

    Histor

  • David W.

    Catholic Culture is a mixture of the Tavern and the Tabernacle. You can’t divorce the two, and when you try you become either a hedonist or a puritan. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot, who I think was a great poet, but an early 20th Century case of “the wannabe.” He wanted to be an Englishman so bad, he created this tweedy, brandy glass England in his head…but it was a romanticized vision. I think people who want to live a “traditional Catholic lifestyle” can over compensate…oftentimes they become that caricature because it is an affectation. Much like the jokes about Chesterton fans in an earlier blog.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    Hilary wrote: I would take this criticism more seriously Jeff, if I didn’t know that you know that I have left the fleshpots of Toronto to go live in a country village in England specifically because I couldn’t stand the godlessness and horrors of the inner city.

    I thought you moved to England because it was your ancestral homeland. I must have missed the rest. Either way, I’m happy for you.

    Hilary wrote: But you have disappointed me Jeff and, honestly, rather hurt me with your quick judgment.

    Honestly, I can’t decipher a better motive. Help me out if you can. As for quick judgments and hurting people, dear Hilary, I’m rather surprised to hear you complain about such things. Do you have any idea how much hurt your own acid tongue (pen?) inflicts on others?

    Hilary wrote: But you’ve been reading me long enough now, I thought, to know what my opinions are and know that they are nothing like as simplistic as “hatred of innocence”. I was under the impression that you knew me better than this.

    I know you to be someone who fearlessly and eloquently defends the innocent unborn – and someone who has also said she can’t stand children, women, and especially mothers. I know you to be someone who pines for the depths of religious life, and who writes about it beautifully, and who can be found the next day wallowing in the filth of godless pop culture. In other words, I know two Hilaries, and judging by her words, she seems to hate innocence when she isn’t loving and defending it.

    What really ticks me off, though, is that you so often express contempt for those of us who, in various ways, try to wean ourselves from the toxicity of this culture, and to give our children a sense of “normal” that differs from what the world is presently offering. This contempt is inexplicable to me, especially coming from someone who, at other times, so eloquently defends tradition, and so brilliantly brings to life all that was good and noble in what you call “The Before Time”.

    Even more inexplicable is your continual mocking of traditional Catholic women – which to me translates into real people like MY WIFE – who are already besieged from all sides, and who have a right to expect more than a little sympathy from their fellow Catholics, if not actual respect. That does not mean you have to agree with their choices, approve of their wardrobe, or even like them personally. But I think it does mean that you ought to have some basic respect for your Catholic sisters who have taken up the very difficult vocation of marriage and motherhood.

    Hilary wrote: The world is what it is, and though we are told not to be “of it” we are actually instructed to be “in it”.

    Yes, and Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman tells us what that means:

    “Then it is that we mix with the world without loving it, for our affections are given to another. We can bear to look on the world’s beauty, for we have no heart for it. We are not disturbed at its frowns, for we live not in its smiles.”

    Hilary wrote: The world is fascinating. People are interesting. Even people who don’t agree with us have much to offer.

    Indeed. I don’t advocate living in a cocoon and I don’t anyone else who does either. It seems paradoxical, but keeping one’s distance from the world enables one to love it better. Good fences make good neighbors, etc.

    As you can tell I’m a bit exasperated with you. :-)

    You have not lost my respect and affection, however – though after reading this I may have lost yours. I sincerely hope not.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    Someone wrote: Catholic Culture is a mixture of the Tavern and the Tabernacle. You can’t divorce the two, and when you try you become either a hedonist or a puritan.

    True, but we don’t have a Catholic culture anymore. We don’t even have real taverns anymore. Nowadays every bar is essentially a brothel. And I don’t think you mean to say “Catholic Culture is a mixture of the Brothel and the Tabernacle.”

  • David W.

    And even the Taverns and Inns of old had their “wenches.” I wouldn’t romanticize the Pub too much…it is what it is. I enjoy a good Pub myself, and a good bar. I don’t see anything wrong with going to bars. It depends on what kind of bar it is.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    David, after much searching to this day I still have not found a bar:

    1) Where you can hear yourself think;

    2) That does not have an atmosphere of sexual immorality.

    Even though the old manuals of Catholic morality strongly discourage the frequenting of taverns, I agree with you and would love to have a suitable local bar to patronize. Unfortunately loud music and the admittance of women have ruined the lot of them.

  • Histor

    “Unfortunately loud music and the admittance of women have ruined the lot of them.”

    I agree with you on the second point, but how does loud music make a bar un-Catholic?

    Histor

  • Hilary

    Jeff, I don’t like women. “Traditional” or otherwise. I feel no need to apologise for it. There’s no rule that says I have to be impressed by the length of a person’s skirt. I’ve seen the “holy vocation of motherhood” and it’s a mess.

    I think it’s something we already know. It’s all part of the glories of life as a misanthrope. I’m not fond of human beings in general, and the more we try to assert that a whole class of them are somehow inherently more sanctified than everyone else, the more I get the urge to knock a few pegs down. Don’t forget Jeff, I’ve got first hand experience with this one. I am a woman, which means they can’t fool me. And I had a mother, and it didn’t impress me as being particularly sanctifying. Mothers are just humans and so are their children. Other people, as Sartre would say.

    The laws of the universe say that if other humans are under threat of death, we have to do something to defend them. It emphatically does not say anything about having to like them while you’re doing it.

    Respect and liking are not the same thing. I think a great deal too much effort is put into making sure no one is ever offended by anything. It is making us into a civilisation of neurotics with skin the thickness of a single cell who walk around thinking we have a right not to be offended.

    The expression “Catholic sisters” is exactly what I mean and sets off all my alarm bells. I have no sisters. Other people are just other people and this kind of inflated jargon is exactly what I despise in what so many people, desperate to find some importance and order in this world, like to imagine is this Great and Glorious Traditional Catholic Revival.

    Bad news: there isn’t one. We’re not on a crusade. This isn’t a glorious movement. There’s no destiny. We’re not the Luke Skywalkers of the Catholic Church.

    It’s just life, messy, irrational, accident-prone, disastrous, banal and brutish at times and you actually have to be in it, get bruised and messed up by it, in order to live it.

    Sorry I don’t fit the prescribed mould of True Catholic Traditionalist Womanhood (angel chorus), and that this has confused you. And sorry if you have interpreted that somehow as a personal insult to your wife (whom I’ve never met).

    I did and do have a lot of respect for you Jeff, and admire your efforts. I just haven’t got a lot of time for this weird little fantasy world that the Trads have built around themselves.

  • Hilary

    Way too much truth for one day.

    Five minutes in the box for sharing too much.

    (That’s a Canadian hockey reference for you ‘Mericans).

  • Pat

    is intellectually vacant. We have “Hillary” the neocon, wanting to “engage” her culture, but being a misanthrope. We have homeschoolers disparaged for trying to instill Catholic values in their children. We have a real lack of respect for real Catholic values in favor of a superficial engagement with culture that includes incorporating the usual Protestant and secular values dominant in America under the guise of “engagement.” Poor, on all sides.

  • elena maria vidal

    What an interesting article. The discussion, too, although it is a bit painful in places. I have long enjoyed the various writings of both Jeff Culbreath and Hilary White on their respective blogs. Jeff is a true pater familias whose ideas give a sense of structure and inspiration as to how to raise a family in a society gone mad. I love Hilary’s acerbic wit– it’s part of her persona which is why she excels at social commentary. She makes people mad, makes them laugh, and makes them think.

    It seems to me that in the history of the Church there have always diverse personalities and vocations. Isn’t it the same today? Some people are called to engage the culture head on, like the Apostles in the market place, and they have unique talents which help them to be effective. Others, like the monks of the desert, retreat from the world in varying degrees, creating an atmosphere conducive to peaceful work and prayer. The Church needs both Martha and Mary.

    If some of our homeschooling families feel the need to more or less retreat a bit from the mainstream, then they have to follow the call. In their own way, they are building the Kingdom.

    I think it is important, no matter what, to strike the right balance between engaging the world and being seduced by it. Similarly, it is easy to fall into Manicheanism and start seeing everything as bad. It is also easy to fall into the less desirable aspects of the culture. There have always been Christians who told dirty jokes; likewise there have always been people like St. Paul who enjoined Christians to avoid such things (Ephesians 5:3)

    I think it is important to engage the culture but not necessarily on its own terms. How much and to what degree perhaps depends on the individual and their call and their gifts. Some are called to wage the battle in the front lines, in the big city, in the center of the action. Perhaps others are called to be a contradiction to the world just by creating a garden where children can safely play–or by going off to a backwoods parish in the mountains. All genuine vocations are necessary, and none are to be despised.

  • Donato Infante III

    Hilary wrote:

    The expression “Catholic sisters” is exactly what I mean and sets off all my alarm bells. I have no sisters. Other people are just other people and this kind of inflated jargon is exactly what I despise in what so many people, desperate to find some importance and order in this world, like to imagine is this Great and Glorious Traditional Catholic Revival.

    Hilary, thanks for sharing so personally. I just wanted to say that in Christ, in baptism, we have become true siblings. This is real, not inflated jargon.

  • ben

    Thank you Jeff, for defending women like my wife.

    I don’t think very many people realize just how much the world hates women with more than 3 children. Surely it has never occured to Hilary that such women are routinely subjected to verbal abuse for merely being out in public, and that they are often as likely to recieve such insults at church as in the grocery store.

  • Scott Hebert

    As someone who deals all too much with ‘the world’ (I’m in university… again…), I can tell you that there is little more refreshing to me than to visit with exactly the kind of ‘retreat’ that is the ‘traditional Catholic family’. It always recharges me to almost literally soak in the peace I can find there, the peace that is all too fleeting these days.

    On a somewhat different note, how can a Catholic in good standing be misanthropic? I may despise the fact that I am a fallen being, but to actually hate man as man seems to go against Catholicism.

  • Katy

    Jeff Culbreath wrote: David, after much searching to this day I still have not found a bar:

    1) Where you can hear yourself think;

    2) That does not have an atmosphere of sexual immorality.

    Tried any Irish pubs? :)

  • Jeff Culbreath

    Hilary wrote: Sorry I don’t fit the prescribed mould of True Catholic Traditionalist Womanhood (angel chorus), and that this has confused you. And sorry if you have interpreted that somehow as a personal insult to your wife (whom I’ve never met).

    Hilary, a truce. You are who you are. I don’t expect you to fit into any prescribed mould other than that of a Catholic. To my mind, that translates into certain kinds of behavior towards one’s fellow Catholics – something perhaps a little more than promising, while holding your nose, to defend those under threat of death if absolutely necessary.

    But nevermind. We all have our struggles. Keep fighting the good fight.

  • Dena Hunt

    Hilary, I found your post here to be absolutely delightful (“It’s No Secret”). I’ve bookmarked your website and look forward to reading more of your “acerbic wit”. (Isn’t that what they called it?) It’s been a good while since I’ve laughed out loud reading *anything*. Thanks. Needless to say, perhaps, I agree with most of what you said.

    I do think Steven’s description of Catholic parents doing their best to protect their children is contemptuous and bears the hallmarks of a true misanthrope instead of one who merely declares herself misanthropic. (Viva satire.)

    As for going out and “creating” a Catholic culture: Balderdash. I had not heard that the Holy Spirit retired and turned the family business over to us. Form imposed on chaos is just tyranny, nothing else. If your own head is where it should be, just write, paint, whatever [sub]creative thing it is you do. Leave the rest to powers greater than your own. Then Form will arise out of chaos. There’s a big difference, you know.

  • elena maria vidal

    I read Barbara Nicolosi’s article again and she makes some really excellent points, such as this:
    [quote=]There are gifts that come through the arts that you don

  • Histor

    “I do think Steven’s description of Catholic parents doing their best to protect their children is contemptuous and bears the hallmarks of a true misanthrope instead of one who merely declares herself misanthropic.”

    The description actually originated with Hilary White. But that’s neither here nor there.

    As for the “Catholic parents doing their best to protect their children,” all I can say is the stereotype of the kid who goes wild once he moves out of his pious parents’ house is true. Conversely, teaching your kid how to judge popular culture, reject the bad in it, and enjoy the good is worth the effort, and the risk, of letting in some of those rock songs and R-rated movies.

    Histor

  • Dena Hunt

    You are correct, Histor. I apologize for attributing the contempt to Steven; it’s actually Hilary’s. And indeed, Steven expressed admiration for those parents, even though he agreed in spirit, it seems, with Hilary’s comment. But my misreading is an example of why one should not reply to blog posts as a cure for insomnia.

    My comment regarding culture-construction (destruction, if you prefer) stands, however, though much mitigated by a more wakeful state of mind. This is not my generation; it’s yours. Mine is past. One of the compensations of old age is a much longer view of things. I know all seems horrible now, but I’m really not sure that the awful state of cultural affairs is actually a high-speed chase into hell. God *is* still in his heaven, and the Holy Spirit has not retired. Have faith.

  • Steve Skojec

    This has been an amusing thread, and not really what I expected. To be clear about where I’m coming from, a little about me:

    - I have a BA in Communications and Theology and am looking into MA Theology programs, probably to teach (I’d even consider being a DRE)

    - I have a wife and three (soon to be four) children, whom I do my best to both protect from the parts of the culture that are most dangerous while giving them the critical skills to evaluate the rest.

    - We homeschool. I don’t think homeschooling is the best option, only the best option for the time. I’d much prefer a solid, private, Catholic academy with teachers and a pedagogy devoted to the same ideals that we have at home.

    - I am a Catholic attached to the traditional Mass and sacraments, and committed to orthodoxy.

    - I work in secular, corporate PR, and a lot of what is done in my field makes me uncomfortable, striking me as incompatible with my beliefs (hence, the desire to get out and do something better)

    - As a writer, a long-standing goal of mine is to produce works of fiction, though I do not necessarily believe that they need to be overly Catholic. I believe that popular fiction which happens to be written by a Catholic has far more potential to reach people than Catholic fiction which rarely, if ever, gets read.

    I offer these things as a bit of perspective. I am not indicting the desire to form children properly, only the method of formation that seeks to hide our children from the world. Because the time will come when they WILL go out into the world. What happens then is well described by Cardinal Newman:

    [quote=Ven. John Newman]Today a pupil, tomorrow a member of the great world: today confined to the Lives of the Saints, tomorrow thrown upon Babel;

  • Steve Skojec

    Sin is dazzling, moreso to a person who has had it hidden from his eyes from his entire life. Understanding sin from the safe distance of culture, having it discussed with him by parents who can walk him through what a character did wrong in a movie or a book and thereby learning a lesson is critical to the development of a child.

    I don’t advocate drowning children in smut or violence or bad attitudes. For goodness sake, my eldest (who is almost eleven) isn’t allowed to watch the Disney channel because of the vapid nature of the shows, and the attitudes displayed by the young teenage girls on their programing.

    But there are other things that I will let her watch, as long as we are watching them with her. We go to movies as a family. We encourage her to develop her artistic skills (and will do the same with the younger ones) and her critical thinking.

    You absolutely cannot create culture if you don’t understand what’s selling. Perhaps that’s cynical, but American culture is pop culture, which means it must have commercial appeal. This is distinct from the culture we create in our home, where religious art and the enthronement of the Sacred Heart and family prayer give sustenance to our daily lives. But the world and the spiritual life are not mutually exclusive, and the world can offer some perfectly entertaining and unoffensive fare.

    I am living proof that you can be in the world and not have it destroy you. I went to public school for almost my entire education before college. I watched movies and played video games and read novels. I work in a secular industry in the city, and I find opportunities there to share my faith – primarily because I am not viewed as an outsider, which gives me credibility (I could give a number of examples where people who assumed I was just like them were surprised and interested when I told them of my commitment to virtue.)

    But culture and education, more than anything else, influences the thought of the people. We need educators and culture makers. The originators of the Frankfurt School knew this when they sought to use the culture to destroy the Christian basis of Western Civilization. Are we going to let them win, or are we going to get in there and fight?

    We all have a right and a need to create a sort of enclave for our families where we are safe and can retreat from the world. But if we forget to come out of our enclave, to study and understand the culture and how we can participate in bringing Christ like a bullet of light into the heart of darkness, we will be ineffective at more than just protecting ourselves, like the servant who buried the talents. At worst, we may find that by overprotecting our children, we lose them in the balance when they strike off on their own. Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen, because I’ve watched it happen.

    To me, a bunker mentality (barring legitimate monasticism) is surrender. It means we give up hope that the world can be saved, and wait only for the eschaton. That’s the easy way out, and not the one I think we are called to. I don’t claim to be a paragon of engagement, only that I want to be one. I may fail and you may succeed.

    But the surest way to guarantee failure is to never try.

  • JC

    I had posted a comment last night; not sure what happened.

    M.H. refers to the Martins, the model for neo-traditional homeschooling-type families. While they are certainly a model I admire and try to follow, and they are on their way to canonization, most of their success must be accredit to Louis, who was mostly retired by the time the kids came along. Zelie worked from home, refused to breastfeed, etc.

    As for “kids going wild when they get out of the house,” that’s something you can never quite prepare for, and has several roots.

    As for sheltered lives, what about monasteries? Isn’t there something to be said for living a life focused primarily on virtue and prayer?

    I’m absolutely shocked at the vitriol some people here are showing towards homeschoolers. Just as an example: William F. Buckley was homeschooled and raised in a relatively sheltered environment. Would you denounce him as not knowing how to engage the culture? No. The question is whether kids are exposed to pop culture dreck or to authentic culture.

    Much of pop culture is designed to undermine faith and morality. What little we *have* exposed our children to-and most people consider us pretty strict parents–has already undermined their attitudes towards morality and cultural literacy. My 6 year old is already spouting “classical music is boring”–and that’s mainly because of the “Christian rock” she’s been exposed to at Vacation Bible School.

    Similarly, I’m shocked at how those of us who try to live the evangelical counsel of poverty, and to dress modestly in both the moral sense and the economic sense, are being denounced for not adopting the world’s fashions.

    If you raise children on the higher culture, they will immediately know how to reject the lower. Or, as Russell Kirk put it, if you deny a child his Homer, he will turn to Spillaine or Fleming, or worse.

  • Steve Skojec

    JC,

    Where is the vitriol regarding homeschooling? Even in the description I cited from Hilary, homeschooling was described as part of a package deal that she considered over the top, not problematic in se.

    I can’t speak for her, but I doubt she considers homeschooling as a problem by itself, when used to ensure a proper education of children and reduce the influence of public schools and the children who attend them. It CAN be a problem, though, when the goal is total isolation.

    We’re not arguing over absolutes, we’re arguing over degrees. The extent to which we isolate ourselves from the culture has a subjective component to it, and that’s based in our particular personalities, sensitivities, etc. We all need a safe haven, and nobody has argued against that.

    But isolationism in a familial sense is not, as I understand it, a good preparation for life. As I indicated above, monasticism is valid and even necessary, but monasticism is not, to the best of my knowledge, appropriate for a family. Families cannot be lumped into so narrow a vocation, because each individual in the family has a unique calling. It’s my belief that forming and educating our children in preparation for the world is the way we prepare them for any calling, including legitimate monasticism, in which they withdraw from the world voluntarily. It’s true that families have, in the past, drawn substance from monastic communities, but generally we’re dealing with a very different context in that case than we have now (small percentage of Catholics in relation to those in the larger world; different demographic makeup and infrastructure of agrarian societies; etc.)

    Taking children out of the world gives them a disadvantage if they are called to go into it. It also cuts us off, as parents, from much of the apostolic activity that we can engage in outside of our immediate family, unless we work in or interact with the world in some meaningful way.

  • Steve Skojec

    JC wrote: As for “kids going wild when they get out of the house,” that’s something you can never quite prepare for, and has several roots.

    One of which is using religion as a cudgel to keep kids in line. Another is sheltering from the world so much that when they become legally autonomous, they rebel against their upbringing.

    Any family can have a bad apple. Those that exert excessive control over every thought and action of their children tend to always have more, in my experience. I have yet to see a very strict family who didn’t lose a child, at least for a time, to the dark side. Striking that balance between discipline and a long enough leash to exercise free will is a hard thing to do.

    JC wrote: Similarly, I’m shocked at how those of us who try to live the evangelical counsel of poverty, and to dress modestly in both the moral sense and the economic sense, are being denounced for not adopting the world’s fashions.

    Is there something admirable about going out of the way to look plain, or frumpy? Is it a good idea for a wife to make every attempt to appear less attractive than the other women her husband sees, day in and day out, because of a devotion to a false standard of modesty? Perhaps the husbands of these women don’t care, but inasmuch as spouses have a duty to each other in terms of the conjugal act, they have a duty in terms of physical appearance as well. We should try to be attractive to our spouses because physical attraction is part and parcel of marital love.

    I’m not advocating cleavage and short skirts. I’m talking about dressing modestly but with a sense of style and class. Making an attempt to look as drab as possible may be penitential, may even fortify us against vanity, but it also labels us as odd, diminishes a legitimate cultivation of our physical appearance, and makes us inaccessible to a world that equates fashion sensibility with general sensibility.

    Even if you have to make your own clothes because of economics (it’s often cheaper to buy them used on ebay or craigslist, like my wife does), they needn’t be unflattering, unless for some reason you really like that look. Then, I suppose, all bets are off.

    JC wrote: If you raise children on the higher culture, they will immediately know how to reject the lower.

    With respect, I believe this is manifestly untrue. Even the example of your six-year-old shows that higher culture does not always trump lower, or even that the two are mutually exclusive. I love classical music and opera, but I don’t want to listen to it all the time. I know that it’s an objectively higher form of art, but that doesn’t mean I wish to be constantly immersed in it. I also think good Steak paired with a 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet is preferable to burgers and beer, on the order of things, but sometimes I want burgers and beer.

    If higher culture trumped all, we would never have lost the old Mass to common usage, we would never have experienced post-modern art, and we would still be graced by brilliant musical compositions the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 17th century. But culture always has had a low, folk element to it that is more base and is more close to the people. And the people, God forbid, tend to enjoy it.

    Also, if higher culture really held the greater attraction, then exposing people to it side by side would lead them to gravitate toward the higher. Even if they’ve already been exposed to low culture. Unless of course, both have their own unique appeal and context.

    So again, I don’t entirely disagree with what you’re saying in principle, but I differ with you in degree.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    Steve, upon reading your latest comments I have concluded that we have no disagreement at all. I’ve been taking all of this much too personally. You are not criticizing families like mine, you are criticizing families who never leave their one-room cabin in the wilderness, never talk to their children about the outside world, never let them make choices or exercise free will, never let them think an independent thought, never let them play with non-Catholic or public-schooled children, never let them visit with non-Catholic relatives, and never expose them to anything that isn’t 100% totally pure CATHOLIC.

    We agree, that’s pretty lame. Those families should get a clue.

  • JC

    Steven,

    We are mostly in agreement; this is a question of audience. I was responding to the quotation you used and some of the people who reacted favorably to that quotation. If it’s a choice between being overly permissive and overly strict, I think parents should opt for overly strict. But I’m far more supportive of being cautiously strict with *explanation*.

    I have personally never simply understod our society’s fascination with clothing, especially when it comes from Christians, when Jesus is very explicity *against* worrying about clothing or judging others based upon it. I agree that there’s a certain obligation to “look nice,” and, in other contexts, I would agree with the assessment that “devout Catholic families” often appear “unhappy” in the eyes of the world.

    But I also know that that *appearance* is going to be seen, no matter what you do. If you dress nice, they say, “You think you’re better than me.” I call it the “Ned Flanders principle”: society will point to a perfectly happy, virtuous, and even materially prosperous Christian family and say, “Look at what freaks they are.”

    When we were first married, we were fretting to my uncle (the “strict Catholic with seven kids” of my dad’s family) about whether to set an example to others by using NFP effectively, or by heroically having children in spite of circumstances (our discernment led us to the latter). He said, “Who cares what other people think? Your job is to do what works for you two and God, not to worry what others might think about it.”

    In our homeschool group, we’re kind of in the middle of the spectrum, actually fairly liberal.

    And I’m not totally against “low” culture. As I noted in the TOm Howard thread, I’ll put Bach, Barry Manilow, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jim Steinman and Gregorian chant on the same MP3 playlist.

    But the salient issue is *instruction*. Parents have to teach their kids why some things are good and other things are bad. We can see, directly, how our children’s behavior is effected by certain kinds of music or TV shows. Certain networks, programs or music leave them very hyperactive and defiant, so that stuff gets forbidden. But they’re also told *why* it’s forbidden, and they usually agree, because they realize they don’t like how they feel, either.

    At the same time, we explain why what is good is good.

    My parents taught me a lot about how to appreciate higher culture, but they were also fairly permissive, and they exposed me to a lot of stuff I deeply regret, under the view that their parents’ generation was too strict.

    And it’s quite easy to explain that “that person doesn’t believe in Jesus.” It’s far harder to explain the “Catholic” aunt or the “Catholic” school telling them that contraception is OK, their parents are weird, or not everyone has to be Catholic.

  • elena maria vidal

    Steve Skojec wrote:
    But isolationism in a familial sense is not, as I understand it, a good preparation for life. As I indicated above, monasticism is valid and even necessary, but monasticism is not, to the best of my knowledge, appropriate for a family. Families cannot be lumped into so narrow a vocation, because each individual in the family has a unique calling. It’s my belief that forming and educating our children in preparation for the world is the way we prepare them for any calling, including legitimate monasticism, in which they withdraw from the world voluntarily. It’s true that families have, in the past, drawn substance from monastic communities, but generally we’re dealing with a very different context in that case than we have now (small percentage of Catholics in relation to those in the larger world; different demographic makeup and infrastructure of agrarian societies; etc.)

    Very good point, Steve. The home should not be a monastery, I could not agree more. Neither should small children be made to perform strict monastic penances (which I have seen some homeschoolers engage in.) If a family happens to live in a cabin the woods there is nothing wrong with that, it depends on the family and their situation, gifts, etc. Whether it works or not all depends on the attitude of the parents. And a lot of it depends on the various personalities of the children. We were in public schools most of our lives. I made it with my faith intact. Some of my brothers and sisters did not. Being a little more sheltered and away from certain influences might have helped the cause. But we will never know for sure…..

  • Hilary

    When I was a kid, there was no such thing as homeschooling, but nonetheless, I begged my mother to do it; I hated school so much and knew I was wasting my time there.

    How many times did I have to correct my teachers’ grammar? It was terrible to have to hand in writing assignments and know that because I had used a subordinate clause and a substantive adjective or two, I would have to later defend my writing to my semi-literate teachers. My mother was so frequently accused of doing my homework for me, that I was regularly subjected to after-school detentions in which I was required to write sentences and paragraphs to prove that it was not so.

    The state schools, and the parochial schools by 1975, were a cross between a glorified babysitting service and government hippie indoctrination centre…and I figured that out by the time I was eleven.

    I knew that my mother knew more than most of my teachers about nearly everything. Alas. I was born in the wrong time.

    So, yeah. I’m pretty good with homeschooling. Just a little envious, that’s all.

  • Hilary

    Yeesh, what am I doing sitting here reading all this stuff?

    I’m half way through season three of Boston Legal.

    Denny Crane!

    (That’s a pop-culture reference for all you homeschoolers out there.)

  • Jeff Culbreath

    Hilary, I’ve never heard of Denny Crane until now. So I checked the clip on your blog, just to find out what I’ve been prudishly sheltering my kids from:

    “I’ll hump anything in a dress. I’ll even get down on the floor with you if they turn out the lights.” – Denny Crane, after affirming his love for spending time with prostitutes

    Are you seriously arguing that Catholics ought to be entertaining themselves with Denny Crane? If you think a regular fare of Denny Crane is not going erode your moral sense, malform your conscience, and stunt your spiritual growth, you are living in a dream world.

    Even further, allowing children to watch things like this on a regular basis is nothing but spiritual child abuse. Words, images, ideas – these things enter a child’s brain and stay forever, creating a spiritual reservoir of good or evil.

    It is true, retreating from the culture limits our opportunities for engagement. But our first priority is not engagement with the culture. Our first priority is to tend our own gardens, to keep ourselves “pure and unspotted from the world”, to save our own souls and those of our children.
    Contrary to popular fantasies inspired by the Second Vatican Council, most of us are not called to be “apostles to the world”. That is simply modernist hubris. One cannot be an apostle without first having obtained a mature spiritual life himself. And getting comfortable in the Denny Crane world is spiritual death.

    If Barb Nicolosi throws our kids out of an audition because they didn’t get a Denny Crane joke, so be it. That’s a small price to pay.

  • Hilary

    This Catholic does.

    Man, baiting you guys is as much fun as shooting fish in a barrel.

    That is to say,

    quite fun, actually.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    “As for the ‘Catholic parents doing their best to protect their children,’ all I can say is the stereotype of the kid who goes wild once he moves out of his pious parents’ house is true.” – Histor

    That does happen on occasion, but it certainly doesn’t need to happen, and I suspect it is the exception rather than the rule.

    St. Therese’s father wouldn’t even let his daughters read the newspapers of his day. I think they turned out OK.

    I allow my own children to do many things that my great-grandfather strictly forbade. He wouldn’t permit his daughters to wear make-up or jewelry, for example. He didn’t allow them to dance, date, or go to the movies. There was no alcohol in the house. Etc. And yet somehow his children did not “go wild” but grew up to become virtuous, responsible, and self-disciplined adults.

    I am sure that some parents go overboard in ways that can do more harm than good. I am also sure that some children leave their homes without adequate preparation for the world. (I don’t happen to know any of them, but I keep hearing about them on blogs and such.) The Catholic homeschooling families of my acquaintance are preparing their children for the world without having the world form their characters. That’s not easy to do, and mistakes can be made in all directions, but the goal is attainable and is being realized in many families.

  • Adriana

    I hope that in your desire to protect your children you do not prevent from seeing The Three Stooges.

    The idea of a childhood spent without knowing Curly, Larry, Moe, and Shemp is too painful to bear.

  • Histor

    “I allow my own children to do many things that my great-grandfather strictly forbade. He wouldn’t permit his daughters to wear make-up or jewelry, for example. He didn’t allow them to dance, date, or go to the movies. There was no alcohol in the house. Etc. And yet somehow his children did not “go wild” but grew up to become virtuous, responsible, and self-disciplined adults.”

    That was back when being (or at least appearing) virtuous, responsible, and self-disciplined was necessary to make a living in America, and when vice and irresponsibility either caused poverty or ate up a lot of your wealth.

    “That does happen on occasion, but it certainly doesn’t need to happen, and I suspect it is the exception rather than the rule.”

    I have yet to see an exception to the rule – and I grew up among pious families. Ultimately, convincing your kids that Jesus will forgive anyone who repents is the only safeguard against the evils of pop culture.

    “Are you seriously arguing that Catholics ought to be entertaining themselves with Denny Crane?”

    I agree with you, Mr. Culbreath. Catholics looking for raunchy humor should read “The Decameron.” Or Guy de Maupassant. We need that high-culture influence.

    Histor

  • Jeff Culbreath

    “Catholics looking for raunchy humor should read ‘The Decameron.’ Or Guy de Maupassant. We need that high-culture influence.” – Histor

    “The Decameron” occupied a venerable place on the Church’s index of forbidden books for several centuries. Better days.

  • David W.

    While I applaud wanting to keep children from porn and pestilence, You are skating awfully close to Ned Flanders territory. Chesterton used to poke fun at Flanders types regularly…Jaw clucking Puritanism was fashionable in his day as well. I’m not trying to attack you, friend…but its important to have some levity. Not all non-Catholic culture is bad, The Natural Law has been written on all of our hearts, even if we choose to ignore it. That is why the Pagans of Antiquity were required reading, because even as non-believers there were eloquent glimpes of God’s Truth.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    “Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.”

    - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 9

    I love this metaphor. It is perfect for our times. The “walls” of Catholic discipline make the world safe for the innocent pleasures of “paganism”. But the walls of the playground have been knocked down. We are now threatened with dangers on every side. If you want to make the world safe again, you must help rebuild the walls.

    In Puritanical, temperance-ridden America, we Catholics were known for our mirth and joy of living. “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” was the taunt hurled against us by our enemies. But the inevitable fruits of Calivinism have turned once-Puritan America into hedonistic, libertine America. Since the 1930s the Catholic Church, alarmed at the approaching tide of moral anarchy, acquired the opposite reputation of a moralistic scold. But the Church hasn’t changed. We still believe in the playground, but you can’t have a playground in this world without walls. Now is the time to rebuild those walls lest the waves carry us all out to sea.

    Chesterton, of course, would be horrified by the things some of you seem to be defending in this thread. He lived in a different world. The “jaw clucking Puritanism” of his day was offended by the innocent pleasures of drink, card playing, dancing, and making merry on Sunday. Those people are hardly around anymore. The only thing I might have in common with the “jaw clucking Puritan” of Chesterton’s day is that we are both critics. But the substance of the criticism is entirely different, and the comparison is substantively meaningless.

    Today, anyone who upholds the old standards of morality is now accused of Puritanism or Jansensism or some other red herring calculated to silence the debate. No one wants to be perceived as a sour-faced scold. But the fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church has one goal for her members, and one goal only, and that is the salvation of souls. Before our shepherds went AWOL, the Church was an active and solicitous Mother towards that end, as evidenced by the Legion of Decency, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and many local organizations blessed by the hierarchy for the purpose of keeping her members on the narrow path. Today, it seems, we are on our own. But I don’t think that frees us from the obligation of forming our consciences properly and rebuilding those Chestertonian walls – if not for the world, at least for ourselves and families, so that those innocent pagan pleasures may be enjoyed in freedom rather than trepidation.

  • David W.

    The Good Ole Days weren’t so “Good”, and there is no going back. The Church must adapt with the times…note I said ADAPT..not Compromise. I quote Chesterton because he was a wonderful observer of his time, and he proved to be prophetic on a number of things. The walls were crumbling even in his day. Actually, if you look at the overall history since the so called “Reformation” The Church has been on the Defensive, trying to hold back what had been unleashed. The downward spiral has been going on for some time…and it wasn’t Vatican II that “ruined everything.”

    My point: This horror you speak of was a LONG time coming….centuries, in fact. You speak of that era as a golden age, when it wasn’t. There were problems then, too….problems that came to fruition later on. Pray, Pay, and Obey no longer was enough…Anti-Clericalism and the booming technology and information age was cutting deep into a laity that in many instances did what their priests told them and were not educated in the finer points of Catholic doctrine. Pray and Obey…”Because Father said so” was accepted as a viable answer. NO MORE. Blessed John XXIII I think knew this, which was why Vatican II was called. What came after was a mixed bag, but it was inevitable.

  • Hilary

    What I fear is that we have forgotten the playground, or repudiated it in our efforts to rewrite the world.

    Particularly in American Catholicism, so influenced as it is in its “conservative” end by recent Protestant converts. In a conversation a while ago with a Roman priest, I saw him smile when I talked about American Catholics. American Catholics, and perhaps by extension British Catholics (Canadians don’t count, since they are now for the most part, merely French communists), are known far and wide as rigidly moralistic and no fun at a party. This, I am beginning to realise, is becoming widely accepted outside English-speaking, American-led Catholicism.

    Indeed, it seems that the prudes and lemon-suckers make up the largest demographic in the world of the Professional Catholic (the pro-lifers and people who go to a lot of conferences), and that it is something of a requirement to be deaf to irony and self-deprecation. Sorry Jeff, but I think the comparison is a true one. I think that the phenomenon has less to do with religion than it does with human nature. We like to tell other people what to do.

    I’ve also loved that particular analogy and believe it is sound. But the walls are not supposed to be there on the outside. They are supposed to be the inner walls we all have that define the real difference and distance between us and them. I’ve got them. I don’t need them to be in place in the outside world. I know, in other words, what sin is, and I don’t need the rest of the world to know to keep myself on the inside of the walls.

    It is precisely because of the existence of these well built inner walls that I have no problem watching Denny Crane and Buffy the Vampire Slayer grow annoyed when the Traditionalist Catholic Mutaween come and tell me that I am not responsible for the governance of my soul. That, in effect, they are and know better than I what I may and may not enjoy.

    Don’t forget, Jeff. I don’t have children. The whole, “but what about the influence on the kids” argument doesn’t interest me.

  • Adriana

    David:

    You might add Chesterton’s comments on those who want to forbid the use of bow and arrows by boys because it may tempt them into violence – the impulse is the same – the idea that you can keep all temptations away, and thus keep the children’s moral purity.

    It does not help. In the end they produce the equivalent of a bubble – like those pathetic “bubble children” who could not be let out of their sterile environment because they did not have an inmune system and any minor infection could kill them.

    WE are supposed to develop an inmune system – and part of acquiring it is being infected and recovering from that infection (and there are diseases such as mumps and German measles, that you are better off catching young and being done with them).

    Same thing with temptations. If we are not exposed to them, we cannot fight them off, and our moral victory is not dependent on us, but on external circumstances.

    It is good to want to protect children – but we must be aware that they will have to be able to protect themselves later on – and that children are not meant to be hothouse flowers.

  • Hilary

    I’ve experienced quite a bit of North American Catholicism in recent years, and while it seems that in this sphere a great deal of Chesterton is read, I’m not convinced he is widely heeded. I think he is more frequently solemnly recited.

    Another of my favourite quotes from him, however, is that a thing worth doing is worth doing badly. It is something I have taken to heart, (though I admit, that for many years I was too much of a priss to understand what it meant).

    If we believe that God is merciful enough to have received the Venerable Oscar Wilde on his death bed, perhaps we can hope that He will be merciful to those of us who think Denny Crane is a howl and like to listen to Nirvana while working.

    I decided some time ago that it will be impossible for me to be the kind of politically correct Catholic (and make no mistake, the term is accurate) that manages to tick every box on the list of requirements to gain the approval of the Traditionalist Sacred Womanhood and Skirt-Measuring committees. But I accepted that being a bad Catholic was better than being no Catholic at all, which seemed all the choices a naturally tendentious, pugilistic and contrary character would allow. Particularly when the judgment of what constitutes Bad Catholicism is being made by the self-appointed Justices of the Supreme Court of the Great and Glorious Catholic Revival, who are not, the last time I checked, God.

    What I have seen in the Traditionalist Catholic world, and to a great extent its Protestant led and influenced ‘Neo-Catholic’ conservative mirror universe, is that it is something of an all or nothing world. One must leave one’s appreciation of anything non-Catholic behind in order to measure up to its strictures, or risk being shunned (but of course, shunned or not, I’m the type who shows up to the party anyway). One emphatically may not merely forgive the non-Catholic world for not being Catholic and enjoy what there is to enjoy, while remembering that much of it is in error.

    There is an analagous situation in the pro-life movement, I have observed. One must not only toe the entire life n’ family Issues line, one must be careful not to like wicked rock n’ roll music, not to be interested in the short stories of Truman Capote (Flannery O’Connor, perhaps, but Grahame Greene…never!); one may watch and admit to liking only the films that have been approved by the right bloggers and websites; one may watch television, but one may never admit to liking any of it…and Boston Legal is RIGHT OUT.

    Does this remind anyone else of something very familiar?

    Yes, that’s right,

    high school.

    I recommend getting kicked out of the cool kids club at the earliest opportunity.

    I remember the day I wandered into the art room at my junior high school and discovered all the other bad kids, kids with the wrong clothes, wrong addresses, wrong attitudes, was the happiest of my school life. I had exactly the wrong dress sense for the cool kids, but I had a blast in the smoke pit with the bad kids.

    So, I guess I’ll keep smoking, knowing I can’t quit, and I hope you won’t mind if I fail to ask forgiveness. We bad kids need your prayers, after all…

  • Adriana

    Jeff:

    Do not be in a hurry to applaud the innocents pleasures of drinking and card playing. Not when you know of the ravages of alcoholism and gambling.

    But the wise course, as Chesterton noted, was not to forbid drinking and card playing, but teaching how to enjoy them in moderation – taking always wine with food, in an atmosphere of conviviality, and play cards with an end to provide yourself an enjoyment, not a living, and know how much you can afford to lose, and not go beyond that.

  • Histor

    “”The Decameron” occupied a venerable place on the Church’s index of forbidden books for several centuries. Better days.”

    The Index died a peaceful death well before Vatican II. There was a good reason for that, I’m sure.

    Though, if The Decameron is a threat to your purity of heart, avoid it by all means. Just don’t complain about the people who find it entertaining rather than lust-inducing.

    As for Chesterton being offended by what we defend in this thread, all I can say is “Who does Chesterton think he is – the Pope?”

    Histor

  • Histor

    I want to correct myself here – the Index lost its authority in 1966, not “well before Vatican II.” So I’m blatantly wrong there.

    The Church still asks us to watch what we read lest we sin, but doesn’t ban any books on pain of mortal sin or excommunication anymore. She’s still silent on “Boston Legal” and Nirvana, though.

    Histor

  • Adriana

    But can I ask a viewer if Denny Crane is worse than Falstaff?

  • David W.

    Moderation in all things….and that all pleasure comes from God. Vice is but the twisted mirror image of Virtue.

    I listen to Secular Music and I admittedly have no qualms about skewering members of “the home team” when I think they are acting stupid…IE protesting Harry Potter.

  • Syme

    Lots of true things (and lot’s of silly ones, to be honest) are being said here. One thing I think bears saying is that before people beat up on homeschooling they should think about the reasons for doing it. One reason is sheltering kids from the world. That is a doubtful project and seems to me rather like trying to shut out the sun with you hands. But then there is another, and I think quite valid, reason: that one is unsatisfied with education as it is found in today’s schools and colleges. Being oriented to practice and the professions, or plagued by relativism, our schools have split truth into a million little pieces or even stopped caring about it altogether. Are our educational systems oriented to wisdom or to helping kids figure out what it is their doing on this planet? Hardly. And we can do better, I think. What better gift can a parent give to a child than an education truly oriented to truth and wisdom? Why outsource what is probably the KEY task of a parent? Why divorce learning from life by making it something kids go to do six hours a day rather than a part of their daily activity that is integrated with the whole of life? I think if there was more of this kind of homeschooling more of us would actually care about and enjoy learning, rather than considering it a burden and a task one is obliged to get through before being able to do what one really wants: watch TV. What sort of life is that?

  • Mike in OK

    I posted this on my families’ blog first, but wanted to share my thoughts with you as well. You’re welcome to visit a family who has moved into an exciting agrarian lifestyle, not to “escape” a failed, ugly culture, but to embrace an exciting, life-filled beautiful culture of God’s creation. We do not live in isolation but in an awesome hands on lifestyle we share with many friends and visitors who are drawn to a simpler, less materialistic lifestyle. Here’s what I had to say:

    “I read the “Well Sheltered Catholic” article and some of the comments.
    I agreed with some of it, but thought most of it was silly and lacking.
    While some of his concerns are valid and some of the stereotypes do
    exist, the broad brush nature of the comments really miss the diversity
    and value of living a more agrarian lifestyle.

    The most obvious error is the near assumption that moving to a remote
    rural area equates to isolation. I know it may be counter intuitive,
    but I can obviously speak more authoritatively about the subject since I
    in fact have moved to such a place. We have networked as much if not
    more here in rural Oklahoma than even in San Diego. I’m sure we’re not
    the norm, however the value to a family in experiencing nature “up front
    and personal” is a lot more than “escaping” the modern culture. It
    opens an opportunity to great adventure and hands on connection with the
    “real” world, not just limited to man’s construction. The great
    outdoors with the birds, the wildlife, the cows, goats, chickens and all
    the life bursting around us. I sometimes think it’s the families that
    are unable to have this hands on experience who are sheltered from the
    wonders of the real world. The city folk need an opportunity to get out
    of the “Matrix” for at least brief periods to expand the imagination of
    children and unleash the awe of the world around us. Yes, I think that
    planting plants and raising animals are of tremendous value to the
    richness of family growth and health. I think these awesome life
    experiences should be shared with people in the modern culture and I do
    and intend to continue to do just that. The Cities and Burbs are
    continuing to support more Farmer’s markets and interaction with farmers
    and connections with agrarian living, and I think it’s a very healthy
    and positive movement. It seems like the last half century of
    separating ourselves from farm life has gone overboard and it looks like
    the pendulum is swinging back towards a healthier balance with a
    connection to the land and our food!”

    I welcome the discussion; just realize we’re not all cut from the same cloth! God Bless, Mike

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