March 10, 2012

Good stuff from Fr. Dwight, but obscured with some Industrial Age assumptions...

Lent, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Blessedness:

...But these are only the superficial problems. The real crisis in the American Catholic Church is a crisis of dissent, lack of faith and courage.

To put it simply, for the last fifty years the majority of American Catholics have been more American than Catholic. That is to say, they have bought into the American Dream big time. They have swallowed the lie that life is only about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--especially happiness. In fact they are now so stuck on the pursuit of happiness that they are willing to sacrifice the life and the liberty to get it.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be a noble political ideal it is pretty shallow as a goal for the spiritual life.

The Catholic way is not a life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, for their own sake. But a realization that the abundant life comes through death to self, true liberty comes through slavery to Christ and true happiness is really something called blessedness.

All of this is lost on the majority of Americans, and sadly on the majority of American Catholics. (That's why the voting record of 'Catholics' is the same as the general population) We have substituted Broadway for the Way of the Cross; entertainment for the sacred liturgy, sentimentality for the Truth of the Gospel, the Promises of God for promiscuity, and  "liberty" for license.

This is the crisis of the American Catholic Church. Why are Catholic schools closing? Because they cost too much to run. Why do they cost too much to run? Because the old teaching orders don't have any sisters and brothers to run them, so we have to pay lay people the going rate. Why don't we have any teaching sisters and brothers? Because we've told a whole generation of Catholics that they can be "just as holy" as lay people living in the suburbs with 2.5 children in a trophy house....

"Why do they cost too much to run? Because the old teaching orders don't have any sisters and brothers to run them, so we have to pay lay people the going rate..." The problem with this statement is that the the teaching orders and nursing orders were products of the Industrial Age.
Stop and note the picture on the right. What does it make you think of? Hmm? It is in fact purely secular; a Red Cross nurse of the time of WWI. (Suzanne Larsson, painted by her father the great Swedish artist Carl Larsson.)

Those orders and their tasks were mostly inventions from the time of Queen Victoria! Mass education and universally available hospital treatment are 19th century innovations, created by both the Church and by secular institutions at exactly the same time. And both the church and the secular world staffed these burgeoning new institutions with large numbers of women, women who typically lived lives dedicated to service, usually with some degree of poverty and chastity. There were additional men too, but the big difference from all the past was the large-scale utilization of educated women as staff. The Church existed for 18 centuries with female religious being far fewer than male. That flipped around the beginning of the 20th century. Now we may be reverting to the mean.

And all the "orders" broke down at exactly the same time, in the 1960's. My father was on the board of trustees of a hospital when I was young. And, some time around the early 60’s, they were having trouble with some very unhappy nurses. He told me that the board had realized with a bit of shock that they were paying their nurses less than their janitors! That was the old model, and it wasn’t going to work anymore.

The timing? I don’t remember precisely, but it was roughly the same time as the Vatican Council. And simultaneous with that, the teaching profession was changing drastically. Men were entering in ever larger numbers, and expecting living wages. That was the time of the unwise decisions to have a Department of Education, and to allow teacher’s unions. But even without those, the days of the "spinster schoolmarm" were over.

I constantly see Catholics assuming that Catholic life and practice must include schools and hospitals. (And all sorts of other ponderous encrusted organizations.) No one stops to wonder if this is true. I'm pretty sure it is not true any more. And that we need to discover new ways of being Christians in the Information Age. (I'm actually thinking of writing a book about this, about the Information Age and the need to re-invent all sorts of institutions to fit the new world we are in. It's the one thing I'm thinking about that is not being well-covered by much better minds than mine. But finding the needed time is a daunting obstacle.)

Posted by John Weidner at March 10, 2012 9:19 AM

Well Belloc says that schooling is an essentially religious function:

" it lends to national ends functions which are essentially religious, such as the teaching of morals, the presentation of true history and geography (a department of morals), the choice of literature and above all the general education of the young. In this last department, the general education of the young, the conflict is so serious that, as I have said, the thing might properly be made a separate third example of the conflict between Nationalism and the Church."

Discussion of Nationalism in "Survivals and Arrivals"

Posted by: Gian at March 12, 2012 4:37 AM

I'm not sure the heuristic aaporpch works at all. I feel very bad about people not having health insurance, but my feelings depend crucially on why they don't have it and how someone proposes to solve the problem.You might be badly surprised if you asked, "Should people with an income of more than $1 million per year pay an additional 1% in income tax to fund health insurance for the poor?"A majority of people might go for that proposal without even considering how much those millionaires already pay in taxes, who the "poor" are, how many poor are there, how much revenue will this raise, how much insurance costs, which plans can be chosen, etc.Then, you can ask a similar question about school funding, saving the environment, etc and get a majority for each. Then you've got the rich having nothing left.Ezra Klein had an article today on presidents and job creation. You ought to look for it.

Posted by: Nausad at March 19, 2012 4:39 AM
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