Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Catholics have lost

In my previous post I mentioned that I recently finished a book on the decline of Boston's Catholic culture. "The Faithful Departed" spends most of the book looking at the clerical abuse scandal and how its roots go back to the time the Catholic Church decided popularity and acceptance was more important than the Church's mission. For most of its existence the Catholic Church in America served a population that was primarily poor and marginalized. The Irish, German, Polish and Italian immigrants who formed the backbone of the church talked funny, wore strange clothes, worked awful jobs and lived apart from the Protestant majority. While American Catholicism still represents some of the poor and marginalized (for example, immigrants from Latin America), American Catholicism is now indistinguishable from the American mainstream. Pick a group of 100 non-Latino Catholics at random and they would look pretty much indistinguishable from 100 non-Catholics picked at random. We are no longer almost universally poor and ghettoized.

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago as I stood in the old CYO room at one of the local churches. In the room were cases filled with very old trophies detailing the victories of basketball and bowling teams sponsored by the parish. Ancient black and white photos of the CYO participants adorned the walls. It was a throw back to a time when Catholics in America lived in a parallel world of their own creation with their own schools, clubs and organizations.

Catholic churches used to have their own banks. The Knights of Columbus had (and still have) special insurance products sold only to Catholics. My mother's church in Brooklyn, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, used to have a bowling alley in the basement. My father used to tell me that his church, Saint Cecilia, had special events every Saturday night for the parish teenagers. To attend, you had to show a card you received at catechism earlier that week (my father as an old man could still recite portions of the Baltimore Catechism whenever we would discuss matters spiritual, so I guess the lessens were pretty good). Even my cousins in Brooklyn used to hang out on the church steps with their friends.

That time seems long since gone. My neighborhood has something like six churches within walking distance of my house. But the old Irish/Italian working class that used to populate Park Slope is gone, replaced by a combination of bobos and, paradoxically, some immigrants. The immigrants are mostly Catholic and on a few occasions I have attended Spanish or bilingual Masses. There you can catch a glimpse of the old Catholic Brooklyn. But the immigrants are getting pushed out by new condominium development. The church buildings will remain. Some people will even attend Mass there. But the community will be gone.

Now, you can say that your church has a great community. They have coffee hours and diners and events for the kids. And that is true. But the centrality of the local Catholic parish is missing. That I fear is gone -- disappeared in the wake of clerical abuse scandals and the increasing assimilation and affluence of Catholics.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thoughts on the (old) scandal

I recently finished a book about the decline of Boston's Catholic culture entitled "The Faithful Departed." Boston was once the center of American Catholicism. It still is probably the most Catholic city in America, at least in nominal terms. But Boston was rocked hard by the clerical sexual abuse scandal and has not recovered.

The author of the book, Philip F. Lawler, looks at the scandal from a very conservative Catholic position (there was a Philip Lawyer who was the Constitution Party's Senate candidate in Massachusetts in 2000 --if they are the same persons, that may give some context to Lawler's views). Lawler buys into the "Lavender Mafia" explanation of the scandal. As a former altar boy and lector, I never really bought that explanation.

But Lawler also views the scandal (and the continuing slide of Catholicism) to the desire of the Catholic hierarchy of America to be liked by America's elites. I think he may be onto something here. The scandal was handled not as an affront to religious belief or a moral issue, but rather a PR problem. It was managed as a corporation might manage a product defect. But the Catholic faith is not a product or a commodity to be sold.

Yet, despite the long rumblings of the scandal, the church seemed most worried about how the scandal would effect the public image of the church.

So in the end, the Church is horribly damaged, Catholics disheartened and the approval the hierarchy sought is no where to be found.

The Gaza War

And so it continues. After months of attacks Israel strikes back hard, leading to lots of damage and lots of deaths. Lots of folks immediately condemning Israel (the usual ones) and lots of others immediately stating support for Israel (the same ones as always).

I have seen complaints that the US media is not really covering this story and that this somehow shows some sort of media pro-Israel bias. While I think most Americans tend to be pro-Israel, Americans simply are not that interested in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis anymore. It is like a T.V. soap opera -- no beginning, no end, but the same characters and the same story lines. "Mideast in Crisis" is a headline the newspapers should have a macro for.

There seems no end to this ongoing crisis.

But at some point, Israel has to ask if a bunch of dead Palestinian kids (as Hamas has no compunction about putting their installations in the middle of civilian areas) is worth it. Hamas is happy right now with Israel's response. Hezbollah will now launch their new war and the whole things starts again.

I mean, Israel's reaction is understandable -- if someone keeps pinching you, then you turn around and punch them in the face and kick them once or twice, it is understandable. Also, even with regards to the blockade, Hamas was trying to smuggle in weapons. Then there were the elections. Some argue that it was stupid to allow the Palestinians to have elections (the US government insisted on them). But what use would have a Fatah negotiated peace been worth if Hamas really had the majority in Gaza.

So should Americans really care? This guy says we should. But I have difficulty in getting any hopes up.

I do not know the answer. Maybe the best we can hope for is an acceptable level of violence, sort of what the British hoped for in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Or maybe we can hope that the Palestinians will find a Michael Collins, someone who recognizes that violence is only a means to an end and is willing to accept 3/4s of a loaf, so they can get a real country.

But I am not getting my hopes up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And now for a Christmas Message

This is the Holy Innocents choir of St. John Cantius in Chicago. I occasionally would attend St. John Cantius when I lived in Chicago (though the choir is singing here at another church). It is a special church given direction by the Archdiocese to continue traditional worship.

A quote for the next administration

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before."

Rahm Emmanuel supposedly said this though I have yet to find it in a primary source. I have been accused of downplaying the scope of the current economic situation. I do think it very serious. People are losing their jobs, credit appears seized up, businesses are in trouble. To combat deflation the Fed is dropping so much money on the economy that I fear we will have serious inflation next year.

I do believe however, that many people have an incentive to talk up the problem and make it seem worse. If you are an auto executive at the Big 3 or CEO of a bank or investment house, it helps to claim that it is all not your fault, that larger macroeconomic factors are to blame.

If you believe that government is the solution to problems, it makes sense to talk up a crisis.

If you are the press, crisis is more exciting and sells more newspapers than covering a city council committee hearing on street names.

So while I do not down play the extent of the current situation, I merely note that many of those running around screaming THE SKY IS FALLING are also those who stand to benefit from when Congress passes the Sky Stabilization Stimulus Package of 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter

From the Anchoress:

I do not think I have ever heard this hymn before. But it goes along with my belief that we Catholics should simply adopt the old Anglican hymnal.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I for one . . .

Welcome our new socialist overlords!

Back in the dying days of the election, I posted about whether I thought Barack Obama was a socialist (a question which gained traction after the "Joe the Plumber" incident). At the time I said that I doubted he was, but thought Obama was more of a managerial state type. Obama's picks so far seem somewhat centrist, so I still feel the same way. Even his proposed stimulus plan seems more like a conventional Keynesian program, writ large.

In any event, given that President Bush seems content to nationalize the economy, even without Congressional approval, there may be nothing left for President Elect Obama to nationalize, once he gets into office. So the question is somewhat moot.

So in the spirit of Christmas Nationalized:

I have been warning for years that the cats are plotting against us!

Brideshead Revisited

Back in October I noted a list of books I wanted to read before I die. I quickly finished the two Mario Vargas Llosa books I ordered and then got to work on Brideshead Revisited, by Englishman Evelyn Waugh. Waugh was a convert to Catholicism and like most who come to Catholicism as adults, he takes the faith extremely seriously. All too often, us cradle Catholics view the faith with too much complacency -- it is a nice cozy blanket that keeps us warm but we often never really think about it.

Waugh saw Brideshead as being a "theological" novel but while he obviously had a point, to limit readership to Catholics or committed Christians would be a mistake. The novel is often seen as a valedictory to prewar England, but even there you might be missing the point. For while Waugh looks unhappily at modern society -- "The Age of Hooper" he calls it contemptuously (after a rather ridiculous minor character), the pre-war aristocracy is not entirely looked upon with approval. Comic relief is often provided by "Boy Mulcaster," the heir apparent to an English title who comes across as the stereotypical upper class twit.

Rather, the novel is about redemption. Most of the characters are flawed persons, as we all are, and all try in their way to make right with themselves and with God. The imagery of this call is so perfect -- repeating Chesterton's line of the "twitch upon the thread." In the end, things do not turn out quite as everyone expected, yet the narrator realizes that it turned out well.

The novel, though is replete with humor, most of it revolving around drinking. But my favorite passage regards Rex Mottram, a rather disreputable character who decides to convert to Catholicism to marry into a noble family to further his political career. Mottram is extremely uninterested in Catholicism. When a priest asks Mottram if he has any questions regarding the faith, his reply is to ask the priest to tell him what he should believe. The intended bride's younger sister then gets hold of Mottram and fills his head with such silliness that Mottram believes, among other things, that there are sacred monkeys in the Vatican.

Maybe that is where Dan Brown got his ideas from!

Macys at Christmas

I have been enjoying my children this Advent season too much to post. Well, Christmas is SUPPOSED to be about enjoying what is truly important, isn't it?

In any event, last Saturday I took my children to Macy's Herald Square. My wife needed some time to herself and I forgot something in my office, so a trip into Manhattan with a side trip to 34th Street seemed like a great idea. My children loved it.

Spending an hour or two at Macy's makes you forget there is a recession. The store was packed. The windows were beautifully done. The store was completely decorated. And the properly attired staff was busy to distraction meeting the needs of the customers. My boys were also impressed by the old wooden escalators that are on most of the floors.

Later in the week I returned. to buy a few gifts for my wife. The store was still mobbed, even though it was late on a week night. If only Macy's was the US economy, there would be no talk of recession!

Yes I said at the beginning of this post that Christmas is supposed to be about what is truly important and rank consumerism is not what is important. But walking around Macy's is a throw back to an earlier age, before suburban shopping malls, Wall Marts and Targets every half mile or so, and Internet shopping. I can remember my mother talking about how trips to Bloomingdale's or Macy's were special events. Walking around the Herald Square store, you could feel for a moment that you were transported back to an earlier age.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Credit Crunch Part II!

First my wife, now me. I received an offer today for a home equity loan, despite the fact that I rent (though my old home in Chicago is rented out).

So, where is that credit crunch again (and yes Rodak, I know that is how they make their money, but we keep hearing about how the debt markets have seized up).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Credit Crunch!

If there is such a horrible credit crunch, why did Bank of America send my wife an offer of a $50,000 unsecured loan?