As a break from a much more serious and involved post on sacrifice and the economy of salvation (which is taking longer to articulate than anticipated), I thought I’d get the following set of observations out into the ether for some possible discussion.
In the process of my conversion, both online and off, I’ve encountered a surprisingly wide variety of (self-professed) Catholics. Over on a back-burner of my brain I started organizing those experiences and the result is a loose system of classification. It’s neither complete nor definitive, and I’m not even sure how I feel about doing it, but I think it may be helpful just to work through the ideas. Oh, and I don’t think these categories are rigid and mutually exclusive, nor do I mean them to be judgmental; they just reflect certain trends in my observations (though my tongue is, at times, firmly in cheek). Please, consider yourself encouraged to critique or add on in the comments. Anyway, here goes:
A label that is already in common use, the Cafes treat the teachings and defined doctrines of the Church as a kind of buffet from which they can pick and choose – or, more commonly, reject as they see fit. As near as I can tell Cafes assert their identity as Catholics on the implicit premise that, if Catholicism is the primary buffet table from which you’re choosing, then you’re Catholic… or something. [Most of the behaviors that define these categories make little to no sense to me but then, the behaviors of most people make little to no sense to me either, so it’s probably my problem.]
The Culs seem only to claim the name “Catholic” when pressed on the question of their religion, as opposed to asserting it as a defining characteristic of their identity. This is most likely because the cultures in which they live or from which they come are so popularly Catholic that saying “I’m Catholic!” would be like announcing “I use the bathroom!” or “I breathe!”. They probably haven’t been to Confession in a decade or more, feel no need to treat Sunday any differently than Saturday, and might not even attend Mass for Christmas or Easter. At the same time, Culs will usually have some items of popular piety around the house, might engage some form of syncretic “magical” practice to help bring in money or improve health, and may make easy and casual reference to Saints, angels, and even the devil.
This outlook seems to be more common among a certain class of converts but I have at least anecdotal evidence of its existence among those who’ve received the Sacrament of Confirmation. The most identifiable feature of Cons tends to come out in relation to weddings: A non-Catholic is marrying a Catholic; the Catholic (or his/her family) is insistent that the wedding be in the Church, so the non-Catholic “converts” not out of some movement of faith but just because it’s a requirement for having a Catholic wedding. On the flip-side of this scenario, the Catholic pressing for conversion often also seems to be a Con since they seem to be far less interested in the spiritual [and even marital] commitment of their intended than with wedding planning.
As advertised on the label, in its most basic and direct form this term comprises all those who were Baptized into the Catholic Church while still in the cradle. Adding more specificity to the term, Cradles have also been raised in the Church, are likely to have gone to a Catholic school for at least some substantial portion of their education, and often seem to have seen Confirmation as a kind of ‘graduation’ ceremony. They can usually also recite any common liturgical prayer or response (if only in the translation/version that was in use during their childhood). These loose commonalities aside, Cradles (like converts) will be colored by one or more of the other classifications listed here; the Cradle designation is more about their past than their present.
A group overwhelmingly populated by Cradles and whom we might also cross-identified as a subset of Cafes (e.g., Chris Christie on contraception, or Jeb Bush et. al. on Laudato Si), the Corps have an identity that is primarily determined according to political and economic positions. Consistently right-wing, capitalistic, nostalgic, and patriotic, Corps tend to have much in common with their Evangelical neighbors… who remain nevertheless convinced that the Corps, as Catholics, are necessarily hell bound. Members of this group seem, by my diagnosis, to be motivated to proclaim their Catholic identity by way of a contemporary cultural narrative [driven in no small part by the fundamentally Protestant views and values that have shaped Western (and especially American) culture over the last 300 or so years – but that’s another post entirely] that has equated Catholicism with political Conservatism. Corps can often be identified when they repeat one of their standard platitudes, such as, “Catholics have to be Republicans.”
Though they may be found among the Corps, the conservatism of the Cast-Irons is much more liturgical than political. Usually referred to as “Traditionalists” or “Trads,” I opted to change the name here for three reasons: 1) because the use of “tradition” here is different from (and thereby confuses) “Tradition” as a term of the Church, 2) because I believe that one can enjoy (and even prefer) the tradition of the Extraordinary Rite without necessarily being a “Trad”, and 3) because I’ve got a nice theme of alliteration going here and a “T” would mess it up. While I don’t count sedevacantists among the Cast-Irons, they can come pretty close (as with the SSPX). Despite a tenacious devotion to the doctrine of the Church, Cast-Irons seem to operate on the hope that some day soon we’ll all wake up and realize that the last 53 years were all a strange and fitful fever-dream. Until that alarm goes off, most of them are willing to begrudgingly submit to current teaching, although they will complain about it… frequently… and loudly.
Here’s where I stick the sedevacantists [i.e., those who believe there is not now – and has not been since at least 1958 – a true Pope of the Church]. With them I place some individuals, the existence of whom I’ve only recently discovered, who (as near as I can tell) are of the opinion that they themselves, as individuals, are the defining authority of the Catholic Church and that, consequently, anyone who does not agree with their views (including, of course, the last several Popes, numerous saints, and in one case even Christ Himself) is not Catholic… …and is definitely going to hell. Or something. I have no idea at all how any of these views are meant to work out, hence the name. Somewhat less bizarre and yet to my mind just as dissonant, I’d also place the “Roman Catholic Womenpriests” [sic], all of whom apparently regard Papal condemnation and excommunication as mere nuisances with all the spiritual gravity of unpaid parking tickets. And since I can’t make any logical sense out of New Ways Ministry, I’d toss them in this bucket as well. Regardless of my confusion, these folks are running about with “Catholic” writ large on their banners and so are included on this list.
Sundays and all Days of Obligation? They’re there, on time and appropriately dressed. Reconciliation at least twice a year? Check. Involved in some sort of volunteer work for the Church? Probably. Use their parish offering envelopes? You betcha. Pay any attention to anything else going on in any other category on this list? Nope. The Confessing knows the physical requirements and, with varying degrees of spiritual and intellectual involvement, meets them. They tend to be perfectly nice, if tired, people with whom you’d gladly share a pew and the peace. They’re likely to be the first to offer to call AAA for you when your car stalls in the church parking lot. They will probably place that call, however, on a flip-phone with over-sized numbers because the youngest member of their Sunday brunch group has been getting the senior citizen discount for at least five years.
This is the neologism that started this post cooking and marks the category into which I try to conform myself. In short, Cats are those who study (or at least accept the authority of) the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and who, consequently, submit to its teachings. In my experience thus far, it is also the case that these are most often the Catholics who will actually read Papal Encyclicals and Exhortations as opposed to, say, just following the mass media narratives spun out about them. Cats claim their identity as Catholic just because they fulfill (or diligently attempt to fulfill) the requirements of Catholic identity as doctrinally defined by the CCC and/or the Code of Canon Law (CIC).
When my conversion began I was under the [naive and, I now know, radically mistaken] impression that this was not a subset of Catholic identity but rather the very definition of Catholic identity.
I’d figured [and this still makes sense to me, though I’m trying to see different perspectives] that – since there were so many other Christianities out there and the Catholic Church no longer has the military-grade capacity to impose and enforce adherence – if you wouldn’t accept the teachings of the Church (and thus were, by doctrinal definition, excluding yourself from her), then you’d simply join one of the post-Reformation congregations that teaches what you will accept. What I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand is why anyone would choose to identify as Catholic if they weren’t or didn’t want to be subject to her Magisterium. [More on this will likely appear in a later post that has the working title, “Wherein Heretics Confuse Me”.] Whatever their reasons, the non-Cats are out there and it appears that they dramatically outnumber the Cats… though I do hope to be a small part of changing that statistic.
Well, there you have it. As I say, this is all just me articulating some ideas that’ve been bouncing around the back of my brain for a while. I’m not sure what to make of it all. What do you think?