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Restoring a Catholic Culture: Where do we start?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Dec 23, 2008

Shortly after the US presidential elections I wrote a column in this space lamenting the failure of Catholic Americans to join in a strong political bloc supporting a culture of life. Many readers responded enthusiastically to that column, and especially to these words:

To repair the damage, we must recognize that the problem is not restricted to abortion, nor to defense-of-life issues. Indeed it is not, strictly speaking, a political problem. To restore the integrity of the Catholic vote, we must first restore the integrity of the Catholic faith, and rebuild the foundations of a Catholic culture.

What can we do, you and I, to restore our Christian culture and protect our Catholic faith?

Over the years I have been involved in several different efforts to promote Catholic teachings in the political arena. Although I still applaud those efforts, and happily join them whenever I can, I have come to believe that they are not, and cannot be, the answer to our problem. Whenever a Catholic group rises up to support pro-life candidates, another group, claiming to be equally Catholic, counters by defending candidates who support abortion. You and I may agree that no genuine Catholic could support legal abortion. But the media disagree, and sympathetic reporters will always give an edge to the "pro-choice" Catholics. As long as Catholics are not unified in their beliefs, we cannot expect to form a solid political bloc.

But what if some of us were conspicuously unified in our beliefs and in our behavior? What if there were enough of us striving to live an authentically Catholic life so that our neighbors couldn't help but notice? Inevitably they would notice, too, if there was something a bit different about the way we lived: something distinctive, something attractive, something clearly in keeping with the teachings of the Church. We need to bear witness to the power of Christian principles, to act as the yeast within our society.

We can't expect instant results. I'd love to be able to suggest some strategy that would turn things around in a matter of weeks, and replace secular hedonism with Christian humanism. (To be perfectly honest, I think the prospect of a quick victory lures many people into political campaigns.) But let's be honest with ourselves. Our society's problems did not crop up overnight, and they won't be resolved overnight, either. We're in this battle for the long haul.

Quite a few readers, responding to my post-election analysis, argued that the American bishops should do more to unify the faithful, by clearly enunciating the teachings of the Church and rebuking those Catholics who flout them. I wholeheartedly agree with that argument. At every opportunity I encourage bishops to carry out their teaching responsibilities. But in the end I'm not a bishop; I can't control their actions.

I can control my own actions, however. When I am called to give an account for my life, I don't expect to be asked what the American bishops did or said about a particular problem; I'll be asked to explain what I did or said. Moreover, it is the duty of the Catholic laity, not the clergy, to transform the social order with the power of the faith.

So let's get to work. What can we do?

1) First and foremost-- always-- we need to pray. The sacramental life of the Church is our greatest strength. We are engaged in spiritual warfare, and need to use our strongest spiritual weapons. Worship always comes first, activism second; the "cult" is the source of our culture. Still, while we employ all our supernatural resources, we cannot neglect our natural resources, either. Grace does not abolish nature.

2) We need to recognize the dangers of living in a consumer culture. In our day-to-day lives, most of us look and act very much like our neighbors. That's generally a healthy thing; we do not want to separate ourselves from society, to form our own private cult. We want to act as the leaven, to change society. But we must be wary: Are we changing the society, or is the society changing us? We must be on our guard. We need to remind each other of the pitfalls, and help each other avoid the snare. We need to keep informed about what's going on around us, so that we'll be ready to respond appropriately. We need to know how to respond, to learn from others who have been successful in their own small battles.

3) We need to recognize the importance of the "little things." Most of us don't have opportunities to make the sort of decisions that are recorded in history books: to abolish abortion or end world hunger or find a cure for cancer. Yet every day we do face decisions in our lives, and we do have opportunities to strengthen our families, influence our neighbors, and spread our faith. We should learn to recognize those opportunities and seize them. The "little things," it turns out, aren't so little at all. They add up. And if we are faithful in the "little things," bigger victories become more likely.

4) We need to count the costs-- realistically. Right now, in the natural world, we face daunting obstacles. We live in a culture that is increasing hostile to Christian principles. We are engaged in a battle, and if we expect to win we must be prepared to make sacrifices. We may be called to make some changes in the way we live: in our health-care choices, in the way we educate our children, in the jobs we hold, in the political alliances we form. It may not be easy. It won't be easy. So...

5) We need to help each other live as committed Catholics in a secular culture. We all need the support of people who think the same way: people who will sympathize with us, agree with us, pick us up when we're down, offer us suggestions to ease our everyday frustrations. We need others to assure us that we're on the right track, that we're making progress, even when we don't see immediate results.

How do we find those people? Maybe you are fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood, a parish, or a community in which there are many other committed Catholics. Most American Catholics don't have those blessings. Thousands of Catholic families, struggling to live out their faith, are begging for help: for guidance, for resources, and for friendship.

The Catholic Culture site has made the commitment to help those Catholic families live out their faith, and establish beachheads of Catholic culture in a secular world. The internet isn't often associated with Catholic culture, but why shouldn't we take advantage of the opportunities that this powerful tool gives us? We can reach out to each other, support and encourage each other, give each other the resources we all need.

In the coming months, the Catholic Culture Project will help readers to identify the issues that are essential to the establishment of a strong, authentically Catholic presence in our society. We aren't going to promise miracles; we won't provide instant solutions to the world's great problems. But we will do our best to help you, and many others like you, join in a long-term campaign.

We'll help serious Catholics identify the people who are proposing helpful new initiatives, consistent with Catholic principles, in the fields of education, family life and law, health care, immigration, and foreign policy-- not to mention the pro-life movement. We'll call the attention of loyal Catholics to the books and magazines they should be reading, and the other web sites they could be visiting. We'll help them to identify others-- individuals and families-- who live nearby and share their concerns. In short, the Catholic Culture site will serve as a meeting-place and resource center for thoughtful Catholics interested in building a quiet, productive "counter-culture" in our society.

Needless to say, we can't do it alone. We need your involvement and your help. The Catholic Culture Project will be successful if-- and only if-- we can reach out to thousands of families, steadily growing and spreading the influence of the faith we all share.

What can you do to advance the Catholic Culture Project?

1) Spread the word. It's time to rally our forces; we need volunteers. Please forward this message to friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and any other acquaintances who might be interested in joining the Catholic Culture Project.

2) Keep visiting the Catholic Culture site, to stay abreast of our latest projects. Sign up as a registered user, if you haven't already, so that we can reach you quickly with news and suggestions.

3) Seek the support of your parish or parochial school. Ask your pastor if he would be interested in occasional bulletin items calling attention to our initiatives. If you are a pastor, a religious-education instructor, or a parochial-school teacher, think about ways to incorporate the resources of the Catholic Culture site into your own work.

4) The next time you receive an appeal for financial support of the Catholic Culture site, remember that this is our project. The folks at Trinity Communications have invested their time, talent, and treasure in this effort. (To understand how the site sustains itself, see this explanation by Jeff Mirus.) Will you do the same? Again, we all need help!

5) Pray for the success of the Catholic Culture Project. If that's all you can do right now, don't worry; it's the most important thing.

As we celebrate Christmas, we recall the unfathomable mystery of the almighty God who came into our world to live as a man: to live in a human family, in a human culture. Let's all join in a simple resolution: that through our work in the coming year we'll strive to ensure that by Christmas 2009, our society will be a more hospitable place for Him.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach five million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: tturner3998 - Mar. 06, 2010 10:18 AM ET USA

    I think that the Catholic Culture Project is the right idea for the times. Inertia will not do. The trajectory of public thought and sensibilities is negative and we must help lift it up. It is well to remember that our visible commitment to the purpose and meaning of life can help others to discover these things their own lives. It can be a discussion, or a book read together, but also a kindness, a prayer, or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. That life is precious must be rediscovered.

  • Posted by: kmbold - Mar. 05, 2010 5:41 PM ET USA

    I was thinking that it would be helpful if you had an ad in every parish bulletin. Individuals could volunteer to pay for a certain number of weeks running the ad. Just a catholicculture.org logo and a pithy pitch. There is usually not a lot of space in the bulletin itself but my parish always needs ads.

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