Universal, Not Uniform

The Catholic Church is the Universal Church, but this doesn’t mean that everyone has, or should have, the same experience with the Church.  Quite the opposite.  In order to be a universal faith, it MUST be individual as well as communal.  If it is both those things, one consequence will be a significant degree of geographical and cultural variation.

This variation isn’t universally positive, far from it, because the humans involved are not perfect.  The Sensible Bond recently wrote on the question of what is wrong with Catholic education and made me think a little about this idea of regionalization.  It was obvious that the observations he made were anecdotal and very different from my experience.  Importantly, I don’t think her observations were more anecdotal or less valid than mine it is just most of them don’t apply to the world I live in.

I was a part of a conversation a few days back on LinkedIn which had to do with whether people should kneel while receiving communion.  I thought the guy was crazy.  I explained him that in 25 years of mass attendance I’d only seen two individuals receive communion on their knees.  He explained in his parish virtually 100% do.  I attended a mass a few years back that made use of “liturgical dance”…. I hope I don’t again in the future.  I’ve never been to a mass said in Latin, but I’d like to and that shouldn’t be that hard, because they seem to be growing in number.  I did attend a mass where gospel style music was sung by the choir and while I like gospel music, it felt too much like a performance and less like a mass to me.  But I have usually found a more folk style music very comfortable and it invites me into a prayerful state.   Just last week, I learned that there is an Italian (Italian American?) tradition of giving a palm from Palm Sunday to someone with whom you have been feuding as a means of putting the feud behind you.  I can’t see myself doing that.

I’ve never been a huge advocate for “multiculturalism”, so I don’t tend to “celebrate diversity”. .  I celebrate my traditions and respect those of others.    I do feel that we can and should learn from other cultures and traditions.  If traditions strengthen the faith of the people, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss.  As evangelists, the Church, from its earliest days recognized that the world was diverse and that the quickest way to conversion was to subsume pagan traditions, so we celebrate Christ’s birthday right around the winter solstice for instance.  This practice is not something that should be done willy nilly; I am sure that numerous examples exist where people went down the wrong track (the Church decided that Father Matteo Ricci went down the wrong road in to closely comparing the Chinese veneration of deceased family members and the veneration of saints in the early 18th century, for example).  Nonetheless we should recognize that the idea of tradition in the Church is not one uniform progression.  I think this demonstrates the efforts of the Church (meaning the people) searching out God and our best connection with Him.

The other side of this multicultural Church is the current regional character.  The opportunities and challenges for the Church are not uniform around the globe.  In general, there is a declining population of priests in the United States, but I understand the priesthood is growing rapidly in a number of developing countries.  The number of laity attending mass is shrinking in some areas and growing rapidly in others.  Catholic schools are strong in some places and weak in others.  My parish is doing somethings very well and somethings not so well.  No doubt yours is in the same boat.    We as a community should do a good job of communicating these differences, so that we can learn from both the good and the bad.

He is reporting from the UK and assuming she is accurately describing the state of Catholic education over there, it is truly disappointing and while I do think Sensible Bond’s conclusions are skewed by his direct experience, the observations should be instructive to me. The situation in the U.K. sounds dire.  A benefit from improve communication capability should be to enable us be warned by their experience and some of their current challenges altogether.


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