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Cathleen Kaveny: It presents Catholic belief in the manner of a tax code

7. okt. 2014

Cathleen Kaveny,  Commonweal Magazine., skriver bl.a.:

That '70s Church, What It Got Right

Unpacking some boxes after a recent move from South Bend, Indiana, to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I came across my confirmation stole, which I made in the spring of 1978. The members of my class were told to personalize our stoles to reflect our unique faith journeys. Then completing my first year of Latin, I wrote the wordCredo on one panel with Elmer’s Glue in the best cursive I could muster, and then covered the glue with a layer of deep blue glitter. On the other panel, I traced a simple cross, using the same technique. (This was not a theological statement: a crucifix was beyond my severely limited artistic abilities.) To make a border for my stole, I attached the cornflower trim that my late, beloved grandmother had used in sewing my First Communion dress eight years earlier. That dress was Marian blue. The girls in my First Communion class were discouraged from wearing traditional white lace dresses and veils, because they were expensive and impractical. We were all very disappointed at the time. Now, I am grateful. My grandmother’s handmade blue dress with its cornflower trim is a tangible sign of the communion of saints.

I do not remember much about the confirmation ceremony itself. I am pretty sure we sang “On Eagle’s Wings.” Don’t judge—it was the ’70s! I also remember feeling a mixture of accomplishment, relief, and release. We had just completed a demanding two-year program, fulfilling requirements that included weekly classes, multiple service projects, and periodic weekend retreats. Being confirmed meant that we were finally adult Catholics. We continued to go to Mass. But for most of us, that was the end of any formal instruction in the faith. Like other adult Catholics, we learned to juggle secular and sacred responsibilities. As time went on, the former began to crowd out the latter. My generation’s connection with the church became more and more attenuated. For many people I know, the connection was finally broken by the revelations about the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the way bishops covered up those crimes.

So, I belong to what many Catholics now dismiss as one of the church’s lost, post–Vatican II generations. Catholic prelates and internet pundits regularly scorn the fifteen years following the Second Vatican Council as the “silly season,” the era in which catechesis was evacuated of all substantive content in favor of supposedly trivial activities such as sharing, caring, and constructing felt banners. The catechesis of the 1970s became a cautionary tale, the model of what not to do in passing on the faith.

For many years, I was sympathetic to that analysis. But I am increasingly uneasy with the wholesale dismissal of the catechetical programs of my youth. First, the stock caricature of the period is unfair. The programs had far more content then they are given credit for. Second, the criticism only reinforces polarization within the church. Scapegoating 1970s religious-education programs fosters the illusion that the church’s problems can be fixed by going backward, by inoculating children with something like the simple question-and-answer method and content of the Baltimore Catechism. But the root problem facing the church, then and now, is not catechesis. The root problem is that Catholics didn’t have—and still don’t have—a way of dealing constructively with the substantial and irreversible changes in both the church and the culture. Those changes began before the council and only accelerated in its immediate aftermath. They show no sign of abating today, much less of being reversed. Among those developments were the suburbanization of the Catholic population, the astonishing affluence and high levels of education among post–World War II Catholics, the powerful shift away from Catholic defensiveness and toward ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, and the unprecedented rates of Catholics marrying outside the fold.   

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