For me, looking back (and hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it?), my Catholic faith was mostly a big nothing, with the exception of a few stellar moments like my First Communion. My parents were typical baby boomers who wanted their faith life to feel good and meet their personal needs, after having grown up in an era of supposed rigidity and guilt. Thus, I got kid-only masses, guitar masses, backyard masses, and was forced to re-do my first confession face-to-face when we moved into Rembert Weakland's archdiocese.
A fitting symbol for this sort of thing is this song, one of my parents' favorites around the time I was five or six years old, after my Dad converted to the Catholic faith and had a spiritual experience with the Cursillo movement:
(By the way, I LOVE this song, and hearing this song or anything on this album is near to making me cry, because it is a memory of my Dad, and also of a little piece of my childhood that was peaceful and secure. It is a beautiful album, with beautiful lyrics that any Catholic should respond to.)
But it's also a typical expression of my parents' generation, and we now know that expressions of Catholicism like this didn't carry most people of that generation for the long haul of Catholic faith. I'm not necessarily saying this of my own parents, but certainly I believe we can all agree that the baby boomer generation of Catholics reached out to this sort of thing in one way or another. Why? Probably because they were, in so many words, smacked one too many times with a ruler by Catholic nuns. And to be fair, that sort of upbringing is a wound of mis-guided Catholic teaching that they have the right to have to recover from.
So the baby boomers got smacked around in their Catholic faith and needed a gentler, more understanding version of Catholicism. And my generation got a version of Catholicism that was so down-home organic and touchy-feely that it mostly came off as meaningless.
Which brings me around to the Catholics who are now in their 20's and 30's. Specifically, I'm talking about the ones who are the "good" Catholics, the ones we encounter on the Catholic internet and blogosphere, the ones who are homeschooling and were homeschooled, the ones who attended or are attending good Catholic institutions like Franciscan Univerity (Steubenville) and Christendom College, etc. The ones with parents who had their acts together and fomulated a plan for their kids to be Catholics of neither the guilty stripe or the loosey-goosey stripe.
Imagine if you will a carefully orchestrated "wall" of Catholic insulation:
-Starting in the 1980's and really catching steam in the 1990's, two generations of children purposely homeschooled in Catholic households for the sole purpose of transmitting the authentic Catholic faith.
-Teenagers of the same two generations being bussed off to Right-To-Life marches and Catholic World Youth Days, where they met and befriended other kids of similar upbringing.
-These same two generations of Catholics being carefully maneuvered into institutions of higher learning such as Ave Maria, Benedictine, the University of Dallas, Christendom, and Steubenville. Places where the majority came from the same sort of Catholic homes, many homeschooled.
-Loads of Catholic weddings between pure, newly matriculated graduates of the above listed colleges and universities, all having been thoroughly schooled in Theology of the Body and NFP prior to marching down the aisle.
-These same young Catholic couples now reaching out to other similar Catholic couples, moms, and dads for friendship via local Facebook groups, homeschooling forums, and Catholic lay organizations such as Opus Dei and Regnum Christi or church pro-life committees, etc.
-These same young, bright, well-catechized and spirit-filled Catholics taking to the Catholic internet for discussion and exchange of ideas via forums and blogs. Including the ones devoted to apologetics, as well the ones discussing where to get the cutest diaper covers (see previous blog entry).
Think about this. Until thirty or so years ago, not withstanding a seminary or convent, when has it ever been possible to have such a complete Catholic experience that spans birth into adulthood? True, I am painting here with a broad brush, but overall, I think you get the picture. There are literally thousands and thousands of young Catholics who fit this profile, and I know a few of them personally in real life.
The $25,000 Question: Is this real? Is this real Catholicism? Is this the preferred prescription for turning out an authentic Catholic human being?
To get where I am today, I had to fight and scratch and crawl to reclaim my faith and say out loud that I really and truly want to be a Catholic and live my Catholic faith. It was hard, it sucked, and I don't wish my personal experience on anyone. I am positive that there are people reading this right now who share my experience and know exactly what I'm speaking of. Likely, they are people of previous generations (baby boomers, Generation X, etc.) who didn't have the benefit or opportunity of a carefully sculpted/planned Catholic upbringing.
So it's only natural that I wonder about these people who have, essentially, lived inside of a Catholic bubble their entire lives, some even purposely seeking careers where they can work for or within Catholic institutions. I wonder if their faith will actually get them through when the shit hits the fan? As it surely will, because life has a way of beating you up.
I am not saying here that their faith WON'T serve them. I can't say that because the jury is still out. We don't know yet. I am simply suggesting that like the baby boomers before us, and as with my own generation, it takes many decades of evidence to make a fair assessment.
This is not to wholly criticize people who have taken this path, or the parents who set them on that path. Hardly. Not only is it a universal truth that parents mostly do the best they can and make the best decisions they can with what they have to work with, it's also true that such a path had/has never been available before, and heck, why not try it since the previous methods of Catholic indoctrination weren't producing stellar results. If I had children in the 1980's and 1990's, perhaps I, too, would have went the renegade route and homeschooled with an eye to an authentic Catholic education and experience that would encourage, rather than deflate Catholic faith.
I just question the difference between "encourage" and "insulate."
Some reading this are laughing at me right now, because they know what kind of school my child attends. OK, you're allowed one laugh, and I laugh with you, too. Just a little. But see, I'm walking into this with eyes open, benefitting from my own crawl/scratch my way to faith experience, as well as watching the often questionable Catholic secular-ish perfectionism that more and more characterizes the John Paul II generation of Catholics.
I am not necessarily saying there is another way, as of yet. I am not here proposing something else that I think works better. I will suggest that a wall-to-wall Catholic experience is highly suspicious because of the homogeneous nature of it, but like I said, people do what they need to do based on the circumstances. We're doing what we think we need to do with our son, but we're open to the plan changing if need be.
Overall, my point is: Those who clap and jump up and down in enthusiasm for this young, bright, faith-filled generation of Catholics who are doing everything right need to recognize sooner or later that standing around clapping for the next two to three decades is going to get mighty tiring, as they wait to see if this is all turning out like it should or like we all want it to (me included). Some of these young Catholics, married or not, haven't yet "lived," in the sense that joblessness, death, illness, financial worries, marital problems, etc., haven't yet run their course.....because admit it, it's a very blessed person who gets through life without problems like these (usually one on top of the other) wreaking their devastation and testing your faith.
It's fine and well to gush all over some blog about how NFP has been such a blessing in your life when you're three years into your marriage. Report back to me in fifteen years and tell me how it's going.
Do I sound jaded? I'm sure I do. But please don't look at it that way. I'm naturally a questioning type, watching and observing, and wondering aloud. I want to believe in this form of Catholic engineering, I really do. Undeniably, our family is participating in some form of it.
Through it all, whatever path we plan, hope for, or take, we have to remember that in the end, it's just yourself and God and working out your salvation, which no one can do for you. No institution or Facebook group or college degree can get you to heaven, and of course we all know that. God has blessed us with these helps, thankfully.
But still, we can not insulate ourselves from the valley of tears that we live in, and I worry some of us say that we understand the concept, but then turn around and try to wave a Catholic wand to attempt the opposite.