April 20, 2007

How I Became Catholic Despite Ten Years of Catholic Schooling

It's been a tortured and winding path to bliss and the desire for a scapegoat is inborn and parents are the de rigeur candidates. They supply both nature and nurture and so are certainly the natural targets.

But I resist despite the fact that it's fashionable to blame them for everything short of the Alien & Sedition Acts. Mine spent good money to send us to Catholic schools and I’m just now wondering how firm a foundation that really was in the late Disco era, i.e. the late ‘70s.

How well could I have been spiritually formed given that we’re dealing primarily with the years 1977-1981? This is sort of like being eighteen years old in 1941 isn’t it? You’re pretty much doomed. By 1977 I think even Ohio (where everything other than puberty is delayed ten years) was infected by the whole “spirit of Vatican II” thing, where "spirit" is defined by "whatever the hell I want the document to say".

We had some old school sisters in grade school but how important is 4th grade in the large scheme of things? Aren't the crucial years the high school ones? Certainly there was the careful teaching of Humane Vitae and a firm rejection of abortion and contraception but both seemed like distant concerns at the time. When "third base" is a distant target you're not much worried about what happens in the event of a home run.

I could be forgiven for being confused in thinking that the religion of our high school was actually football. Friday Night Lights is about Texas high school football, but for someone from the football belt of southern Ohio it’s old home week. I’m probably not surprised by half the things I’m supposed to be surprised about in that show.

Anyway, I’d really like to look at the books we used - I know the infamous “Christ Among Us” was among them which is enough to taint the curriculum. Our senior year seemed dominated by our teacher’s predilection for Carl Jung. Whatever he saw in Jung was not passed on to me and perhaps it’s unfair but I got the impression that Christ was important in the long run but Jung could really help you now. Whether or not I can claim, with Mark Gauvreau Judge, that I’m Catholic despite going to Catholic schools I’m not yet sure. High school still feels like a different century (oh yeah, it was).

What I didn’t know then but know now is that every teacher or layman who has lived an examined life has an intellectual pedigree. Each has a fatherly influence intellectually-speaking, and that father had a father influence, and that one had a main influence and so on into antiquity. I think truth in advertising demands teachers put their intellectual family tree on the first page of their syllabus.

You can get “Christ Among Us” for one cent on the internet (plus $3 shipping) which probably says something about the book. I’m half-tempted to read it in order to judge for myself the extent of its inquity. Certainly the other books that we had to read seem far more innocuous. I recall Erich Fromm’s dense “The Art of Loving” which I asked my future wife to read (I had touching trust in books – this instruction would insure her lasting love). That she actually read it might well be her greatest act of loving me. I treasure it to this day. No matter what happens I can think back: my wife read that damn “The Art of Loving” -- for me! If you knew my wife and that book you’d know what a sacrifice it was. I didn’t read the book myself by the way; I’m not sure how I passed the exam. Honestly, the book was unreadable.

Other books I did read were Fr. John Powell’s series, including “A Reason to Live! A Reason to Die!”. It’s hard to find fault with these books. They seem really solid and most hold up well to this day. Powell recognized modern man’s alienation and the problems attendant. I don’t think there’s anything heretical in them but I could be wrong.

The liturgies were certainly “creative” as the late ’70 liturgies often were. There was a lot of James Brown music, er, I mean James Taylor. But I’m not sure how formational school liturgies are. I think the intellectual content of the books and classes are the main things, and they are mostly elusive from this 2007 vantage point. But the fact that two clerical faculty members turned out to be pedophiles is not cause for optimism. Still, there were teachers to this day I look up to and deeply respect. My teachers seemed a curious mixture of saints and sinners. In other words a lot like any other area of life.

The funny thing about high school is how oblivious you are to how important your formation is. You don't know you're vulnerable, which is both a blessing and a curse. You don’t know what you don’t know, so there's no way to protect yourself. My attitude was the same as the culture’s: anything new is obviously better. We saw it every day in science and advertising. Newer and more effective drugs. New and improved “Tide!” laundry detergent. Every advertising label I saw said “new and improved” such that I began to think “new” and “improved” were synonyms. There was no way I could, in my vulnerability, discern that I was being sold an old bill of goods under the guise of the new.

Bible-wise, we knew the Gospels reasonably well. And some parts of the OT were clear. There was nothing even close to Catholic apologetics then, which had the positive side effect of a refreshing lack of Triumphalism (other than our awareness of the tremendous gift of the Eucharist). But that lack of apologetics also left us vulnerable to Protestant pitches. “Call no man Father” rattled some people's faith.

I remember going to Campus Crusade for Christ in college with my New American Bible and being instantly recognized as a Catholic for that reason. At that time, I think Catholics divided people by denomination while Protestants divided people by preferred bible version. I remember thinking that minutiae - I don't even think I knew that the King James was really different than the NAB, that there were fewer books in the former. I was shocked that I was identified by a Catholic by something like the version of the bible I was carrying.

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