By Tom Sheridan and Liz Quirin | Catholic News Service
This edition of Viewpoints looks at the question: How should Catholics react to changes in the culture? Tom Sheridan, former editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., says we mustn't be like those who believe that to change means to die and who desperately hang onto a vision of an America that perhaps never was. Liz Quirin, editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., says we need to learn about cultures that are unfamiliar to us, languages that we don't understand and perhaps our own faith that sometimes baffles us in its pronouncements about caring for the least among us.
Can we re-create a Catholic culture?
By Tom Sheridan
Catholics, like all Christians, are called to transform the world into the image of Christ. From a Western perspective, it worked quite successfully for more than a millennia. Lately, not so well.
The societal shift is noisy and the language harsh: "Civilization jihad!" Secularization! "The death of Western culture!"
The hand-wringing is because refugees -- largely Muslim -- are overwhelming Europe even as secularization crushes the West's Christian culture. Nor is Europe the only place where concerns are voiced. A particularly vocal segment of Americans bemoan the death of American culture -- defined as white and Christian -- blaming the same set of woes: immigration and the seeming loss of religious (read: Christian) values.
Examples are many. But here's a telling, under-the-radar one. Remember those blue and white plaster Madonna statues that graced the yards of so many Catholic neighbors as you were growing up? I do. My father-in-law proudly exhibited one on his New Jersey lot. When he moved to Florida, so did the Madonna.
Recently the New York Times wrote about a local statuary manufacturer who noted a curious tilt: Madonna sales are way down; concrete elephants and Buddhas are way up. A small thing, perhaps, but a sign of America's continually changing cultural landscape. And this is hardly the first time. American culture has shifted dramatically when previous waves of immigrants -- be they Jews, Irish, German or others -- poured in.
Many Catholics, especially those with short and faulty memories, pine for the America of the late 1940s and '50s: Parishes every few blocks, Catholic schools bursting at the seams, decent jobs, stay-at-home moms. It was a world -- a culture -- of mom-and-pop stores and neighborhood commerce. The corporatization of America hadn't yet taken root.
Can we bring back that glorious past? No, we're never going to resurrect what some perceive as America's Catholic Era, though its core surely can guide the future. As America changes, Catholics must re-create the culture we want. It won't be easy. It may not succeed, or at least not succeed completely. And the culture we think we want now may not be what we end up enjoying.
Catholic America -- or just plain America -- was never perfect, despite our imperfect memories. Our culture has always had cracks: slavery, Jim Crow, religious bias and the treatment of Native Americans and of Japanese-Americans during World War II. We should never forget the blemishes on our past as we seek to imbue an increasingly secular culture with Christian values.
Cultures change because we change. And yes, we change because cultures change. It's not either/or; it's both/and. And we do change, racially, religiously, ethnically and more.
We must never forget that we have the right and the obligation to share our values, peacefully, in the public square. In a changing world with its shifting sense of diversity, that will be different, though hardly unique.
For generations, Jewish people have managed to retain a religious and values culture, within an often hostile society. Catholics have done the same before -- in post-Reformation England and during the virulently anti-Catholic era before and following the American Revolution.
How can we re-create another glorious Catholic culture?
We can begin by being a welcoming people. That's a powerful part of Catholic social gospel. We mustn't be like those who believe that to change means to die and who desperately hang onto a vision of an America that perhaps never was.
It means even welcoming front-yard statuary that isn't the Madonna, but also welcoming the new neighbor bringing that elephant or Buddha.
We should welcome that neighbor because the Madonna in your yard or garden wasn't welcomed the last time the culture shifted. Catholics are better than that. We're better for it. And our nation will be better for it.
Comments are welcome. Contact Tom Sheridan at [email protected].
Knowing more about people who seek asylum
By Liz Quirin
Waves of immigrants have seemingly always arrived in the U.S., some fleeing wars that destroyed their countries before they find a home here.
Right now, Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives, and many of them are making their way to a variety of European countries. Some have even found a way to enter the United States through the stringent checks they must complete.
Cuban refugees were regular asylum seekers with the "wet foot, dry foot" rules. Wet foot arrivals were returned to Cuba, but those who managed to plant their feet on American soil received special treatment and a fast track to permanent residency and citizenship.
Vietnamese refugees received a more open welcome after the Vietnam War, and later, Bosnians made their way here during the 1990s after conflicts threatened lives in the Balkan states. We have one of the largest groups of Bosnians in the United States in St. Louis.
Many, but not all, Americans have opened their arms and their hearts to refugees in the past and at present. Often, fear of the unknown keeps people from being hospitable. If we encounter a group from another country and/or culture and they are not speaking English, some of us are convinced they are talking about us in a derogatory way, making us uncomfortable. We need to "move on," and realize not everybody is interested in denigrating us.
If, as Catholics, we believe we are "our brothers' keepers," we have to shed these negative, sometimes destructive and prejudicial, attitudes and beliefs about people whose culture and language are different from our own.
For some who take the church's social justice teachings to heart, rolling out the welcome mat is easy, but for others, it is truly difficult. We can't ignore or disengage from people whose opinions do not mirror our own.
Dialogue holds the key to tolerance if not acceptance. Without discussions and respect for the opinions of others, we are lost. Someone once told me that everyone is entitled to his or her opinions but not to his or her own "facts," manufactured sometimes to fit with a certain set of beliefs that run contrary to mine, yours and many others.
When our German ancestors came, they settled in groups with others who brought the same language and culture with them. Eventually, they assimilated and began to speak the language of the land. The Irish, much maligned when they arrived to escape famine in their native land, contributed to our culture, and their language has enhanced ours as well.
Because we have learned about terrorism first hand, we have almost lost our ability to welcome refugees without reservation, because of those who espouse radical religious beliefs, like jihadists who march hooded captives out to be killed, all in the name of Islam.
We don't seem to hear clearly those leaders who say this does not come from their holy book, the Quran. Our problem could be one of ignorance. Few of us have read the Quran, so we can't say anything about what it teaches.
Our first responsibility is knowledge. We need to know more about the people who seek asylum in this country, not just about their circumstances, although that too is important. We need to learn about cultures that are unfamiliar to us, languages that we don't understand and perhaps our own faith that sometimes baffles us in its pronouncements about caring for the least among us, and in that way serving Jesus Christ.
Comments are welcome. Contact Liz Quirin at [email protected].[[In-content Ad]]