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“I Used To Be Catholic”

July 14, AD2016

I used to be Catholic

If you speak with enough Catholics, you will eventually become familiar with the phrase, “I used to be Catholic.” Sometimes, it seems as if being Catholic is more a matter of ancestry than anything else. Just as some choose to celebrate certain traditions that pertain to one’s ethnicity, so too, they accept only certain teachings of the faith. However, there are still those who remain steadfast, seeing their Catholic identity as something more.

I recently read an article about visitation policies upon Catholic college campuses, and was intrigued by the Land O’ Lakes Conference of 1967. I had never heard of this meeting before and after studying it, my eyes were opened (and some questions answered.) Yet, I am still concerned about the future of solid faith formation on Catholic college and university campuses across our nation.

For those institutions that participated, this must have proved to be a revolutionary undertaking. I wonder how much the events of the 1960s (e.g. Vatican II, Vietnam War, and an over-sexualized culture) contributed to this assembly. I have to believe each played some role. Regardless of the events that prompted it, the fruits that resulted from this meeting have not become what one would consider encouraging. Times have certainly changed since the late 1960s, yet the number of Catholic institutions choosing to disaffiliate from Church authority (on the basis of autonomy) is only rising.

The Church has never stifled autonomy. On the contrary, she has given it greater clarity and substance. One is truly free in the Church – free from inconsistencies and subjective truth. We are inspired and encouraged by the saints and angels, who rally around us in support of our efforts, offering us wisdom at every turn. The words of St. John Paul II ring out, “Be not afraid!” The Catholic faith ensures that one will ever be misguided, unless he or she chooses to reject God’s grace.

In viewing the aforementioned document, I took note of the some of the statements. In Section 9, Special Social Characteristics of the Catholic Community of Learners, it reads:

Within the university community the student should be able not simply to study theology and Christianity, but should find himself in a social situation in which he can express his Christianity in a variety of ways and live it experientially and experimentally. The students and faculty can explore together new forms of Christian living, of Christian witness, and of Christian service…

…Thus will arise within the Catholic university a self-developing and self-deepening society of students and faculty in which the consequences of Christian truth are taken seriously in person-to-person relationships, where the importance of religious commitment is accepted and constantly witnessed to, and where the students can learn by personal experience to consecrate their talent and learning to worthy social purposes.

Catholics are called to bring hope and guidance to the world so all may experience a more meaningful sense of truth, freedom, peace, and purpose. We cannot simply stand back and allow those who are walking astray to continue down that path. (Admonishing the sinner and instructing the ignorant are indeed Spiritual Works of Mercy.) It is disheartening to hear about Catholic students fighting their campus administrations (to no avail) for their Catholic ideals to be respected.

Catholic Schools Need to Teach Truth

Now, I realize that it may not always be my place to intrude and rebuke others at my own leisure. Therefore I don’t, unless prompted to do so by the Holy Spirit (Who always knows best)! However, as a Catholic high school teacher, it is imperative that I exercise a curriculum that is in union with the Church, just as all Catholic educational environments (especially at the college level) should be. Students are free to express their own beliefs, but we set the tone for the next generation of the Church, and we will be held accountable. Failure is not an option for us. In Section 8, Some Characteristics of Undergraduate Education, it states:

With regard to the undergraduate — the university should endeavor to present a collegiate education that is truly geared to modern society. The student must come to a basic understanding of the actual world in which he lives today. This means that the intellectual campus of a Catholic university has no boundaries and no barriers. It draws knowledge and understanding from all the traditions of mankind; it explores the insights and achievements of the great men of every age; it looks to the current frontiers of advancing knowledge and brings all the results to bear relevantly on man’s life today. The whole world of knowledge and ideas must be open to the student; there must be no outlawed books or subjects. Thus the student will be able to develop his own capabilities and to fulfill himself by using the intellectual resources presented to him.

There is usually a level of distortion among the facts and details regarding various issues of the faith today. Although many have a fair grasp, others believe all that matters is you are a good person. But what exactly does this mean? Is goodness based on a personal evaluation or upon the majority of public opinion? If so, where does that majority come from? Shouldn’t it have at least some basis in universal truth?

Are students truly presented with all of the necessary knowledge, without boundaries and barriers? Remember, an opinion is only as good as the evidence that backs it up, and there are many weak opinions circulating these days on Catholic campuses. These students deserve better.

The fact remains, as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” How many were led to these perceptions by attending a Catholic institution? In 1972, Archbishop Sheen reportedly also said, lamenting, “I recommend that my relatives send their college-bound children to secular colleges where they will have to fight for their faith, rather than to Catholic colleges where it will be stolen from them.”  In Section 4, Interdisciplinary Dialogue in the Catholic University, it states:

In a Catholic university all recognized university areas of study are frankly and fully accepted and their internal autonomy affirmed and guaranteed. There must be no theological or philosophical imperialism; all scientific and disciplinary methods, and methodologies, must be given due honor and respect. However, there will necessarily result from the interdisciplinary discussions an awareness that there is a philosophical and theological dimension to most intellectual subjects when they are pursued far enough. Hence, in a Catholic university there will be a special interest in interdisciplinary problems and relationships.

One has to consider what colleges Catholics attended following their high school graduations when you consider how many choose to leave the Church by their early 20s. Aside from the small number of authentically Catholic colleges, many of today’s strong Catholics most likely attended many of our public colleges and universities. This may have proved to be a joyous blessing. Perhaps this was where they had to be proactive in their faith, and confident in their defense of it.

Furthermore, there may have been more autonomy exercised that was actually in favor of the Church, where truth was never stifled for the sake of good order (but encouraged for the sake of scholarly discourse and enlightenment). I have witnessed the vocations that have come out of attendance at public colleges and universities, along with the caliber of priests and religious they have become. I can say that the future of our Church is in very good hands because of these men and women.

New Era of Catholic Education?

The document closes with the following line:

In fine, the Catholic university of the future will be a true modern university but specifically Catholic in profound and creative ways for the service of society and the people of God.

The Church promotes truth, virtue, and love (not to mention comfort, support, and mercy). The decisions on the part of these institutions to remain separated from the Church have continued to result in a betrayal to both students, and to their parents, many of whom attended these same schools themselves, and were hoping for a similar experience for their sons or daughters. Instead, they have been alienated as their alma maters have striven to garner allegiance to social popularity over fidelity to papal authority.

The essence of being true ambassadors of Christ is in properly guiding others to Him (and His Church). This exemplifies real community. The desire to embrace these truths still remains solely with the individual, but he or she should never be deprived of the many moments, within their educational development, to experience a sense of real, infinite beauty, the kind that inspires one to never cease wondering, inquiring, and seeking. Catholic colleges have been able to achieve this distinction before, and they can all do it again.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Todd was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia (Go Phils!) but now lives and works in Michigan. He has been involved with the Church, and working with youth, for over 15 years in the areas of ministry, athletics, and education. He has a M.A. in Theology from Catholic Distance University, with a concentration in Ecclesial Service (special thanks to the intercession of St. Joseph of Cupertino). He is a proud family man and has a passion for all things CATHOLIC!

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  • james

    It makes you wonder why these suspect institutions want to be called Catholic anyway.

  • Guy McClung

    Great article, Todd. Spot on, Kevin A. The photo above lacks one essential-an image of a nun. Once the religious turned over the schools, it was over. The religious had vows, vows to God, vows that they would serve us selflessly, in poverty. Then the schools were taken over by businessmen and businessfemales, with all that includes and entails. They cannot get enough customers in the door and enough of the right kind of paying customers by being “catholic.” One school I know said “we cannot focus our publicity on our catholicism or it will hurt enrollment, and that will hurt the bottom line.” Couple that with the deals with the devil [the US federal government] and you see how prescient St. Sheen was.Once there were three 101% catholic universities in San Antonio. Now there are none. But one of the ones that used to be is now a thriving multi-national business. Guy McClung, San Antonio Texas

    • james

      ” Once the religious turned over the schools, it was over. The religious
      had vows, vows to God, vows that they would serve us selflessly, in
      poverty.”

      I received a fine education in the 60’s from nuns and believe me many of them were zealots for
      change and imparted this via osmosis to us kiddos who carried it out into the world. During the
      Vat II conclave and near its end there were two kinds of nuns – the ones who smiled and the ones who frowned. And so it is today.

    • Gus

      Vatican II wasn’t a “conclave” James, it was an Ecumenical Council. Conclaves are held to elect a new pope. And in answer to your question about, “why these suspect institutions want to be called Catholic,” it is because they think they are being true to the new direction of the Church brought about by misinterpreted and misapplied teachings of Vatican II.

      I too was taught by nuns in grade school, and then by nuns, brothers and priests in high school. But I didn’t see the same joy or zealotry for change in them that you saw in the nuns who taught you. If you are not familiar with it you might want to pick up a copy of “What Went Wrong with Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained” by Ralph M. McInerny.

    • james

      ” they think ( believe ) they are being true..”

      So all in all their intentions are honorable. This “crisis.” you seem worried about
      is no more a crisis than what takes place in an operating room where a patient has his heart removed – no heart no life – while awaiting the transplant sitting next to it. What part of the ” gates of hell shall not prevail ” do you not understand ?

    • Gus

      The road to perdition is paved with good intentions.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I don’t think your comment is fair. There were lots of religious sisters in the 60s and 70s who went wacky to balance out the current laypersons you identify as too market-driven.

      At the same time, from my own extensive experience, I’d say the the majority of teachers and administrators in our K-12 Catholic schools are very fine persons. However, if you are primarily referring to “catholic” colleges, I’d sadly have to agree with you.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    The Land O’ Lakes Conference of 1967 was an utter disaster for the Catholic Church in the USA. Someday we will know who and what were really behind it.

    • Todd
    • Kevin Aldrich

      This is an excellent article. It both shows understanding and some sympathy for those priest/theologians who felt unappreciated by their bishops on the one hand and the fundamental grave disorder they introduced in place of it on the other.

      In rejecting the Magisterium and authentic Catholic identity, they threw out the baby with the bathwater. What flowed back in were money, prestige, survival, and a lot of sewage.