Can Catholicism be passed on without Catholic culture?

Here is why I believe that a triangular-shaped garden fertilized with three nutrients can offer enough fertile soil for a counterculture to

(Image: Josh Applegate/

A generation ago we bemoaned the many uncatechized Catholics sitting in the pews. Many of the children of that generation are now Millennials who have wandered beyond uncatechized to unchurched. They rarely attend Mass, if ever, and neither do their young children. The statistics identify these parents among the least religious groups in American history. The Catholic Faith is as vague a notion to them as quantum physics or calculus.

Is Catholicism in America doomed when the vast majority of the baptized—the 80% who stay home on Sunday—are unchurched?

In former generations, handing on the Faith occurred through a confluence of factors. The primary two were liturgical—the Mass, celebrations of saints, May crownings, Eucharistic processions—and educational—direct instruction in the Faith in school, often by men and women religious. Enhancing these weekly or periodic happenings was a Catholic culture, that is, a Catholic way of living in the world, that included family prayer, crucifixes in the home, meatless Fridays, Lenten penances, rosaries, Saturday confession, bingo in the church basement, and living among other Catholics in a particular neighborhood.

“Christian culture,” writes Christopher Dawson in The Crisis of Western Education (1961), “is the embodiment of Christianity in social institutions and patterns of life and behavior.” Hence, for most Catholics, this culture was caught, rather than taught, and it served as the cement foundation for Catholics’ beliefs. In Dawson’s telling, “[a]rchitecture and painting and sculpture, music and poetry were all enlisted in [Christian culture’s] service, and no one was too poor or too uneducated to share in its mysteries.” In America, before Vatican II, Catholics were very much aware that their culture was distinct from the broader American Protestant culture that dominated the nation.

Today, all the cultural edifices that buttressed the liturgy and education in handing on the Faith are gone. Secularity permeates all aspects of American life, while actions once condemned as immoral masquerade as normal. A distinctly Catholic way of living disappeared with meatless Fridays; devotions are the purview of the elderly; processions have ceased. Catholic art and architecture were deliberately wrecked and the parish has long ceased to be the locus of activity for Catholic families. Now, on Sunday mornings, Millennial parents drive their children not to church but to the athletic field, and precious few are shuffling into the 5:00 p.m. Mass at day’s end.

I have been observing how marginal Catholics live without the support of Catholic culture in two years of teaching baptism preparation in my parish. Almost none of the new parents, ranging in age from the early thirties to the early forties, who attend the singular mandatory session practices the Faith. While there is enough spiritual residue within them to seek baptism for their children, they have no connections to the institutional Church and a tenuous one to my parish. Almost all of them are relatively new to town and have yet to attend a Mass, or they are out-of-towners with a faint natal connection to the parish. When we enter the church, no one genuflects; regularly, a new dad continues to wear his baseball cap.

What chance does our sixty-minute session stand to spark their faith when it is the single religious raindrop in the vast secular ocean of their lives? The same analogy can be extended with slight revision to Catholics who attend Mass on Sundays but otherwise sail the same ocean. It is frightening to wonder what parish attendance will look like in thirty years, when the Millennials are collecting Social Security and the children they never took to church but had baptized become the parents of the rising generation.

What is the remedy to this situation?

Frankly, while efforts to evangelize through sacramental preparation must continue by our Lord’s command, I think the likelihood of success—leading these people to love God through regular Catholic practice—is minimal. Why? Whatever can be said about the state of the liturgy since Vatican II, the fact is that Mass each Sunday has been the one constant in American Catholic life. Which leads me to conclude that the Mass alone, without the broader cultural support of “Catholic living,” cannot keep Catholics in the fold.

Dawson is right: religion needs culture to grow as a seed needs good soil. Today the soil that is American culture is infertile, and prospects for its renewal in the near-term are non-existent. Without the support of a healthy Catholic culture, today’s marginal Catholics are like the seeds sown among the thorns; they are men and women “who [hear] the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mt 13:22).

Is there any soil to cultivate today so at least some Catholic seeds may survive and bear fruit? I believe that a triangular-shaped garden fertilized with three nutrients—the family, the parish, and the Catholic school—can offer enough fertile soil for a counterculture to develop. All three, with their unique emphases, can provide the cultural elements necessary to support faith growing within parents and their children.

The effort must be intentional, with all three points operating in unison with the same level of understanding, and openly critical of the prevailing secular culture that bursts through our screens with hurricane strength throughout the day. Young people will be willing to stay rooted in the countercultural Catholic garden only if they both feel the benefits of remaining there while also seeing the flaws of the secular culture. The rule in sports applies for evangelization: the best defense is a good offense.

The seeds desired for this triangular garden are not the marginal Catholics, but those who have some active ties to the Church through attendance at Mass or enrollment in Catholic schools. If we want the seed of faith to grow in this hostile American culture, we have to work three times as hard to give them countercultural conditions to grow. Parishes should increase adoration, devotion, and procession opportunities, and implore parents and their children to participate. Consider the impact, for example, that dressing ten boys in cassock and surplice and then giving them a role in an outdoor Eucharistic or saint procession can have, especially if they practice beforehand and are given an understanding of what exactly they are doing. Parish priests ought not hesitate to criticize the prevailing secular culture in their homilies and explain how a Catholic counterculture is healthier, more fulfilling, more in keeping with human dignity and human flourishing.

Catholic schools should take every opportunity—from marketing to school assemblies to regular classroom instruction—to extol the virtues of Catholic culture while exposing the vices of secular culture and its training ground: government schools. On one level, when it comes to academics, math is math and science is science; but when confident teachers seize a few occasions to show how math and science point to a benevolent Creator God who made everything in the universe to share in His love and to reflect back to Him, they will have contributed mightily to supporting the faith of their students. In history and literature courses, there is no reason why saints and Catholic writers cannot be included within curricula alongside the likes of George Washington and Washington Irving. When this happens, students see that religion is a natural part of culture, not something to be separated from culture. In American history alone, there is no shortage of saints who heroically labored, to use a secular phrase, to raise the standard of living for the most marginalized among us. In a society obsessed with racial issues, lessons can begin with Saints Junipero Serra and Katherine Drexel. Outside the classroom, schools can sponsor family and religious events that draw Catholics together in community.

Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium calls the family the “domestic church” because “[i]n it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children” (11). It is here where the faith given through the Church in baptism takes root. The parish and the school have to urge parents and children to tend to their faith development at home, and today there is no shortage of print and electronic resources to help supplement their efforts and to provide, in absence of a Catholic neighborhood, an understanding of how to live the Catholic faith in daily life. Parents have to be aware that they and their children are different from their peers for choosing a distinctly Catholic life, and they have to fortify themselves against peer pressure to conform. This is another reason that the countercultural garden needs the three anchors: standing alone against the prevailing cultural tsunami is no easy feat, especially not for children and adolescents.

It’s been popular in recent years to call strategies for living the faith “options,” following Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.” I will follow suit and call my triangular garden the “Seminary Option” for a simple reason: if we want the Catholic faith to survive in America, we need to sow seeds in our countercultural garden. Then we must pray and work that these seeds will grow to build up the cultural elements necessary to sustain the faith. We pray that the seeds will have born fruit that will last, as will be evident when more Catholics leave the margins to plant their families in this same garden.

A new Catholic counterculture can then withstand all threats from the outside: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).

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About David G. Bonagura, Jr. 30 Articles
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism. and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.


  1. Apart from the ‘what can be done’ final part of the essay, the rest is simply excellent.
    It is a truth few have the courage to admit or wisdom to understand that without a living culture in which it may operate Catholicism is over.
    I would contest the point that on Sunday Millennial parents drive their children not to church but to the athletic field, as sporting participation among children is (depending on the region perhaps) falling of a cliff

    • Athletic participation is falling off a cliff?? Where?? In the upscale and heavily catholic community in which i live, athletics is at its usual rabid level. The goal is athletic scholarships to help defray the obscene cost of college. The catholic college my elder son attended 12 years ago on a partial sport scholarship now costs 82 thousand a year. Its unfortunate but true that these are calculations that parents have to make.

  2. Wonderful article.
    A few points. Sunday sports versus Mass – The Church has facilitated this by making Sunday Mass optional.
    Traditional devotions like the rosary, adoration, forty hours – A recent Crisis Magazine interview with Stephen Bullivant described these as the scaffolding of the Mass ironically and didasterly removed by VII (“spirit of” version) in an attempt to focus on the Mass (which was then itself wrecked by said “spirit”).
    Grr. It’s no wonder millenials have only the barest fragments of the faith left. We have to begin almost from scratch.

  3. Per Wiki: Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (/ləˈmɛtrə/ lə-MET-rə; French: [ʒɔʁʒ ləmɛːtʁ] (listen); 17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) was a Belgian Catholic priest, theoretical physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain.[1] He was the first to theorize that the recession of nearby galaxies can be explained by an expanding universe,[2] which was observationally confirmed soon afterwards by Edwin Hubble.[3][4] He first derived “Hubble’s law”, now called the Hubble–Lemaître law by the IAU,[5][6] and published the first estimation of the Hubble constant in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article.[7][8][3][4] Lemaître also proposed the “Big Bang theory” of the origin of the universe, calling it the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”,[9] and later calling it “the beginning of the world”.[10]

    Early life

  4. My earlier comment – disasterly, not didasterly.
    Knowall – What is the point of your Hubble-LeMaitre comment?

    • Gilberta: my reference is to Father L – who proposed the big bang theory of the creation of the universe (he also knew and worked with Einstein on that and other science). The last sentence below says both Catholic and non Catholic curricula can coincide. If you have access or know a K of C member there was a good article on him in the last K of C magazine — I told a visiting Catholic priest about him last winter, after one of his sermons about Creation and he had no idea who I was talking about ….Per article:… secular culture and its training ground: government schools. On one level, when it comes to academics, math is math and science is science; but when confident teachers seize a few occasions to show how math and science point to a benevolent Creator God who made everything in the universe to share in His love and to reflect back to Him, they will have contributed mightily to supporting the faith of their students. In history and literature courses, there is no reason why saints and Catholic writers cannot be included within curricula alongside the likes of George Washington and Washington Irving.

  5. Sadly our priests offer no perspectives on what the Catholic response ought to be to some issues in modern life. Respect for others, honesty, care for the poor. No standards presented on sexuality. Nor obligations owed to God. Not all of this will be addressed at home by parents who may be ignorant about these issues themselves. Will this anger SOME?? Yes. Will some leave? Yes. But this is a risk which must be assumed. Little to nothing about catholic values is now being taught. I doubt most know any catholic position except for abortion, with which the church cowardly turns away from enforcing where prominent politicians are concerned. This enforces the idea of a hypocritical church whose values shift in the wind like a popularity contest rather than immutable truth. When is the last time you heard a priest talk about a saint, and what they did to accomplish sainthood?? Do kids in catholic classes still collect for the missions?? Until we go back to some basics, little will be accomplished

  6. Thanks Knowall. I think I get it now. I am familiar with the story of Le Maitre, probably because it’s not often we Belgians hit the news!

    • Cool! The Catholic church is all over science, or at least it was when I was growing up. If you can, listen to Bishop Sheen reruns – he often mentions science and Creation in his sermons. He’s quite humorous as well.

      I would suggest F Le Maitre should be a subject in our Catholic schools – maybe it already is but I don’t remember that his story was discussed. It should also be in the public schools, and has nothing to do with separation of Church and state.

  7. Sad but true. However, there is always reason for hope. People what are not religious are becoming increasingly sick of this wicked culture, its values and beliefs, which cannot satisfy. Through the power of prayer and the works of charity, people can and will be attracted to the Catholic Church. The issue is salvation of souls. About 60 years ago a Russian Orthodox priest told me, “save yourself, and others around you will be saved.”

  8. Not even Catholics care about Catholicism. Can you blame them? It’s not them who are misguided, but rather it is you holdouts pretending that there is nothing remotely bizarre about “invisible but wants to be your buddy” whatsoever; totally normal situation. Uhhh, wrong, highly bizarre situation and certainly not normal; so abnormal and contrary to any standard of common sense or rational intuition that we can confidently state it is an absolute non-scenario.

    I was raised Catholic and left 15 years ago and I am actively and regularly encouraging all Catholics I know to leave as well.

    • “Not even Catholics care about Catholicism.”

      It’s hard to take you seriously, Andrew. Since you cannot comprehend basic theistic premises, which are logical and reasonable, let’s go to the visible: What do you do with Jesus? He existed. He lived. He died. We believe he rose again, based on the testimony of people who were willing to die for that belief. What do you do with him?

      • I assume Jesus existed but that he was a human man with a big fan club who embellished many of his deeds to the point of being them mythical or legendary. THAT is what you do with him. For example, we can rule out certain things as never actually having happened:

        – son of god and/or had a hand in the creation of the universe
        – walked on water
        – multiplied bread/fish magically
        – rose from the dead
        – etc

        All of these are obviously untrue.

        • I think it fair to say that you need to re-examine your line of reasoning. With GOD all things are possible. Modern man has this nasty little mental habit of assuming that only those things can be true whose cause/s can be tangibly proven. In your current mental framework, clearly miracles are not possible. You therefore have no Faith. Faith transcends reason, it MOVES reason to a higher, lofiter plane. I would encourage you to re-think your current, dismal, flat, modernist mindset. Being “modern” is not being sophisticated; it’s being banal, drab and depressing. Further, I have witnessed miracles myself. I take them for what they are – not for what I make them to be (for me). [It is an aside; but, listen to the many videos of Fr. Chad Ripperger on the internet. The man is on the front lines of the battle against our foes. You could learn much. He’s no slouch. He’s no con-man.]

        • Why?
          As for creator of the universe the universe needs a prime mover by the laws of logic (i.e. proof by mathematical induction) and currently accepted basic physics. Its not illogical to assume that a game’s creator actively became one of its players after launch (it happens in PC games all the time). You might say that the universe is a movie instead of a game, but then one is left with the “sadistic horror film movie director prime mover” of Marxist cosmology.
          As for miracles, I tend to like to think of how a game program behaves when a key is pressed on a keyboard; nothing illogical, but nothing scientifically testable either (this key isn’t pressed at Old Faithful regular repeatable intervals and as a game character I’m stuck not being able to press it so to speak).

          • But for the fact that the universe isn’t a “game” and its creator actually DID, as sacred scripture intimates, “empty Himself” to become one of us in order to SAVE us from damnation. Other than your comment about a Prime Mover which must be objectively real, unless I’m somehow missing your point, your further example(?) all then descends (escapes) into immanentism and becomes very difficult to follow. Immanentism was rightly condemned by the church as heretical. God is simply not man’s possession or concoction. He is REAL and OBJECTIVE. We are His concoction, not the reverse.

    • Andrew, many Catholics care about Catholicism and apparently you do also or you wouldn’t keep returning here to make comments about it.

    • I think therefore I AM is an absolute scenario; nobody intelligent believes in a “imaginary friend god” like in an Arthur episode or something like that.

  9. 80% unchurched you say? Perhaps a relationship question would be a fitting analogy and help to explain the reason why their choice is obviously the correct one. If a girl makes herself scarce, invisible and undetectable 24/7/365, is she interested or not interested in you? Clearly not interested, so why would it be any different in God’s case? I’m stunned that as much as 20% got this question wrong.

    • Air is invisible. But it is still very real. I once heard it remarked that either everything Jesus said is true, or He was crazy and nothing he said is true. Look at what he taught. About fairness and caring for others, and the harmful effects of sin. The world prior to Jesus was a much more brutal place. His teachings made it less so and helped refine Western Civilization. Is the world a better place because he lived and taught us? That is an easy yes. The world us nir perfect but He left it to us to make it better. Each one of us has a job to do for God and the world is poorer if we do not do it. If you are not a believer, what are you doing reading this site? Maybe you secretly do believe and are too proud to admit it to yourself. A line from a favorite movie: “ Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

      • Carl, yea but in the same way that a rapist might exist rent-free in the head of a victim for many years.

        Lj, that’s why I also included the word “undetectable” which means that your mention of air is not applicable. I’m reading this site mostly to look for two different types of articles:

        1. ones where the writer is lamenting the ongoing/accelerating decline of adherent numbers, which I expect to continue.
        2. ones where the writer is panicking over the accelerating advances of increasingly power AI/biotech advancements, which I expect to continue.

    • Why would the one response be wrong as opposed to the other? Essentially, modern humans are unprecedentedly distracted as a result of unprecedented technology so fewer of them ever ask why?, much like the ideal honeybees of Marxism. People still need love to operate; most of them however tend to get it from human romantic relationships, which not everyone has as an option.

      • John Allen and Cardinal Zuppi say some people are just looking to have fights and come to blows. THEY are “looking for love”?

  10. It all comes back to VC2. The reforms instituted following VC2 accelerated the Catholic Culture demise. One glimmer of hope for some correction is the blossoming of Catholic media in its variety of forms from NCR, EWTN to Relevant Radio and others which seem to have growing positive role in teaching Catholic Catechesis. But hoping God has a plan to get us out of this mess.

    • “The reforms instituted following VC2 accelerated the Catholic Culture demise.”

      Well, yes, many of the “reforms” were more like “deforms,” done in the name of Vatican II but almost always going contrary (or at least sideways from) what Vatican II actually stated.

      It’s also important to note that Western society as a whole has, overall, degenerated since the late 1960s. Would things be better if V2 had not taken place? We cannot, of course, answer that question with clarity, but I suspect matters would be just as bad, with perhaps some curious deviations in the mix.

      • Agree that my taking a shot at VC2 is too easy, but I occasionally wonder why some of the changes were made. I digress a little to make a point. My wife is a retired school teacher she always tried of use phonics teaching method, even when it was frowned upon. Moving forward in the Wall Street Journal there was a story this last week or so about NY city schools shifting to phonics since the kids could not read. The head of the NY City schools in discussing the change made a comment that “the school system worked really hard at failure”. Hard to believe but that was essentially his comment that in effect it took 20 years to figure out their approach to teaching reading was wrong. Getting back to Catholic Culture a shift to the old ways like Latin Mass, priest facing the alter, sermons on going to confession, and added emphasis on praying the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration would push the Catholic Culture in the right direction. It seems that there is additional emphasis on the last 2, so maybe a course correction is in play.

      • Dear Carl,

        For all intents and purposes, the SSPX represent what the church would have been like had V2 never occurred. There, the church is still relevant and continues to grow. It’s seminaries are full, it’s pews are chock full of young, vibrant Catholic families with a full quiver of kids. The “old” church still fights against the demons of this age: the world, the flesh and the devil. Unlike the “new church”, it has not “dialogued” with the dangerous and pernicious cancers of socialism/communism. V2 has the Novus Ordo Church embrace its enemies (as defined by the Counsel of Trent), advance social justice, inequality, diversity, build bridges rather than walls. Those are its salient themes now. Sexual bigotry (as defined by the world) is the new villain, enter James Martin. Our own identity seems somewhat contingent upon who we declare our enemies and, so far, post V2, our enemies seem to all need our compromise and “accompaniment” to our shame and irrelevance. We are (or should be) the “church MILITANT”; but, we refuse to suit up in our armor, we refuse to pick up our sword, we refuse to define, let alone banish our enemies. We’re soft, squishy, cringey, inconvenient and irrelevant. That’s why, in part, I do cite V2 as perhaps the single most disastrous bomb to go off in the church since Arianism or the Protestant Reformation (pick your poison).

  11. To answer the question posed by the article more directly, I would say that the naive answer is that it can’t be passed on because it’s false; it does not stand up to any amount of scrutiny. However that hasn’t stopped it for doing precisely that for the last 2000 years. Nevertheless, the recent and severe atrophy of followers/members suggest that some new or additional factor(s) is now at play. I speculate that it has to do with the rise of technology and the internet. So just like a cockroach retreating from light, with more readily available (scientific) knowledge and skepticism and open discussion and reasonable criticism out there than ever before, religion has no choice but to run away quickly. In other words what threats of hell or other nonsense that may have worked in the past for it to cling on, clearly loses all credibility in the modern knowledge-rich world; one in which naturalistic explanations have become the default mode of answering questions. Religion is simply obsolete, and the numbers prove it. Good riddance.

    • I promise you, Andrew, the faith cannot be killed. The French revolutionaries, the Soviets, and the Chinese have all said the same thing you do here, and they have all been proven wrong, despite mountains of dead bodies and oceans of blood spilled in the attempt to kill it. Religious belief can decline, and has many times throughout history. But it always comes roaring back, because it corresponds to reality.

      God is real. He knows you and loves you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it. If you really seek Him you will find Him.

      I am sorry you were hurt so many years ago. You are in my heart tonight.

    • Something is new here Andrew; unprecedented access to technology has led to an unprecedented level of constant distraction and unprecedentedly few people stopping to take the time to ask “Why?”

    • …”naturalistic religions?” You’re right about that, sort of…

      But the difference between natural religions (man expressing his own reaching for a possible God) as awaiting, and yet contrasted with, God’s (possible?) self-disclosure (!) to thinking man. To accept this possibility as historical fact is what is meant by Faith—in the mystery of Jesus Christ. Which, the theologian von Balthasar explains it this way:

      “The responses of the Old Testament and a fortiori of Islam (which remains essentially in the enclosure of the religion of Israel) are incapable of giving a satisfactory answer to the question of why Yahweh, why Allah, created a world of which he did not have need in order to be God. Only the fact is affirmed in the two religions, not the why. The Christian response is contained in these two fundamental dogmas: that of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation” (“My work in Retrospect,” 1993).

      The nexus for real discussion betwixt yourself as a person and persons of faith might be that the Incarnation is a one-time event, while the artificially opposed scientific method is based on the replication of an observed event in identical circumstances (the validated laws of nature).

      On this point, Pope Benedict offered this reflection:

      “Christianity’s claim to be true cannot correspond to the standard of certainty posed by modern science, because the form of verification here is of a quite different kind from the realm of testing by experiment—pledging one’s life for this—is of a quite different kind. The saints, who have undergone the experiment, can stand as guarantors of its truth, but the possibility of disregarding this strong evidence remains” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Ignatius, 2003).

      Not that these kinds of thoughts trump your mindset, but simply that placing all bets on the inevitability of progress under the physical sciences and now the internet is also a religion—not a natural religion, but a techno-religion. Not at all like the Faith, but a religion and manifestly tribal.

  12. Sadly, contributing greatly to this crisis is the modernist “Church of Accompaniment”. The church cannot “accompany” a world gone mad; a world rebelling against the most fundamental natural law realities like a binary sex complementarity. We need to see the world today as Catholics of yesteryear viewed the Protestant Rebellion, which gave rise to the Counsel of Trent. What I suspect I am saying is that the Church NEEDS to find its enemies again in order to shore up its own identity. Satan has been dismissed, hell is now just a little longer stay perhaps than purgatory, the most sinful and scandalous get “canonized” in the mass when passing from this life; confession lines? Hardly. When was that last time your Priest spoke of Justice? I’ll bet he waxed eloquently about mercy recently didn’t he? The Church needs to make the world an ENEMY again and it desperately needs to BE an enemy of the world again. Bishops can start by EX-COMMUNICATING grotesquely formed “catholics” like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, John Kerry et alio. Jacques Maritain did NOT do the world a favor by introducing his “Human Integralism” which worked to seek a peaceful compromise between communism and Catholicism. This basic ill-formed philosophy is arguably the underpinning of documents like Gaudium et Spes. Communism knows only one mode: DESTROY. It should have been rebuked at V2 in no uncertain terms. Bar none, what we now see sinking the Barque of Peter is exactly “accommodation” and “compromise” to a communist hydra that seeks nothing other than the destruction of Christ and any residue he might have left in the world, namely, His church. Getting this Steward of the Chair of Peter to waken from his current spiritual malaise will take nothing short of a miracle. Perhaps, the next Pope can actually wear the Tiara again, reclaim Rome again and FIGHT for the Faith, for Christ, for souls and eternal life! Deo Gratius!

    • Granted, the Thomist Maritain also pushed the margin when looking for a way to be Catholic while still in the world. But he did not introduce “human integralism,” rather instead an “integral humanism,” by which was meant something still “at once human and divine–in which alone lies the possibility of a free and worthy life.” But an ambiguity (not unlike blurring St. John Paul II’s distinct “integral humanism” and “natural ecology” [Centesimus Annus] into Laudato si’s catchy “integral ecology”) , especially when recalling Maritain’s fascination with Saul Alinksy–but which, later as a monastic recluse, he rethinks or clarifies in this way:

      “For when foolishness acquires such considerable dimensions among Christians, either it must be resorbed pretty quickly, or it will ultimately detach them from the Church. What foolishness? Kneeling before the world [!],” which he then addresses in the last several pages of Chapter 3 of “The Peasant of the Garonne,” (the chapter dated Feb. 14, 1966).

      Maritain identifies the diabolical fallacy of erasing “the other world,” the cross, and sanctity. And, yet, he also correctly holds:

      “At this point it is suitable to say with particular insistence: haec oportebat facere, et illa non omittere, ‘These things you ought to have done, and the others not to have omitted [Matt. 23:23].’ It was necessary to struggle against the world as the adversary of the saints, but without neglecting (this is said for the past) to devote oneself to the temporal progress of a world oppressed by injustice and misery. And it is necessary to dedicate ourselves to this temporal progress, but without neglecting (this is said for today) to struggle against the world as the adversary of saints.”

      But, back to Bonagura, surely yes, the loss of a plausibility structure for our Catholic presence in the world–this loss is fatal. Guardini foresaw our current situation:

      “Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world (Matthew xxiii, 12), but the more precious will that love be which flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ” (“The End of the Modern World,” 1956).

      • Maritain started Thomist and ended modernist. Sadly, it was his modernist thought that forms the philosophic bedrock of Guadium et Spes. In this manner, Pope Paul found it possible to “dialog with the modern world”, including socialists/communists. They say one generation will tolerate what the next generation embraces. I can’t help but think we’re now well on the road to collapse – communists firmly in charge. I also can’t help but wonder whether we’d be this far down the road to destruction had the counsel laid out with firm resolve a decisive condemnation of communism. Deo Gratius!

        • Not so much a “philosophic bedrock” as part of a cobbled together and unresolved compromise (Gaudium et Spes, meaning both “the joys and the hopes AND the griefs and anxieties”).

          As for the counsel (sic council) and “condemnation of communism”, this can be found in Gaudium et Spes, “Systemic Atheism” and “The Church’s Attitude Toward Atheism” (nn. 20-21, three pages).

          The criticism is not so much the supposed absence of these sections, but the fact that the Council chose to not call out the Soviet Union by name. The rationale for this approach, not accepted by all, was that it was a concession in order to gain Soviet permission for the enslaved Orthodox Churches to attend the Council as observers, rather than not.

          Perhaps a long-term strategy addressing a schism of a thousand years within the perennial Church (while the particular Soviet Union came and went, surprisingly, in less than half a century)?

  13. As a mother of six, I can say with certainty that the article’s assertion is true: without culture, no amount of catechesis will bring people back, let alone convert them. I have seen how much my children’s faith has been strengthened through the faith of their friends, through things like retreats, processions, and adoration, but also through having fun with fellow Catholic kids — biking, swimming, dancing. We do a lot of dancing here!

    This is one reason, as Mark Tabish points out, that SSPX communities are thriving. It is also why Latin Mass parishes run by Fraternity of St. Peter priests are thriving; our parish is bursting with children — including teens and young adults. It is a place where real culture lives, and where parents find it easier to pass on the faith than you might think.

    We are going to have to get over the Americanist preoccupation of the last 100 years and realize that to have culture, you have to have real cultus. And to preserve real culture, you have to have some healthy boundaries. When we want the faith more than to fit in with our neighbors, we will create enclaves like the parish I’m in, and the faith will be handed on as it always has been.

  14. We raised our six children in a wonderfully orthodox Catholic parish–school & church. Our children were active in school & church activities, & other Catholic groups as well. Only our younger three children are still practicing Catholics–our youngest son will enter the seminary this fall. What happened with the older three? They saw our family be mocked & openly ridiculed by “good” Catholics who embarassed their parents by loudly offering us their kids’ used clothes so our kids could come to Mass in “appropriate” clothes. Our kids had nice clothes that were given to us by other families or bought in secondhand stores. They always behaved well; all our sons were Mass servers, etc. But, Catholic parishes are controlled by wealthier parishioners who seem to rejoice in ridiculing lower-income Catholics & excluding them. Our younger kids were somehow able to ignore this treatment better than our older three. Not sure why. I should mention that, despite our “low income”, all but one of our kids graduated with honors–magna or summa cum laude from college; all are working in very good occupations,one earned his MBA from an excellent Catholic university, & are very happy. “Not a bum one in the lot,” as one of our daughters-in-law proclaims! I will not encourage our kids to return to the Faith until they have been able to heal from the abuse they suffered at the hands of “faithful conservative Catholics.”

    • Drawing comparisons is as old as the failed brotherhood of Cain and Abel. My daughters had a similar problem when they were in their teens. “The people at church are hypocrites”, said my daughter. That’s when I marched her into the church and pointed to the crucifix, saying “He’s the measure for what it means to be a Christian, how do you measure up?” She got over that mental block quite quickly. Catholic, salvation is served from the altar! Go, confess, receive! Deo Gratius!

  15. [Millennials] rarely attend Mass, if ever, and neither do their young children. The statistics identify these parents among the least religious groups in American history.

    They are also among the most barren groups in history, so to a degree this problem solves itself.

  16. Andrew’s posts read like a ChatGPT response to the query, “Give poorly written examples of discredited anti-Catholic diatribes written by a Millennial.”

  17. Bonagura’s question answers itself. However, there are two ifs. The question answers itself, if Catholics remain culturally integrated in a secular culture. It cannot be conveyed. The other if suggests an imperative.
    If Catholics reconvert and remain within a morally separate but not physically separate culture it certainly will be passed on, and likely have a long fought, difficult but beneficial effect on the secular culture. It’s in effect Augustine’s two cities, that of God and that of Man.

    • And yet, there are a multitude of Baptized Catholics who have spiritually and thus physically separated themselves from The Catholic Church but have been allowed to remain physically present making it appear as if one can be for Christ, and against Christ and both remain, in essence, Catholic, exchanging The Truth Of Love, for a lie.
      One cannot be an atheist materialistic over population alarmist globalist, who renders onto Caesar or themselves, that which belongs to The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost (Filioque), The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, and still be, in essence, a Catholic. A Catholic, first and foremost, is in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost(Filioque).

      Perfect Love does not divide, it multiplies, (Filioque), as in the Miracle Of The Loaves and Fishes.

      When exactly did Christ remove The Charitable Anathema from The Deposit Of Faith?

      “Penance, Penance, Penance.”

      • Yes ND. And what’s encouraging that is the whittling down of the conditions for worthiness to receive the Holy Eucharist. That accommodates absence and belief in the real presence. Furthermore, if we accept the doctrines of Amoris Laetitia on responsibility for sin persons will assume if they can live a non Christian lifestyle and remain in good stead with God why bother to attend Mass.

    • I suppose my initial comment on conveying Catholicism doesn’t respond to the issue widely discussed, and rightly so be others. That is the problematic integralism. Intellectual proposals abound, the solution is practical. What that means is retaining our faith in a faithless environment in which we share our work, recreations, friendships with those who disbelieve, whose values are contrary to ours.
      Vat II doesn’t suggest we jettison our values integrating with non believers. What it suggests is really the opposite, rather in being accepting of others we present them with a different, better perspective. This conviction came from activities as a VA chaplain, then chief of service. I was obliged to integrate my activity with that of other disciplines. What had dividends was not accommodation. Rather letting respect [in my instance love] be known to be non conditional, although it was clear through my decisions, professed priorities that my faith priorities remained. Results were excellent among most [except for the hardened prejudiced].
      Integralism is an art not a science.

  18. Interesting comment from Sue, May 23.
    It’s been said (but not often enough IMO) that the Church has lost the working class. I think there’s enough evidence that this is the segment that suffers the most from the loss of a supportive culture.

  19. I believe there is another action that the hierarchy must take. Disentangle the Church from the Government. It is clear that this acceptance, even the lobbying, for funds is compromising the Faith. Catholic Charities is the most prominent example. In my former parish in Detroit, when the plainclothes nun came to Mass to solicit money for Catholic Charities or Peter’s Pence, parishioners sat in stone silence and the envelopes remained invariably untouched. I can witness that this parish was doing all the things listed above. In fact when I mentioned the name of the pastor to suburban Catholics, they pronounced him “too ridged.” But it became worse. He was publicly attacked — slandered, labelled, and cancelled. He cleared his name. It wasn’t cheap. So there’s the hierarchy and “the faithful” problems not helped by language such as “rigid” and “backwardist.”

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