Friday, January 22, 2010

A Question from the Banks of the Tiber

I have a hypothesis about this blog, and frankly I’m not sure whether Frank agrees. My hypothesis is, this blog is most compelling for people near the banks of the Tiber, meaning (a) recent converts, (b) those considering converting, or (c) cradle Catholics who have left the Church and wonder, maybe secretly, about returning.
There’s a simple reason for my hypothesis. Frank and I are both recent converts. We were on the other side of the river not so very long ago. We were standing, to take another metaphor, in C.S. Lewis’s “hall out of which doors open into several rooms.” For more on this, see Frank’s first post on Mere Christianity.

But out of that hallway and onto the bank—Frank and I, having just arrived on the Vatican side of the river, remember clearly what the view looked like from the other bank—and how beautiful the Vatican City side is upon arrival. We have a certain perspective that resonates with (a), (b), and (c). And some of the questions that perplexed or motivated us seem to matter particularly to these three groups of readers.

One of these questions, that of the liturgy, elicited many comments in the past week. I posted on it several times, including here and here. New converts (a) love the fullness of the Catholic liturgy, even as we wonder about the new Missal. Those who think of converting (b) wonder about giving up their own liturgy, like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Those who left the Church but might come back (c) may wonder why Vatican II tossed the Latin Mass overboard.

So here’s my question to you: What’s your question? What’s your issue? What is or was the issue that is most central to your personal choice about which side of the Tiber you want to be on? Or to return to Lewis’s metaphor, if you are standing in the hallway, what does the Catholic door look like to you? What about it attracts (attracted) you? What troubles (troubled) you?

Does your question concern:
  1. the liturgy?
  2. the Bible (whether Catholicism is “bible-believing,” as Frank wrote)?
  3. the authority of the Pope and Catholic bishops?
  4. the Church’s position on social issues?
  5. something else?
Here’s my answer, a quick one, I promise. I didn’t have any questions the day I stumbled into St. Mary Star of the Sea and pulled down my first kneeler. But I suppose if I had dug deep I would have answered (4), the Church’s position on social issues. Not because I had thought deeply about life, traditional marriage, and the like, but only because the magnetic pull of our secular culture is so powerful, I was afraid to break its hold over me, to stand apart from it. I cannot walk through the corridors of the mall, or pass the display windows of Victoria’s Secret or Brooks Brothers or Abercrombie & Fitch without feeling that magnetic power. I cannot step into a political discussion at a cocktail party in some liberal precincts around Boston without feeling alone. I cannot pick up the Boston Globe or switch on the network news without remembering that to choose Catholicism is the most countercultural choice I ever made.

Now that I've made the choice, or it made me, the magnetic field is reversed. Ironically, the Church’s position on social issues—its distinct countercultural stance—is precisely one of the most compelling reasons I remain a Catholic. Go figure!

But I promised you quick. What’s your answer?