It was never my intent that the Catechist Café would serve as a daily commentary on the Church or American life. There are more than enough on-line services for that. When I began this venture two years ago—November 14, 2014, to be exact—I set out for a niche in the world of Catholic education, catechetics, and thought: a steady stream of what I hope to be forums for continuing Catholic education; and discussion of thoughtful books, church documents, and organized reflections for Catholic adults: catechists, church ministers, and professional Catholic adults in other fields such as medicine, law, or technology who are delving into the mysteries of Catholic faith and practice of their own initiative. Originally I considered hosting a Catholic book circle from my home, but this format makes me work harder and, more importantly, read more. Sometimes I get a little chiding from friends who say “I went over their heads,” but as a long-time student myself I was always flattered by professors who thought I knew more than I did, (they were usually wrong), and I hated being “talked down to.”
That said, there are certain occasions or religious feasts that ought not pass without observance or reflection here at the Café, and our country has just celebrated its four-year observance of selecting a president. I would be crass if I passed over the concerns that this lengthy and exhausting process has raised among many Americans and probably not a few regular readers, too. I could not stay awake last night until Pennsylvania was finally declared, but I was up early this morning and, as is my habit, switched on the coffee pot at 6 AM for “Morning Joe” as well as my IPad for newspapers. I leave it to Joe, Mika, and the TV breakfast table to dissect the trends and analyses of this election, as they were already at it on MSNBC before the first rays of the sun appeared above the horizon.
I did take note of the exit polls from yesterday, particularly those released early in the evening regarding the gulf in voting preferences between college educated voters and those without college degrees. There is an excellent opinion piece by Charles Camosy of the Washington Post that illuminates this point, “Trump Won Because College Educated Americans Are Out of Touch.” (November 9, 2016) By some strange coincidence I had been working yesterday afternoon on a course outline for my diocese’s 101 course for new catechists, and in my draft, I had quoted from Pope Francis to the Synod of Bishops in 2105: “A Synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening ‘is more than feeling.’ It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: we are one in listening to others; and all are listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (John 14:17), to know what the Spirit ‘is saying to the Churches.’ “(Revelations 2:7).
My wife came home from work and as we sat in my loft in the late afternoon we naturally turned to the election results we were awaiting a few hours hence. I reflected to my wife that, if nothing else, I had a greater appreciation of the diversity of discontent, and that the election was teaching the populace to listen more acutely. “I don’t think our church, our catechetics, is picking this up,” I said. I started ticking off the varieties of fear and deep concern I had heard first hand during the campaign—women who were habitually sexually harassed on the job, immigrants worried about divided families, clients I was treating who legally have little or no access to advanced health care treatments, middle-aged folks with unemployment problems, adult children having difficulties latching on to meaningful employment.
The language of the catechetical text on my desk called for greater sensitivity to cultural diversity. (In my diocese, that is code for “Spanish.”} As a catechist, I wondered if our pastoral meaning of diversity was too restricted to ethnicity. The campaign controversies over the treatment of women, to use one example, had brought to the floor how difficult it is to be a woman in America. I have long maintained that this is an undercurrent in the abortion debate. There are a vast number of women who would never think of obtaining abortion but who carry a genuine fear of ceding rights in a (still) male-dominated political environment. Similarly, do Catholic women who advocate admission to priestly orders do so to obtain more voice in ecclesiastical matters that impact their own lives, particularly if they are members of religious orders?
Camosy’s piece in the Washington Post argues that those of us from the ivy-covered walls of academia (yes, Catholic University had ivy during my years there) are collectively affected with a hubris that makes it impossible to sympathize or appreciate such things as the importance of religious piety, personal liberty, family values, prenatal rights, and gun rights, for example. Mike Barnacle perhaps captured it best on Morning Joe today. “We sit here as elites and ask, ‘What’s wrong with Kansas?’” Camosy’s editorial is addressing the shock of “elites” at the election of Trump, as well as a dismissive attitude of the establishment toward those who publicly endorsed him at rallies or in print. I was troubled by the unleashing of rage and its potential for damage on many levels during the campaign, but rage is often the child of fear. What for me is an annoyance may be life-and-death for another voter.
There are major parallels between politics and catechetics. Very few successful office seekers invent a need; they are wise enough to listen to constituents who are very happy to explain their needs. This is not our traditional Catholic way of catechizing; we arrive on the scene with the party platform under our arms. Since we have no town hall meetings or elections, we are surprised when Catholics, with bundles of questions and concerns, vote as they always have, with their feet. Yes, I hear it all the time that the Church is not a democracy. Yet we have lost a lot of good members in recent times; I wonder if, ecclesiastically speaking, we were too elitist to listen to them? Or as the late Catholic Tim Russert might have put it, “Michigan, Michigan, Michigan.”