Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's It Mean to Be Catholic in America?

I was recently interviewed about this blog by former SF Chronicle writer John Wildermuth. I was thrilled that the title of the article included the question, What does it mean to be Catholic in America? It is one that I hold for myself and that I present to my Seniors with total sincerity. To me, answers like “Catholic guilt,” "not eating meat on Fridays during Lent" and "being one of eight children" are dated and short-sighted. I hope that my students’ answers are much deeper than these and/or simply “Christmas and Easter.” I hope they recognize that they are called to bear witness to the challenge of the Gospel—to be selfless, loving and forgiving and to bring comfort to the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. If they add wearing a basketball jersey that reads the name of a school like “Most Precious Blood” or ashes on their forehead once a year, well that’s fine too.

My question has been a pressing one in the Jewish community for some time. In her book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish, journalist Abigail Pogrebin interviewed over 60 people to unpack the complexities of Jewish identity and the emotions they engender. For Jews in America, being Jewish is a primary component of one’s identity, even among those who are not practicing. I wonder to what degree is this true for Catholics? Catholic San Francisco’s article reveals my personal answer to that question, but I am curious to know more. Tolstoy once said, “Certain questions are put to us not so much that we should answer them but that we should spend a lifetime wrestling with them.” This is one I am willing to wrestle with; it is one however that I hope to find life-giving answers to.

Better version of the article is available on page 17
NB: I love the photo that SI's Director of Communications, Paul Totah chose for this article. It features one of the Wildcats' most talented and grace-filled runners on the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park, our home course. Rachel also happens to be my student; getting to know your students as athletes and your athletes as students is a true gift!


  1. Love the posts... from a new (yes, new) Catholic school on Cape Cod (first on the Cape). I would hope our students understand that being Catholic in America doesn't mean looking to the majority opinion to determine what is right or wrong but rather to our Catholic values. As Christ said to Pontius Pilate, "... I came into this world to testify to the truth." He didn't say, "...I came to testify to what the majority believe."

  2. Hi Al and thanks for reading/posting. Leading and guiding students to understand Catholic values is the job of many--parents, teachers, coaches, and let's not forget the individual him/herself.

    I am heartened to read there is a new school on the Cape; one that provides the gift of a Catholic education. Here in SF, I was saddened to read that St. Elizabeth school will be the fourth K-8 parochial school to close in 4 years. Although financial challenges abound, I think it's important to know:
    A decline in the number of U.S. Catholic schools reflects a demographic shift of where Catholics live more than a decline in the demand for Catholic education, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington, D.C., concluded in a 2006 survey. CARA researchers linked the closure of 339 Catholic schools in the five years before the survey to the dynamic that “Catholic people move, schools don’t.”

    Perhaps people are moving to Cape Cod...not hard to figure out why. And when the BoSox come to AT&T this June, I will see that Red Sox fans move, Fenway doesn't.