Saturday, November 05, 2005

From Liberal to Conservative to Uninvolved

Steve Bogner has a nice post on the recent America article "Dodging Traffic" by Mary Moloney Haggerty. I'm going to offer a few excerpts here as well because I think it speaks so well to the experience of many Catholics my age. She speaks of attending a "liberal" parish and becoming disenchanted with the intolerance she experienced there, and her move to a "conservative" parish, which she found at first inviting, but also ultimately incomplete and alienating. Finally, as a result, she became for a time an "uninvolved Catholic."

How many of us have been through this process? How many young Catholics are still "uninvolved" for these very reasons? I think many Catholics are too involved in defending their "territory" and adopting a "if you're not with us, you're against us" attitude that they fail to see all the frustrated, faithful Catholics who aren't involved because they don't--and don't want to--fit into some cookie cutter notion of what others think a Catholic should be. I think many of you will find that her words resonate with your own experience--I know they do mine!:

Last week, over our Wednesday morning cup of coffee, a conservative Christian friend smiled as she told me I am the most conservative liberal she has ever met! There was a time when this would have brought anything but a smile to my face. But that day, I laughed out loud . . .

On her "liberal" days:

We were forging a new path that the American church desperately needed, and it felt good.
That lasted until I began to see cracks in the sidewalk along the way. A few parishioners wanted to start a prayer group based on the Rosary. You would have thought they wanted to turn the priest around and bring back the altar rail, for all the support they got . . .

On her "conservative" turn:

So I found myself a new spiritual home—the conservative parish on the other side of town. Ah, it was like coming home to the Catholic Church of my childhood . . .

Then, slowly, I noticed some things that concerned me . . .
And the huge “God Is Pro-Life” banner displayed next to the altar left me wondering why we never heard anything from the pulpit about the death penalty or root causes of poverty. I began to feel tired watching the energy poured into “dress-up Sunday” and listening to homilies extolling the virtues of former times and the dangers of today’s corrupt world.
So I did something I had never done before: I became an uninvolved Catholic . . .

On the challenges of becoming involved again:

Few things get under my skin as much as assumptions made about my beliefs based on where I live, attend church, vote or play. I do not fit into a box based on demographics or education or income. The only box I am willing to climb into is that of my faith. Sometimes that means a vote for the right, other times a vote for the left. Always it is a response to an invitation.


Anonymous A said...

This post interests me and I find it resonating somewhat at this stage of my journey. I am not yet a Catholic. I am in RCIA. Though I grew up in a very conservative environment generally, I've long considered myself a moderate about most things, often too conservative for my "liberal" friends, and too liberal for my "conservative" friends. When I began visiting parishes here in the Twin Cities where I live I found much to my dismay, that there seemed to be no "middle-of-the-road" parishes, but only the extremes. I finally landed at a parish that is extremely liberal, so much so that when I meet Catholics, I can tell a lot about where they are coming from simply by the look on their face and their reaction when I tell them what parish I attend. It's actually quite humorous.

Involvement will be a challenge for me as I go forward, because I often find myself quite stretched and uncomfortable by the views and practices expressed in my parish. I took one of those online quizzes, "What kind of Catholic are you?" I came out "traditional Catholic." Ha! My life of late is so full of ironies; protestant boy turns out to be a traditional Catholic.

But the parish I am at is definitely where I feel God has placed me. We'll see what God has in mind here....

Hey, thanks for letting me get longwinded here in your comments. I've been enjoying your blog. I've been hanging out quite a bit with Benedictines and Franciscans for awhile now, but I know very little about the Jesuits.
Peace to you bro,
A. Hanson
abbeyinfo @

7:37 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


Your post is very helpful and illuminating! Since so many of the converts to Catholicism that I know are gung-ho conservatives, I was wondering if this kind of experience was just limited to cradle Catholics like myself, or whether people new to the faith had a similar experience. Your post makes it seem obvious to me that many would.

Yes, it does seem that most parishes seem to fall on the extremes these days. It's a challenge because both then seem to be missing something. Often, too, parishes that might be considered "middle of the road" are kind of dead, uninspired places. Probably because what can frequently happen there is that they start to witness to what Robert Barron calls a "beige Catholicism" which is not a desirable alternative.

I hope one day to find a parish which passionately strives for a more complete Catholicism, where the totality of the faith isn't sectioned off into "conservative" and "liberal" categories, but these are hard to come by.

Thanks for the nice, thoughtful comments.



11:12 AM  
Blogger mamagiglio said...

I think our parish is what you can call simply a Catholic parish. No screwing around with the liturgy, hard sayings from the pulpit when there needs to be, but always always the message that all of us, even the priests, are sinners and God loves us anyway. And we're a big parish with many ministries to the poor and imprisoned and a strong commitment to the sanctity of human life. My mom hadn't been to church in 15 years when she started to go there and received Reconciliation there for the first time in 20 years. And her story is not unusual.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

I think I fit into the 'uninvolved' category. Not at home in my former conservative parish, where I was very involved; and not willing to get 'involved' again at my newer, more liberal parish.

It sounds good that being in the middle means I'm free to respond to the invitation; but the bruises are still there.

1:51 PM  
Blogger angelmeg said...

I grew up with a mother who reminded me that the Church was universal for a reason it was big enough for everyone. She chided us for thinking that all Catholics had to be "just like us" and exposed us to other worshiping communities so that we would realize that while they were different they were all Catholic.

I am so blessed that I was raised with that tollerance, because the longer I am in parish ministry the harder it is to make the ends meet. The trads can't stand the more liberal minded ones and the liberals can't understand the traditionalists. I stand in the middle and pull my hair out and say "can't we all just get along?"

I do love my job, well most days I do.


2:13 PM  
Blogger Jen P said...

Thanks -- great food for thought. I am continually dismayed by what conservative Catholics do in the name of "faith" and orthodoxy (or just do, period). Of course, I am also disturbed by the abuses from "liberal" parishes and their own versions of intolerance. In the end, I realize (though often forget) that all of us give Christianity a bad name. Even those of us who are univolved. And perhaps most especially me.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Gashwin said...

Mark -- great thoughts. Haven't yet read the America article (because America takes forever to make it down South. Must be a liberal/conservative Mason-Dixon thing ... :-D).

When we talked the last time you were down here, I shared my own growing "traditionalness" (if that's a word. I just can't get myself to say "conservative"), and I identify in part with the writer's take, and, like others, find myself talking "liberal" when around many "conservatives" and vice-versa. Which makes me muddle-headed?

The parish here would be called "liberal" I guess, in many respects. But then, compared to other places up North, it would be "conservative." The liturgy is pretty traditional, from the book. There's a strong pro-life message, but also social justice. The congregation is pretty diverse. Of course, I'd like to see us as the just perfect; for sure there are blind spots.

What really gets me is just how people will try and peg you down, try and fit you into a box, judge you, label you, based on some perceived "position." You should see the eyebrows in some circles when I mention "Paulists" Ha!

Personally, I really wish we could talk about these things without the liberal/conservative division. They're handy labels, but, really, too narrow.

St. Paul's words are so appropriate: "I belong to Paul, or I belong to Apollos or I belong to Kephas or I belong to Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1:12-13).

11:43 PM  
Blogger Gashwin said...

[Whoops: meant to say "Of course I'd like for us to see ourselves as just the perfect parish; for sure there are blind spots.]

11:44 PM  
Blogger angelmeg said...

Gashwin, we know you mean practically perfect in every way, just like Mary Poppins.


11:37 AM  

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