Almost Holy: Confessions of a Bad Catholic

Turning Inside Out

As time goes on, and this column keeps evolving, I’ve found something interesting. For once, I hope I’m wrong on this one but, just in case, let me clue you in on what I’ve been thinking.

“Almost Holy” was conceived as a bridge between the ad extra (outside the church) audience of “spiritual seekers” for whom BustedHalo exists and the inside-baseball crowd who I seek to inform, entertain etc. on my blog, “Whispers in the Loggia.” In more ways than one, the chance to go beyond the cloistered comfort of insider-dom and put together some observations from the intersection of the Church and the World was a natural fit; I’ve spent most of my life at that intersection. Both the Church and the World have equally challenged, informed, formed and, when necessary, refreshed my sensibilities.

Church Gazing

By “the World,” of course, I mean the world outside the Church—the place where billions of real people exist. In particular, I think of my own generation, which a British newspaper a couple weeks back referred to as the “iPod generation.” This “iPod,” however, had nothing to do with the music player which has, in more ways than one, become emblematic of the age and culture—it was an acronym for “insecure, pressured, over-taxed, debt-ridden.” The Church doesn’t exist to serve or gaze complacently upon itself, but to look out, to go beyond its walls, and keep delivering on the mission entrusted to it by the Good Lord. I sometimes fear that this mandate falls by the wayside more than any of us would like to admit.

My evidence? Rudimentary though it is, I’ve found that when I devote a blog-post or this column to an intramural Catholic topic (e.g. women’s ordination, liturgy, anything that gets the ideological troops fired up and cannibalizing each other), my inbox brims over with lively emails. Whenever I write about things outside—the stuff that doesn’t seem churchy on its face, those things that, in reality, we need to be more embracing and cognizant of—the response is… silence. Nothing.


Well, almost—I made a recent reference to the movie Wedding Crashers on my blog and received a furious note that this flick was “soft-porn;” the writer was curious to know if I knew “anything about the commandments [or] chastity.”

When it comes to the culture in which we live, have we shut off the iPod, closed the laptop lid and put the TV on mute?

“There is an enormous world outside the Church where one song lyric on iTunes has had more impact than a hundred homilies.”

To draw an analogy that some readers might be able to relate to, I’m not the most organized person alive. I’ll let everything pile up in my bedroom, office, car, all over—until a really daunting or intimidating project is sent my way. And out of nowhere, I can be found polishing every last hidden crevice, filing everything away in beyond-meticulous order and alphabetizing the spice rack.

The splendor lasts for about three days… and then it all becomes a mess again until the next tough job comes along.

New Hymn Writers

Moral of the story: we’re doing too much alphabetizing while that tough job awaits. As a result the Church isn’t able to embrace a generation whose hymn-writers are Chris Martin and Tracy Chapman and whose liturgical texts are more Tarantino than Thomas Aquinas. At the core of it all it’s the same longing, the same search the same fulfillment.

We have to have the confidence to realize that there is an enormous world outside the Church where one song lyric on iTunes has had more impact than a hundred homilies. Keeping ourselves open to that world, cultivating it and putting it to good use isn’t a sign of weakness but an indication of the strength of the Gospel’s message. Throughout its history the Church has contributed immense cultural milestones and laid much of the groundwork for everything that’s followed but the Catholic contribution is far from a monopoly.

The emailer who chided me about Wedding Crashers didn’t appreciate that I liked it…. But at least she knew what I was talking about. And that’s a welcome start.