American Catholic or Catholic American?

Here’s something to decide on:
Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things, spoke at the event on “Why I Am Not an American Catholic.”

Father Neuhaus told ZENIT: "Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a fevered concern about what it means to be an American Catholic.

"I suggest that is the wrong way of putting the question. Our commitment is to be not American Catholics but Catholic Americans. The adjective controls.

“Do we define being ‘Catholic’ to fit ‘American,’ or do we define ‘American’ by ‘Catholic’?”

“Put differently,” the priest explained, “are we Catholics in a peculiarly American way or Americans in a distinctively Catholic way? Of course both are true, but the accent is on the latter.”

“The future of Catholic witness in American life lies with those who are clearly and vibrantly Catholic Americans,” Father Neuhaus said.

Which leads us to the question:
Does it or doesn’t it matter in CAF?

The crux of your post seems to pose the question, what is the difference between being American and being Catholic? I think that American society is increasingly devoted to the obtaining of material goods, the things of this world, i.e., “stuff”, as opposed to love of God and love of neighbor. American society is often condemned for being materialistic, but any society not focused on the love of God is materialistic, wether that society is capitalist or otherwise. These days though American society is more and more devoted to the things of this world and an overriding sense of selfishness or egocentrism, i.e., me-ism.

The distinction between being an American Catholic or a Catholic American seems to be a much bigger issue now than it was back in the earlier part of this century. Many people, myself included, see earlier times (when we were growing up, for instance) as less materialistic, more spiritual. The difference is that in earlier times the focus was on obtaining basic goods and services, adequate housing, food, clothing, etc. today the focus is to obtain the 4,000 sq. ft. house with home theatre, exercise room, in-ground pool, mercedes, etc. This type of materialism is more akin to avarice; very close to worshiping the things of this world. And it is very wide spread in our current American society.

As Catholics we walk in the same world. Most of us were raised to get a better education so we could earn a higher standard of living than our parents. A lot of us were succesful, but some of us weren’t. Either way, being a Catholic American to me means loving God above all things and my neighbor like myself. The second part is very difficult for me.

Your observations are the common denominator for baby-boomers, to which many of us probably belong. Back then it was relatively direct and simple. Now, we are faced with dilemmas like same sex marriage, HIV, abortion, etc., while trying to keep up with the latest Bimmers and i-pods, all in line with the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as enshrined by Jefferson. Nothing wrong with that but not “what about one’s soul?”. Ours has become a society much like the proverbial rich man who in the process lost his soul. Sad as it is, but nobody seems to mind.

Are you familiar with John Paul II’s statement for the World Day of Peace 2005? In it he uses the term “world citizenship.” I think that is a term that uniquely fits Catholic teaching and Catholic life. Here is a quote from that document.

The good of peace and the use of the world’s goods

  1. Since the good of peace is closely linked to the development of all peoples, the ethical requirements for the use of the earth’s goods must always be taken into account. The Second Vatican Council rightly recalled that “God intended the earth and all it contains for the use of everyone and of all peoples; so that the good things of creation should be available equally to all, with justice as guide and charity in attendance”(10).

As a member of the human family, each person becomes as it were a citizen of the world, with consequent duties and rights, since all human beings are united by a common origin and the same supreme destiny. By the mere fact of being conceived, a child is entitled to rights and deserving of care and attention; and someone has the duty to provide these. The condemnation of racism, the protection of minors, the provision of aid to displaced persons and refugees, and the mobilization of international solidarity towards all the needy are nothing other than consistent applications of the principle of world citizenship.

Here is a link to the entire statement.

I think of myself as a Catholic first. Everything else second. In other words, the “Catholic” doesn’t just come before materialism and political affiliations. It comes before everything. Absolutely everything. If there is any conflict between my faith and my duties as an American, my faith comes first. Period. No reservations.

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