Catholic Culture-Poetic Culture
Over the past weeks I have spent allot of time reflecting on Catholicism which is part of my culture and poetry which is also part of my culture and I am without answers and a sense of foreboding.
This has proven to be a week of reflection and tremors of fear. The election of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) has caused me to reflect on Catholic Culture and how alien this culture must seem to many poets, artists and intellectuals who view this culture as strange and threatening. I find the world of crimson and insense and the Litany of the Saints is as far from most poet's world as the world of the San Bushman.
In his masterpiece the Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton talked about wandering as a child among the ruins of monasteries in Prades France and feeling a deep bond to the stones and the culture that spawned the stones. The sense of a Catholic Culture is an alien thing especially to Americans. Americans are a new people we make our own rules and we don't listen to anyone. America is a nation built on individualism, rebellion against authority, and innovation all things that are not held as high values by the Roman Catholic Church.
Catholics in America have been the victims of profound prejudice throughout American history and this bigotry continues to this day but some of the concerns of the anti-Catholics are well founded and are part of a Catholic Culture that has different rules and different mores than the Anglo Saxon Protestant Culture of the USA. The New England anti Catholics have morphed many times into intellectual Anti Catholics but the fact is that in many 'educated' circles its is easier to be taken seriously as Hindu or Muslim than as a faithful Catholic we are strange eccentrics to many Americans.
If you travel to nations that have a profound Catholic history yu can feel the difference, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, France, the Philippines Angola these are all Catholic nations and they have profound differences but they also have profound similarities that make them different from other places. Regardless of piety or lack there of the way in which culture is manifest the way in which art is used in an iconic way the way in which rules are bent and corruption is rampant are all part of a culture that believes in a rolling sense of salvation. Could a protestant culture have produced Picasso, Rivera, Kalho, Mozart, and yes Hitler or Mussolini? Of course it is in only in our incensed halls where these characters are possible.
Catholics believe in Faith and Works, unlike Protestant cultures where you only get one chance in Catholic ones you can sin, be forgiven and sin again and kind of like a perpetual bankruptcy law all is forgiven. The result of this is a culture in which Borgia popes, St Ignatius, Richard J Daley and EJ Dionne can all co-exist in one place mostly at peace.
The fear as a Catholic and a Poet is that this unique culture may be ending with Pope Benedict XVII. What has been Catholicism's strength has been its Catholicity. We as a Church has been able to have liberals and conservatives, a fluidity and debate even John Paul II allowed some of this but Pope Benedict has called for a smaller, faithful church does this mean that there is not room for that debate anymore?
Would Pope Benedict have allowed St Francis and his companions to live the way they wanted? Or would he have suppressed them? Would Pope Benedict have allowed Giotto to revolutionize the human form in paint? Or would he have demanded that Giotto continue to paint like Cimabue? Would Pope Benedict have allowed Fr. Mendel to invent Genetics? I have my doubts and these doubts send a chill over my skin.
So with fear and faith I ask for guidance and ask questions. Are we to be the Church of St Francis, Bartolome De Las Casas, Thielhard De Chardin, Thomas Merton , Dorothy Day, Teresa of Avila, and John the XXIII or are we to be fundamentalists?
Is there room in the Church to be angry but obedient? Or just obedient?