One Humdrum Catholic & Apostolic Church?

September 1998By Marian E. Crowe

Marian E. Crowe is Adjunct Professor in the Freshman Writing Program at the University of Notre Dame.

G. K. Chesterton, who came to Catholicism in the early 20th century, claimed that there is “nothing so perilous or exciting” as orthodoxy, for orthodoxy is “sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad.” I envy Chesterton those vivid feelings, for my own feeling about Catholic life today is that it is bland and blurry.

Why do I feel disoriented in the postconciliar Church? Why do I remember fondly those corny books about the “Masterful Monk” that I loved as a teenager? Why exactly do I feel some queasiness at the enthusiastic assertion that “We are Church! We are the people of God!”?

My situation as a Catholic feels uncomfortably like my predicament as a teacher of writing. Freshmen now enter college with the lowest level of writing skill and scantiest knowledge of grammar and syntax in living memory. Yet this is the moment when “peer evaluation” is universally prescribed. As evaluators of one another’s writing, the students can rarely go beyond “Pretty good” or “Kinda boring,” and I have not found that students are helped to become good writers by being encouraged to assert prematurely, “We are writers! We are the people who write!”

As I puzzle over my introductory course in writing, so I puzzle over the introductory sacrament of Catholicism, Baptism. Just when Catholics are less sure than ever what Baptism means and what change it effects, especially in infants, we are featuring baptismal fonts the size of wading pools in our churches, and baptisms are celebrated with the congregation during Sunday Mass. The old way, with the baptismal font off in an alcove and the baptism a private ceremony for family and friends, was all wrong, liturgists tell us. But though the form is now communitarian and possibly more “correct,” is it helping us to know better what Baptism really means?

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