Institution, Shminstitution?

It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately: what is the relationship between the institutional Catholic church and my Catholicism (or anyone’s Catholic identity)? Can there be a distinction? Are the two a symbiotic relationship?  Or is it antagonistic? My lack of clarity on these questions has, recently, started to bother me.  I blog today in search of your insight.

I was recently asked to give a reference for a possible presentation at a Catholic conference.  I am a pro at giving references—I have been fortunate enough to have had a series of great bosses and wonderful coworkers.  But for this particular conference, they wanted to talk to my local bishop about me.

Um.  Until then, I wasn’t even sure what my bishop’s name is (it is, by the way Archbishop Brunett).  After some conversation, the conference folks were willing to take my local priest as the reference.

But I just moved to Shelton, Washington.  Even though I have attended Mass here a couple of times, I haven’t had a heart-to-heart with the priest.  He wouldn’t even recognize me, I bet.  And my hometown priest retired a while ago.

Young Catholics have been (and are) occasionally criticized for our lack of institutional involvement in parish life. Okay.

But I want there to be a counter.  I’m Catholic, through and through.  It is my lens, it melds my worldview, and even though it is influenced by all the other facets of my identity, it is at my core.  But I don’t go to Mass regularly, I don’t have a relationship with my bishop, and I don’t think either of those diminish my Catholicism.

My Catholicism is wrapped up in a deep joy and love of the Catholic imagination, of the deep sanctity of all life and wonder that I learned from being Catholic.  I am Catholic not only because I can be no other, but because I find a refreshing depth and life in this tradition.  Sometimes despite myself, I am in love with being Catholic.

Is this being Catholic? Can I really call myself Catholic without much more than the occasional acknowledgment of the institution? Who gets to define what Catholic identity is?

Kate Dugan is a 29-year-old Catholic living on a boat on Harstine Island. She is also the editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women & Catholicism.

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3 thoughts on “Institution, Shminstitution?

  1. This is something I struggle with constantly … you wrote, “It is my lens, it melds my worldview, and even though it is influenced by all the other facets of my identity, it is at my core.” There are times that I am so appalled by the action of the institution or its agents that I can’t even bring myself to attend my local church (and some days, ANY church in my diocese, thanks Bishop Morlino). But there’s no way I can un-Catholicize myself either – my worldview and spirituality are too Catholic for me to fully give myself over to another tradition (even though I keep trying!).

  2. Hi Kate,

    Reference point: I’m currently converting from Protestant to Catholic. Haven’t taken the plunge quite yet, but have been looking into things for a year now.

    I guess I don’t understand how it’s possible to separate a Catholic from the Catholic Church. Catholicism is more than just a group of beliefs and traditions (lower case “t”). It can’t stand without unity and brotherly love of the Body of Christ. And unity is a BIG part of it. The mass and Eucharist are a real action that we take to unify the Body, and submission to those in authority as if they are Christ is another vital part of it. It’s a natural consequence of surrender to Christ and giving up our selves and our own desires to follow Him. So considering those things, how can you do any of that without the institution?

  3. I find myself questioning this quite often as well. There are days I love and value the institution and days I want to be catholic (lowercase ‘c’ and no Roman). I am currently in a parish where many parishioners are trying to be a parish without the institution, and I find that bothersome as well. They tend to neglect a lot of wonderful aspects of the institution because they want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And on some days, I’m right there with them, but on most other days, I’m horribly frustrated with it because they want to pretend that being Catholic isn’t about us–all the people and God, but just me (or only the parish) and God. The whole us and God verses me and God is what makes me Catholic, and I cannot and will not define the us by only looking in the mirror. There are bishops I won’t agree with on much, but they are children of God too and just as prone to error as I. This is such a difficult one, Kate, so thanks for sharing your struggles too!

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