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.