Catholicism and the american Dream
At this year’s Meeting in Rimini, freedom was the central theme, and included a presentation on Catholicism and the American Dream with Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Msgr. Albacete, Responsible for the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation in North America. Two Catholic contributions to the American quest for freedom today
by Lorenzo Albacete
From the first moments of United States history, Catholic identity has been accused of being incompatible with the American Dream. The main attack against Catholicism fought its cultural consequences rather than its doctrines. Catholicism was accused of disregarding individual autonomy, and thus was considered a risk to political liberty (individual rights), material prosperity (individual economic activity in the free market), and intellectual progress (freedom of thought and individual right to dissent).
While today’s cultural context is changed, the accusation persists. Today’s anti-Catholicism originates in that “dictatorship of relativism” mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI. In a recent Traces interview, Professor David Schindler addressed the contribution American Catholics can make to the American Dream in light of this challenge. “The problem in America,” observes Schindler, “is that we embody perhaps the purest form of the view that something is true because and insofar as it is made [by us]… The great question, then, is whether America’s moral energy can be transformed sufficiently in and through recuperation of the religious sense in all of its ecclesiological and ontological dimensions. Again, the problem of relativism in America is ultimately a problem of the religious sense, rightly understood. And here we need to understand that the issue as it pertains to America is not so much the absence of religion as the absence of a religion formed in the Virgin and in sacrament.”
It is a matter of understanding how the ultimate questions about human life arise. Everything begins with the original look with which we respond to the impact with reality. Without a simplicity of heart that imposes no pre-conditions on what exists, reality cannot be perceived in its fullness. This is what is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose look upon reality is the pure expression of our humanity as God originally created it. One of the most moving descriptions of Mary’s simplicity of heart and look is found in The Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos: “The eyes of Our Lady are the only real child-eyes that have ever been raised to our shame and sorrow… they are eyes of gentle pity, wondering sadness, and with something more in them, never yet known or expressed, something that makes her younger than sin, younger than the race from which she sprang, and though a mother by grace, mother of all graces, our little youngest sister.” Mary’s look on reality is entirely free from ideology. Therefore, the Christianity that separates the Church from Mary does not have the strength to protect the quest for freedom from ideology.
This recovery of freedom always implies that memory, the invocation of Christ, is constituted within a relationship with a fleshly reality. St. Augustine says that the greatest mistake we can make is to follow Christ only for the example He gives, of thinking we are Christians because we follow the example of Christ. Rather, we must follow Christ Himself, His person. But Christ must be encountered in a carnal reality. This is the mystery of the sacraments: carnal events that allow a fleshly encounter with the humanity of Christ.
Mary and the sacramental life: this is the way, the method, which the Catholic presence brings to Christian support of the promotion of freedom, giving to life a Marian and sacramental form, so to speak, leading to a Marian way of looking at reality.
This is the Catholic contribution today to the American quest for freedom.