The “everyday lives of many American Catholics are no longer particularly distinctive from the everyday lives of members of other faiths, Kim Daniels writes. “And so non-Catholics can be forgiven for reducing our faith to its positions on hot-button issues, for often that’s all that seems to distinguish us from anyone else.” A “renewed and rooted Catholic culture of faith and family and friendship” can give a boost to an “exhausted culture,” Daniels contends, echoing the call for a “New Evangelization” issued by Pope John Paul II and renewed by Pope Benedict XIV in a recently convened synod in Rome.
One of the fruits of the petition’s success is a new book, Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves(Alvaré chats about it here). A chapter, “Beyond Politics: Everyday Catholic Life,” is one of Daniels’s contributions to the effort, which she talks about with NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You start your chapter with a flashback: “We’ve all been there. The block party where your neighbor sees you putting ketchup on your hamburger and decides this is the time to ask you why Catholics won’t let women be priests.” Whatever do you say?
KIM DANIELS: Moments like this are great everyday opportunities to witness to one’s faith, and the only appropriate response is to meet people where they are and appeal to the positive intention behind their question. In this instance, your neighbor values women’s equality, a value rooted in the Christian idea of the equal dignity of all before God. You point that out, and recognize that like other social institutions, the Church has often failed to live up to this ideal. But you also point out that women have held prominent, unprecedented roles in the Church from its earliest days, through the middle ages when Catholic abbesses led large communities and presided over vast tracts of land, and still do today; Blessed John Paul II made “new feminism” — recognizing the unique gifts of the feminine — a focus of his pontificate, and Pope Benedict just named St. Hildegard of Bingen a Doctor of the Church. Yet, though some of Jesus’ closest followers were women, He chose only men as his apostles, and the Church is bound by that choice. And while the ministerial priesthood — in which the priest stands in the person of Christ — is limited to men, all of us are called to the common priesthood, a life of love and service to others. After that, you get your hamburger and chips and move on. Your neighbor will remember less about what you say than how you say it, and these exchanges aren’t about winning debates, but witnessing to your faith. The way you talk and the way you live will be much more convincing than any abstract argument.
LOPEZ: You describe culture as “shared habits and understandings and affections rooted in a particular place.” Do we have any of those anymore? Is this an understanding of culture that suggests life should be lived in self-selected ghettos? Should we pull back from the larger culture?
DANIELS: It’s true that for a host of complicated reasons such cultures are less common in America today. But that’s our challenge: to build robust, rooted local cultures in ways that fit our time and place; to weave joy and love into the particular circumstances of our everyday lives. Renewing this kind of culture from the ground up — family to family, friend to friend, enriching parishes and neighborhoods one by one — isn’t something routine or secondary; it’s the most important task Catholics face.
This doesn’t mean retreating from the larger culture; far from it. Pope Benedict speaks of Catholics forming a “creative minority” in society, engaging the wider culture without embracing it. This means countering its values with our own: countering materialism with simplicity, transience with rootedness, and coarseness with self-giving love. It means living lives that witness to our faith.
LOPEZ: You recognize that Christians in other times and places have faced cultures much more hostile than ours. Then why are Catholic bishops complaining about religious liberty being under threat?
DANIELS: It’s certainly true that other cultures are more hostile to religious liberty than our own; witness recent events in China, Nigeria, and the Middle East. But we shouldn’t conclude that religious liberty isn’t under threat here just because our churches aren’t being burned to the ground; hopefully our baseline standard is higher than that. Christians suffering persecution around the world look to America’s tradition of religious liberty with gratitude and hope, and we have a responsibility to preserve it.
It’s not just the bishops who are concerned about the erosion of religious liberty, but Catholics involved in our networks of schools, hospitals, and social-service organizations, not to mention Catholic laypeople generally. Thousands across the country have rallied for religious liberty, and Catholic organizations large and small have asked the courts to protect their freedom to serve others consistent with their faith. And we’re joined by Evangelical, Baptist, and Jewish fellow citizens concerned about the erosion of religious liberty — some have been directly affected already while others are vigilant as they look at where it may lead.
The HHS mandate was a tipping point. By requiring almost all employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, certain abortion-causing drugs, and sterilizations even if doing so violates their religious beliefs, it violated the long-standing bipartisan consensus in favor of a robust conception of religious liberty. It’s also awakened many to other erosions of religious freedom: Catholic adoption agencies being forced to close their doors because they want to place children in ways that are consistent with their faith; legislative efforts that would restrict the services of those who assist undocumented immigrants; and the loss of grant money by a leading provider of services to victims of human trafficking because it didn’t provide abortion and contraception. We can no longer take religious liberty for granted.