Update: Is old-school a compliment or an insult? I said insult, Sciencegirl says compliment. Sound off in the box.
When Seraphic Singles was finally in my eager little hands, I didn't bother reading the blurb on the back. I had already proof-read a blurb for the back, so I didn't think about it. But then one day, I read it and my eye fell upon this startling line:
"Dorothy's perspective is old-school Catholic, but it offers lessons for everyone."
"Old-school?" I shrieked. "Old-school?"
In my mind's eye I saw potential buyers, anyone over 45, melting away like ice-cream. I do not know who wrote that line, and I don't remember reading it in the proofs. Maybe I did read it, and that this was a bizarre backhanded swipe at the author's perspective just did not occur to me. So the fault could definitely be mine.
But who says "BUT" on an advertising blurb?
"Crest Toothpaste is old-school dentifrice, but it will clean the teeth of all."
"Pears Soap is old-school cleanser, but it is suitable for all skin types."
If there is something that makes me dance with rage, it's the idea that my Catholicism is in some way odd or stale or out of date. I was born in ninteen-seventy-one; I am a full generation younger than the hippies who wrote "Day by Day".
I sat through the Baby Boom's idea of what good post-Vatican II catechesis was, and by Grade 8 it was cutting symbols out of felt to glue on my Confirmation stole. And I was starting to panic because here was Confirmation looming up, and I knew that there had to be more to Catholicism than I had been taught. It was like not having moved past "The cat sat on the mat" in reading classes. The religious part of my brain was starving to death. I wanted a loaf of bread, and my religion teachers were giving me stones--and felt.
Fortunately, my school was half a block from the parish church, so we all went to First Friday Mass, which I suppose some would consider "old-school". I went to First Friday Mass from September to June for eight years without ever being told that there was a devotion called the Nine Fridays and that there was an indulgence attached. I thought an indulgence was cookies from my grandma or being allowed to eat candy any time between Christmas and Hallowe'en.
Some ancient visiting priest enrolled my entire class in the Brown Scapular. And all the priests at that parish were, miraculously, good solid men until my grade 8 graduation, so I heard a lot of serious, solemn homilies, many a lot more adult than ones I've heard in adult life. They might be why I am still a Catholic.
As far as I can recall, the most religious of my elementary school teachers was a Communist supply teacher who lectured us all on how fantastic the Soviet Union was and how children there were trained to excel what they were best at. She was just as stern and strongminded as our priests. Really, an awesome figure. I wonder how long she got away with going from Catholic school to Catholic school proseltyzing for the USSR.
Anyway, what I am trying to say is that there was no New School Catholicism replacing the Old School Catholicism. Yes, the school choir was taught all the new hymns (and any boy with musical talent was whisked away to the Cathedral Choir School to be taught the old good stuff) and we drew pictures of Jesus My Friend, but basically we got scraps of doctrine in pastry of puff. Scraps.
When I was studying for my M.Div., some lecturer mentioned the Baltimore Catechism, and a group of white-haired Boomers whooped with laughter and began to recite it. And I was amazed. They had the basics of the faith memorized. Memorized. Somebody had actually taught them the tough stuff, the strong meat, when they were children, and they still knew it! And, bizarrely, they thought it was funny. Old-school.
If to know and expound the teachings of the Roman Catholic Faith is old-school, then to be Catholic at all is to be old-school. There is no new-school Catholic. There was nothing Catholic to replace the whistling gaps in our religious education after Vatican II. Thomas Merton hared after Buddhism; countless others hared after Gaia. But I don't think Catholicism is old-school. I think it is true.
What is old-school, and by old-school I mean funny and out of date, is Catholicism that tries not to be Catholic. It's been over forty years since Catholic catechesis was turned upside down, inside out and divested of three-quarters of its riches. Those of us who still managed to make it to adulthood as believing Catholics are now onto that dodge. Some of us were taught the fullness of the faith, so carefully hidden from us, by converts, especially refugees from the Anglican communion, who introduced us to G.K. Chesterton and other great modern apologists.
However, I hadn't met any of these missionaries when I was writing the blog that became my book. I had had 15 years of the same Catholic school system as my lapsed Catholic Ontario peers, 5 years in a mainstream Catholic college, an early failed marriage, three years at what some say is a "liberal" theology school and one mind-shattering year at a school known as "barely Catholic" for (A) the mores of the student body (B) the beliefs held by its theological faculty. In short, I should have been as "progressive" as any assistant professor of theology at any Jesuit college in the United States which, indeed, is what I would probably be today, were I not, in fact as well as in name, a Catholic (or, to be honest, a lot tougher-minded). But I wasn't.
That said, I cannot for the life of me see what in my book anyone who regards themself as Catholic would see as out-of-date. It recognizes the existence and omnipotence of God. It assumes it is better to stay celibate than to settle for concubinage. It assumes people would prefer to marry people who agree with them about religion. It decides that, crime rates not withstanding, men are for the most part decent chaps, and some of them are mouth-wateringly tasty-looking. It sees going to Mass not only as a sacred duty and balm for the soul, but as an opportunity to meet cute single men.
I mean, come on. The author sizes up even seminarians. She doesn't reprove a pal for wanting to make out for a stranger. She even leaves open the question of birth control. My sins are scarlet; let the book be read.
Update: Do you get St. Anthony Messenger magazine? There's an interview with me in the very latest issue. Tell me if you see it.