Sunday, March 14, 2010


It is hard not to notice that among Catholics nowadays there are so many labels; it is easy to get lost in it all. People are called many things: rad-trads, traditionalists, neo-caths, charismatics, converts, reverts, liberals, etc. It was not always this way. When I was a child, there were just Catholics, no other labels, except for those who belonged to the clergy or a religious order. There were Catholics and non-Catholics. All the Catholics that I knew went to church; there were no fallen away Catholics in my little girl life, although I have no doubt they were out there.

How things have changed. Now every other person in my extended family is fallen away. Now every practicing Catholic I know has a label. It began in the seventies with the charismatic movement. People who were charismatic were called "born again" or "in the Spirit." Since my parents were in the charismatic movement we naturally saw those who had been "baptized in the Spirit" as being more authentically Christian than the cranky old-timers still kneeling in the pews, telling their beads.

I remember being upset that I had never been "born again" in the Spirit— no gift of tongues...or anything. I was upset by this until realizing I had indeed received the Holy Spirit at my Confirmation and that a person could be filled with the Holy Spirit without gesticulating, fainting on the ground, or speaking in an ancient, unknown language. As a result, I began to receive the sacraments more often. I joined the Secular Carmelites.

I remember visiting the Carmelite nuns for the first time, and announcing that I was a "conservative Catholic." One of the sisters, still a good friend of mine, said, "No, you're not. You're just a Catholic." Just a Catholic. I still see myself that way, although the fact that I love the Pope, prefer the Latin Mass, and admire Marie-Antoinette (even though she was not a registered Republican), gets me slapped with all kinds of labels from time to time.

For instance, last week I had an interesting exchange with some local Catholics during which, in order to make my point, I quoted from canon law and some other documents on the Vatican website. As a response I received Scripture verses like shots from a gun, verses that had little connection with the topic at hand. The person, knowing little or nothing about me, just assumed that I was one of those people, the type that clings to Latin and the Pope, and therefore I needed to be enlightened about the true Word of God. He does not know that my formerly Protestant mother had me memorizing Bible verses as a child and, yes, the Bible is still something I read. Often.

How quick and how easy it is to judge people about whom we know little or nothing, making rash assumptions based upon a tiny bit of information. The older I get the more I tremble to think I have done the same thing in the past. May God forgive me.

This is the big problem with having so many labels. When we label someone, we make presumptions about them that may or may not be true. We put them in a box. We put an end to the conversation, if we even allowed a conversation to begin. We close ourselves up in little cliques, making the Catholic ghetto a dense and confusing labyrinth. I have no idea how the church will ever be restored to genuine unity with so many labels and so much name-calling. Only God Himself can lead us out of this dark tunnel. For our part, it would help if we stopped rushing to judgment. Even when we know someone very well it is dangerous to pass judgment; it is even more foolish when we do not know someone at all. Share


MadMonarchist said...

I sympathize. Your sentiments remind me of the words of the late actor Ricardo Montalban who said there is no such thing as a "good Catholic" or a "bad Catholic" -you're either a Catholic or you are not and it's as simple as that. I find it frustrating but I am helped in being simply 'a Catholic' by the fact that no group with a label would have me!

Mystica said...

Being a Catholic myself this was an "enlightening" post in the best sense of the word. Thank you.

R J said...

Very good comments!

Julygirl said...

Good to hear you express yourself on this subject. Categorizing, cataloguing, labeling, seems to be something inherent in humans. Even dogs sniff things out and make a decision.....and if the label one gives to another somehow makes one feel superior, all the better. That is why in "The Imitation of Christ" writings so much is said about the natural man vs the spiritual man. In my 'Pilgrims Progress' I have observed that there are some people who just 'love one another' regardless, and do not use it to paint a halo over their heads.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, everyone. Yes, Julygirl, it is human nature to label things. Of course, "convert" is a genuine appellation which has been used forever, and unlike the ugly, mocking term of "rad-trad" it does fulfill a purpose. I just think we should not use such phrases, legitimate or not, to make up our minds about individuals we hardly know.

Julygirl said...

I titally agree with you and I know and understand what you are saying, and it needs to be said and often. I am sure someone has compiled how frequently Jesus taught and spoke out about this very thing, and that it was probably more than on any other subject.

tubbs said...

Excellent insight, EM!

Anonymous said...


You are one of the finest examples of a true follower of the Faith that I know. Anywhere. Online and offline.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Tubbs.

Georgette, you are too kind and if that is true, then it takes one to know one.

Brantigny said...

If my catholicity should ever be defined I should prefer the term orthodox, small o.

I am Christian, not a "Christian Catholic", as if there were more than one kind. There was a time when they were synonymous. No longer I am afraid.

The question in legal terms is, "If a grand jury was in session, and I sat accused of being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to bring me to trial?"


Alexandra said...

And somewhere in the catechism it reads that ritual is ornamentation for activity. We are not just focusing on ritual alone. It is proper, but not an means to an a wedding - there is ritual, but it would be improper to focus on this.

As Catholics we use ritual as an avenue of the expression of our faith in God. God first, ritual second. Catholics are Catholics, despite our leanings within the framework of good standing.

This is a great post, and you are so right! To take pride in ritual and hold it over others(as unrighteous judgment) is a sin, and misses the point.