The following is cobbled together from discussions with close friends about Catholic things. I have tried to give it a coherent, essay-like framework, but it will read like the incoherent spitballing it is:
I am in a spiritual stasis right now--not decaying, but not moving much toward sanctity either. The daily rosary has survived my periods of sullen reluctance (last night being a new low in that regard), Sunday is still obligatory and I find my way to the confessional.
But my pessimism regarding the Church and the daily-less-recognizable land of my birth simmers as two eternal burners of low-grade despair. The latter I will save for another time, but rest assured--it's bleak.
As to the former, I am trying to assess the following question:
What is Catholicism?
Near as I can see, Catholicism as seen on the ground, is a collective culture of spiritual affirmation. A Catholic can find a sympathetic ear/pat on the shoulder for almost whatever one chooses (or not) to believe and however one chooses (or not) to act.
I already hear the hackles raising about how "non-inclusive" the stated teaching of the Church is on certain hot button matters. But let me assure you in no uncertain terms: the fact teachings are written down somewhere tells you nothing whatsoever about what any particular Catholic believes or acts.
Least of all from those who claim to represent or support them.
We live in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and despite some gruesome missteps on abusive priests, I think our Archbishop tries to be a decent shepherd. And he granted the traditionalist community a great gift by inviting the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest to take over a parish in downtown Detroit. Moreover, he celebrates the confirmations at the parish and Mass in the Tridentine form.
No small thing--especially in our age of official suspicion for the past and Forward! Only Forward! leadership.
As you may recall, in March 2020 the virus that originated in Wuhan hit Michigan. And the parishes were closed down. But the ICKs offered outdoor confessions, with no static from the archbishop. Then the archbishop eventually re-opened the parishes and simply asked that masking and social distancing be done by those in attendance.
Now, I report this as one who has come to loathe masks and fully believe that one can have a forthright, good-faith debate over their value. As noted previously, I've also been jabbed with the first dose of Pfizer, so you can also discount me as just another mouse living in fear, etc.
Judge away--it's what we do best.
But while one can have a good faith dispute over the value of masks, one cannot dispute that the Archbishop has the authority to require their use on archdiocesan property. To their credit, the Canons have posted a sign asking for same.
And being Trads, the gratitude and filial respect was exactly as expected:
"No masks--we're Trads!" say 95 percent of the attendees.
The most telling incident came when the archbishop celebrated confirmation in late 2020. We were there for my middle son's. My elderly parents were present, too. Mirabile dictu, almost everyone was masked. But the archbishop was busy that day, so he could not stay to celebrate Mass.
And as he exited, almost everyone present took them off--right as he walked by.
Because We're Trads, and We're All About the Authority of the Church--Except When We Decide Otherwise!
My eldest child, thinking of her grandparents, was quietly enraged and left the building. Before, she was attracted to the place, and considered it as a possible wedding site. Now-- well, I'm not going into that right now. Let's simply say that collective witness can trump Mom and Dad's, and in a very bad way. Hypocrisy is also witness, and Catholicism's cacophony of clashing authorities daily drowns out those with the best will in the world.
The "lived reality" is that you can believe and act as you like and an "authoritative" Catholic who will shrug and say it's fine. Jim Martin will be super non-judgy about your polyamorous relationship and Robert Sirico's think tank will explain why your job being shipped overseas to cheaper sweatshop/slave labor is just one of those things you have to accept for the greater economic good.
Or hyper-Catholics can figuratively flip off their shepherd as he leaves the building.
And there's nothing anyone will meaningfully do about any of it.
In Catholicism, "it's all good"--which is just another way of saying "it's really, really bad."
Yes, full spectrum Catholicism exists...in super-tiny cells, here and there. Which means that virtually every Catholic can open his eyes and find waving, bumper crop fields of hypocrisy stretching far as the eye can see.
The result of the Church opening up to the world has been to give every one of the faithful or would-be-faithful justifiable reason to resent the compromised, and increasingly politicized and polarized witness that has been the foreseeable result.
There is no Catholic witness.
Catholicism "as a lived reality" is a prime example of doublethink: we know all of this stuff is authoritatively written down somewhere, is supposed to command respect and we ourselves believe (parts) of it.
But in the very same instant we also know we do not believe it because it does not correspond to the reality we see in front of us or among those who also share the label.
We own and live both faith and infidelity. And it's making us nutso.
Of course we know the liturgy is supposed to be ancient, the pope and bishops thoughtful, authoritative guardians of the truth, the teachings of the Church consistent and all this commands the assent of the faithful.
And at the same time we know the liturgy has a tenuous connection to the past, the pope and bishops say whatever they want, thumping the pulpit with the Order of the Day as yesterday's Order of the Day is turned into memory hole ash.
Alas, the Church is not Oceania, and the briefest of searches will prove that the past can be discerned and demonstrated to be in conflict with the present.
It's at this point that I almost admire the papal positivists ever at war with Eastasia, energetically pounding together all the jagged, mismatched puzzle pieces that keep pouring forth with their rhetorical mallets, claiming to make them fit.
But only almost. Because that desperate project is also unsustainable. It is akin to an automobile recall repair using parts from an entirely different automaker--with ferocious pounding, you might get it limping along, but eventually it will break down.
Paradoxes and mysteries of revelation most can work with. Bullshit sales jobs from earnest pamphleteers are another thing entirely.
In the current environment, you can believe and behave any old way you want and still call yourself a Catholic--which renders the term meaningless. The incessant, pounding babble at the long cafeteria lines, left and right, renders the authentic call (when it can be found) inaudible. And if one considers it carefully for even a few minutes, this is repellent. It makes a mockery of the claim to be any kind of teacher or guide, let alone one who is the supposedly the custodian of truth. And it makes a mockery of calling oneself faithful, too.
Thus, I fully recognize that my "ignore Rome" mindset described below is unsustainable in the long term. I, too, am complicit in that which I decry. But I don't see an alternative, though Lord knows I wish it were otherwise.