Catholic, on Our Own Terms

Joanne Bray, the International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics, led an excellent workshop for our constituency, in England, in March of this year. The participants came from ten or more countries and with very different experiences of being Catholic—the most obvious from living in a predominantly Protestant country, like South Africa, the United States, or England; in a predominantly Catholic country, like Chile, Mexico, or Italy; or in a country divided by religion, such as Northern Ireland, Germany, or the Netherlands.

We were encouraged to discharge on everything associated with being Catholic—based on our experience of external or internalized oppression within our country of origin—while looking at the Catholic identity. We were encouraged to re-evaluate and claim, or reject, everything on our own terms, with our own minds. This included the word “Catholic” and any and all of the divisions amongst us—especially the divisions between those of us who are not (or never were) observant and those of us who are “practicing.”

On Sunday morning Joanne talked about how a fourth-century emperor wanted to unite, for his own political purposes, an empire that had been divided for centuries into factions based on religious beliefs. To do this he called together a group consisting exclusively of males (who were not discharging) to define beliefs in a short creed. This creed meant an end to dissension, be it religious or political. It meant “One Empire, One Emperor, One God.” Eventually it meant that religion was backed by the power of the state to persecute those seen as “heretics” within the new alliance. This installed, for centuries to come, recordings of fear and submission surrounding what defined “Catholic.” It also eventually initiated a separation and persecution of Jews, who became seen as “other.”

Given this history, we were encouraged to discharge, to appreciate everything we valued from our culture and religion, and to take a fresh look at early memories of what we’d held as sacred, including all rules, prayers, creeds, structures, and authorities. We were to take the time to actually “own” our minds and what we believed or did not believe, to strip them of fear and submission recordings. Joanne used herself as an example and said, “I am never more of a practicing Catholic than when I am leading in RC! This is when I use my mind and leave no one behind.”

We can separate distress recordings from our culture and beliefs (about life, meaning, spirituality, the nature of human beings), just as we separate the human being from the distress pattern. It is premature to say that we have a view of a rational religion (one guided by intelligence versus old feelings). That would be like saying we have a picture of rational sex. Given the ancient confusions we’ve each inherited, we have a body of work to do before we can say we have a picture of a religion free of distress. At the same time, we can look for ideas from our culture, tradition, religion that are consistent with RC. One example is a quote from a second-century theologian: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Is this an idea we can hold on to that is parallel to RC? Is it something we recognize as expressing human intelligence? Are there other “diamonds” amidst the confusions?

At the workshop we worked on four things:

Insignificance. How can we use the contradiction (to distress) that we belong to a group of 1.2 billion people—most of whom are colonized people from the global south, many of whom are People of the Global Majority? Can we require our allies to remember this important fact? Can we remember that each and every one of us matters—as an individual and as part of a people—and that no one gets left behind as “insignificant”? We are each significant.

Identity. In sessions we can use the phrase “I am a Catholic” to discharge and flexibly claim the identity, or we can discharge on “I’m not a Catholic; I’m a human being.“ This discharge work is not the same as requiring a person to go to church or to claim a set of beliefs. Rather it is to dissolve the internalised oppression and to begin the work on oppressor recordings.

Isolation. Working consistently on identity will help us end the separations among us as Catholics. Our unity is very important now. We need to be a cohesive force for good, given what we Catholics understand about social justice, all-for-one-and-one-for-all, and not leaving anyone behind.

Invisibility. As a contradiction to the invisibility of Catholic social-justice activists, there was an entire wall at the workshop filled with photographs and short biographies of women and men who have been models of courage and integrity as Catholics, who have stood against oppression and changed the world in liberating ways.

Roslyn Cassidy

Johannesburg, South Africa

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Catholics

(Present Time 185, October 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00