New Sherwood

The Case for Catholic Resettlement

This is an essay I wrote in 2004 for my first blog, El Camino Real, which is no longer online. I am posting it here for archiving purposes.

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village-street

The liturgical, theological, and moral collapse within American Catholicism is much discussed and well documented in orthodox circles. There is widespread recognition that a crisis exists, even if there seems to be very little agreement as to its cause or cure. Various groups and associations have been formed with their own unique solutions, and some of them have done productive and excellent work indeed.

Yet there exists today another crisis in the Church that is barely discussed or examined at all: the crisis of community. The falling-away of many Catholics after the Second Vatican Council was tragic not only for the souls who left the Faith, but also for the souls who were left behind. Catholics who once depended upon their relatives, neighbors, and friends for social support and religious solidarity found themselves left alone in the cold. Of those who stubbornly remained with the Church, perhaps a majority were led to embrace the liturgical revolution and the new theologies. Orthodox, tradition-minded Catholics became outcasts in their own communities almost overnight. As a result of this disruption many of the faithful must look outside of their parishes and neighborhoods for solidarity. EWTN, Catholic Radio, and orthodox periodicals are primarily supported and enjoyed by Catholics who do not know each other.

For the fortunate few, non-geographical movements and religious orders have replaced the local parish as sources of orthodox teaching and example. Some find that the internet is the only place where intelligent discussion can be had with those who share a zeal for Christ and His Church. Others discover that they have more in common with their Protestant neighbors than with the modernist, dissenting Catholics in their local parish, and so they become susceptible to a kind of “conservative” indifferentism. Still others, in their extreme isolation, become vulnerable to the influence of sedevacantists and various schismatic sects.

The irony is that the destruction of Catholic community is due, in part, to the replacement of the old God-centered and vertical orientation with a new community-centered and horizontal orientation as pertaining to liturgy and parish life. Beware the law of unintended consequences! Authentic Christian community presupposes the absolute primacy of God and Church and never results when community is its own raison d’etre.

The Family

The crisis of community presents a serious problem for the Catholic family. The training and nurture of Catholic children – if it is to be effective – requires the long term influence and reinforcement of other Catholic personalities. Raising orthodox Catholic children alone in a sea of secularists, modernists, and Protestants is a recipe for confusion and alienation. Furthermore, it is essential for the health of Catholic marriages that spouses maintain friendships with members of the same sex who are strong in the Faith. The tragic absence of community, the decline of the extended family, and the contemporary demise of same sex friendship has resulted in enormous pressure for husbands and wives to fulfill each other’s every social need. Such unrealistic expectations have undoubtedly resulted in many failed marriages.

The Public Square

Although the United States was never a Catholic nation, there have long been regions, cities, and neighborhoods in our country with a strongly Catholic flavor. The influence of Catholicism in such places was strong enough to be taken seriously even by non-Catholics. Great cities like Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and San Francisco once had sizable Catholic populations which not only gave these cities a unique cultural flavor, but also provided a political and moral bulwark that could not be ignored. Things weren’t perfect – there was never an American Catholic Shangri-la – but the Church and her faithful members were not politically and culturally marginalized as they are today.

The concentration of numbers is also important from a purely missionary and evangelical perspective. It is true that individual Catholics can live holy lives and perform good works wherever they find themselves – even when isolated in non-Catholic communities. However, their non-Catholic neighbors may not ascribe their virtues to their religion unless there are other corroborating examples. The greater the numbers, the better and more effective the witness. The fact is that the Church cannot influence the culture unless there are strong geographical concentrations of committed and faithful Catholics. Such concentrations no longer exist in America on a meaningful scale.

Economics

As the world becomes increasingly hostile to Christian values, it will become more and more difficult for Catholics to work for the businesses and corporations that dominate the mainstream economy. It is therefore necessary to create an alternate economy, a network of small Catholic businesses that can employ those who are no longer willing to compromise with the emerging Leviathan, and who can conduct business beneath the radar of corporate HR departments. In order for such businesses to survive, they will need patrons and employees who live in the same area: i.e., they will need the support of large, local Catholic communities.

Stability and Culture

Culture takes time. In order for a genuine culture to develop, like-minded people must live together in one place for at least several generations. By “like-minded”, we do not mean a rigid uniformity, but a commitment to first principles, such as those supplied by the Catholic Church. By “together in one place”, we do not mean a tightly controlled commune or a fortress, but merely a region or neighborhood where there is regular and sustained interaction among the people who live there.

Culture building requires that most people inculcate a love for their region, city, or neighborhood – a loyalty to one’s home and extended family. Catholic culture is all but destroyed in our land because these things have all been lost. Those who do live together are not like-minded; those who are like-minded do not live together; and those who are like-minded and do happen to live together are not usually Catholic. We are faced, then, with the irony that rebuilding a stable Catholic culture – if it is to be done at all — will require the uprooting and resettlement of vast numbers of people. We are starting over.

What are the options?

There has long been an impulse in Christianity that favors living apart from the ungodly influences of the world. Towards that end the Church has blessed a surprising variety of communal expressions, ranging from monasticism to enclosed missionary villages. In the modern West there have been numerous attempts to create small Catholic villages based on the ideals of distributism and the teachings of papal encyclicals. However, due to extreme economic hardship and a peculiar susceptibility to personality cults, these ventures have not met with much success. More recently we have heard about a group of Protestants who want to create a Christian State in South Carolina, and a group of Libertarians who want to create a Free State in New Hampshire, but they have their mind too much on politics.

We are not proposing anything as radical or ambitious as the above. Our current economic system is a cruel master, and most forty-year old suburban insurance salesmen and business attorneys are not going to uproot their families to start over somewhere as the village butcher – even if they should. Catholic resettlement, if it is going to be anything other than a fringe movement, will have to consider modern cities with a viable economic base. Most importantly, the rebuilding of Catholic community must take place around existing orthodox parishes, and these are primarily in the cities.

To this writer, the most attractive model is that of identifying an existing community for Catholic colonization. It is critical that such a place be home to an established center of orthodox Catholic life, preferably an apostolate served by one of the traditional orders. The city should have a population between 5,000 and 50,000 people: small enough to be lovable, but large enough to make gainful employment realistic. A smaller town might be considered if located near a city with decent employment opportunities. Affordable rural acreage should be available within a short commute. One might live anywhere within a city of this size and still be no more than ten minutes away from any other place or person in town. Moreover, the cultural and political impact of, let us say, five thousand new Catholics will be far more significant in a city of 25,000 than a city of 500,000.

Another model is that of resettling specific neighborhoods around orthodox parishes in existing major cities. This seems less exciting with respect to influencing politics and the surrounding culture, but it would substantially improve community life and might eventually have a much larger impact. Daily Mass would be accessible to all. Homeschooling families and Catholic businesses would have the local support they need. The goal should be to find employment and to start new businesses in close proximity to the parish, slashing commute time and increasing time available for family, friends, and religion.

The colonization project would need a small group of pioneering families, a newsletter or website for publicity, and perhaps a relocation fund to help lower-income families with expenses. Every good thing starts small. Grandiose plans usually involve grandiose egos that eventually destroy what they sought to create. Yet it remains true that something must be done if any remnant of Christendom is going to survive the present barbarian assaults. Is this task for you? The important work of preservation will be carried out by ordinary Catholics who realize that they are not called to live as radical individualists, but as servants of Christ and members of His Mystical Body in the world. And who knows? In the process, we could witness the rebirth of Catholic civilization right here in the United States, in our own lifetimes.

August 28, 2013 - Posted by | Catholicism, Culture

10 Comments »

  1. Excellent essay. As I move towards entering the Church, one temptation that pulls me away from the Church is the desire for community with like-minded people. It seems there’s nothing but lukewarm N.O. parishes around here and that’s true in many places I think.

    By contrast, there seem to be communities of serious, conservative evangelicals (Reformed Baptist mostly) wherever we have lived. We have always lived in the South so that’s part of it I suppose. But they’re strong in parts of the Midwest and West too. Such a thing certainly shouldn’t influence my decision to enter the Church yet we need community and fellowship with like-minded people. And I worry about who my children will marry in a decade or two. Sometimes I’m tempted to go down to the local conservative Baptist church and never look back. I feel like I could rationalize a middle position between Catholicism and the evangelical religion that could allow me to be reasonably comfortable among the evangelicals and I’d just keep my mouth shut where I disagree.

    I have not given into this temptation and my wife’s consistently favorable bias towards Catholicism (and her consistently negative view of the evangelical approach) has certainly helped me avoid giving in to this temptation.

    As Christians, our family has been in the conservative remnants of the mainline protestant churches (Lutheran then Anglican) since 2007. They, however, have even less potential for community than Catholics do. So from a community and future-of-my-children standpoint, I feel that I’m being drawn to one of the two polar opposite faiths (Catholicism / Baptist-Evangelical). When I read apologetics, the Catholics always win my mind.

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    Comment by Bruce | August 28, 2013 | Reply

  2. Your thought trends with Kevin Ford’s and the New Catholic Land Movement. I like your pragmatic approach and agree with it. One possibility is eastern Tulsa, which is near the Benedictines of Clear Creek.

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    Comment by Devin Rose | August 28, 2013 | Reply

  3. Bruce, thanks for the comment. I think the evangelicals definitely have a “hook” in the ways you mention, and in some places those communities endure for a generation or two. But I don’t have the sense that evangelicals know how to build a culture or a civilization that is more than bible-believing tacked on to whatever else is happening now. I’m looking forward to that “we’re Catholic now” email in the future!

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    Comment by Blogmaster | August 28, 2013 | Reply

    • Coming soon, I hope! She mentioned getting the kids back to Church this past weekend.

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      Comment by Bruce | August 28, 2013 | Reply

  4. Devin, I too have been thinking that the Tulsa diocese has a good head start. Decent economy and jobs, FSSP, Clear Creek Benedictines, conservative pro-life and pro-family state, both city and country settlement opportunities, etc. But Tulsa itself is pretty liberal, and there is a growing and dangerous underclass in that state. Which is true everywhere, I suppose.

    Have you been there?

    I’m hoping to make a retreat with my oldest son at Clear Creek in the near future.

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    Comment by Blogmaster | August 28, 2013 | Reply

    • Jeff, thanks for your response. I have not yet been there. We almost moved there about a year ago, but (relevant to your post) we could not get near enough to the Benedictines and still retain my job as a software developer. They are pretty far east of Tulsa, a good hour+ drive and are in a very rural area. So we just support them with donations. We invited them to come to the Austin diocese next, but they responded that they have years and years before hitting the limit of monks in their current monastery.

      We were wary of Tulsa’s crime and had friends who lived there to help us navigate where we would live. In any case we were planning on living a half-hour east in the country to split the difference between the city and the monastery.

      God bless you and guide you!
      Devin

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      Comment by Devin Rose | August 28, 2013 | Reply

      • Devin, how about settling near the FSSP parish in Berryhill (west Tulsa) – I understand that it’s semi-rural – and visiting the Benedictines regularly?

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        Comment by Blogmaster | August 28, 2013

      • That would be a good option, too. As it is now, we have thrown out lot into central Texas, and are hoping to invite a traditional religious order to the diocese, as well as inviting friends to come and live out near us. I think in general it is better to find some group/order/people already “doing it,” but in our case we had compelling factors for us to move (back) to the Austin area.

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        Comment by Devin Rose | August 28, 2013

  5. Devin, I understand completely, and am still holding out for something similar to happen here in far northern CA. But I have to admit: we are hoping, to be sure, but not holding our breath. God bless your efforts in central Texas. I’ve met more than a handful of fed-up Californians who wanted to move to Texas in the past few years. However – I’ll be honest – from what I hear Austin makes northern CA look downright conservative!

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    Comment by Blogmaster | August 29, 2013 | Reply

  6. As the world becomes increasingly hostile to Christian values, it will become more and more difficult for Catholics to work for the businesses and corporations that dominate the mainstream economy.

    I have a category on my blog called Modern Test Acts that follows news demonstrating how same-sex “marriage” is going to cause something similar to England’s Test Acts of the 1600’s where anyone who wanted to hold a public office higher than Town Dog Catcher had to swear an oath denying transubstantiation. This I think will start with corporations and their “mission statements”.

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    Comment by Scott W. | August 30, 2013 | Reply


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