Having traveled in Europe during the past year, I am struck again and again by the lack of Catholic identity among families. Obviously, there are exceptions, such as the families of children which attend the Latin Mass on Sunday in two locations where I have been in Ireland. But, the lack of Catholic identity is a hole in the spirit which seems to be filled with another identity, which is not even European.
It is as if Europeans do not want to be Europeans. The youth wear clothes which look like any styles popular in any large city in the States. The most common tee-shirt, and I am not kidding, which seems popular, besides those with band logos, is the Che Guevara tee-shirt. I wish I had a euro for every time I have seen a young man or woman with a Che shirt. I wonder if these young people have actually read his biography, which I have.
The lack of identity is not merely superficial. It reflects the death of the soul of Europe and, indeed, the national identity of many nations. Language is not the only mark of national identity. But, there is an insidious, slow, chipping away of the family, wherein customs, habits, consciousness of person-hood develop. One notices even in small towns the lack of identity-partly because of the EU regulations which allow all EU nationalities to go and live in other countries and work, creating a pan-European identity. This pan-European identity seems chic, but it has a downside. This identity is not based on the Catholic Faith. Two young Catholic men-each from two different European countries, told me recently that they have no one with whom to discuss the Faith in their communities. They rely on the Internet Catholic connections and blogs, which seem to be more important than one realizes at first.
For those of us who grew up with Fulton J. Sheen, for example, using the media for an encouragement of our Faith is not a new phenomenon. Resources such as the Catholic Encyclopedia online and other such study guides, including the Vatican website and other websites with the Encyclicals and teachings of the Church provide great sources of information-solid and true.
To be an adult Catholic, one must study the Faith. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman's famous quotation comes to mind: An ignorant Catholic is a Protestant. Fulton J. Sheen repeated that truism. And, history shows us that the Catholic Church has always used the media of the day-letters, bulls, documents, etc. to pass on the Faith. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, for example, was widely published, as were pamphlets, such as St. Edmund Campion's tract on Catholicism- his "brag". Using the media of the day marks Catholicism. With the lack of Irish or Maltese identity, or Portuguese or Spanish, comes the lack of a Catholic identity. The Churches are full in Malta, Ireland and elsewhere, but the average Mass attender is older than I am, which is old.
The children from the Catholic schools do not attend daily Mass anywhere that I have seen, coming occasionally. This seems odd to me, as someone who grew up going to Catholic schools where daily Mass attendance was normal. In the States, I am familiar with many NAPCIS schools which have daily Mass, either joining the parish Mass, or having their own, if the schools are fortunate enough to have a chaplain.
The town where I am now literally is full of unemployed men in their twenties. They could be going to daily Mass, which would help them in many ways, I am sure. They lack the center of their being-their Catholic Faith, and the identity which would help them through life to become the person God created them to be.
The virtual Catholic community is an important resource for young people and the not-so-young. That we can share ideas and ideals gives many the identity and strength needed. Obviously, Catholic identity must be internalized and that is the job of the Catholic adult. But, until that happens, and perhaps even after that identity is solid and true, the Catholic virtual community remains essential.