Catholic Adjective Alert

February 11, 2013 | 0 comments

It sets me on edge to hear people refer to themselves as "devout" Catholics. Adjectives modify nouns, and some nouns are sturdy enough to stand on their own.

I understand the idea, of course, of identifying oneself as firmly believing and taking the Faith seriously. But it seems to me that devout injects a note of pious self-puffery. (And don't get me started about the term "staunch Catholic." Does one's reputation as a Catholic really benefit from the added connotation of being unyielding, tough, or implacable?)

When our journalistic betters who run the mainstream media employ the term "devout Catholic," they invariably mean non-Catholics (like Mel Gibson, who belongs to a sedevacantist sect and who rejects the Second Vatican Council) or Nancy Pelosi (who rejects certain fundamental moral teachings of the Church). It's a handy way of controlling the narrative. As applied to Mel, the "devout Catholic" handle connects him with the Catholic Church like sticky goo whenever he has a rage episode (say, with the police or his ex-lover) or he gets on his hobby horse about the evils of Bl. John Paul II. Nothing wrong with a little dissent, wot?

As applied to Nancy, the term is Mel in reverse. Nancy Pelosi, devout Catholic, is meant to communicate the idea that she is sincere in her beliefs and is "devoted" to the Church in some genuine way, and who are we to judge, etc. Similar dissent, different political perspective.

So what are Catholics (those, I mean, who believe all that the Church teaches) to say when asked about their religion? It's easy to suggest getting out of the adjective game altogether, but today's climate of confusion has made that all but impossible. Various and competing groups in today's balkanized Church stake out different positions through adjectivization, so now we have liberal Catholics, peace and justice Catholics, traditional Catholics, and so on. Each group has its own publications and websites, and each exists to oppose its perceived enemies.

"Orthodox Catholic" is servicable, "conservative Catholic" less so.

There was a time not long ago when simply being "Catholic" sufficed. According to the original Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), the Greek word katholikos comes from from katholou—throughout the whole, i.e., universal. Here lies true diversity of culture, because it is tied together in the unity of faith.

Catholic. Nothing more, nothing less. Works for me.

 


Patrick Coffin is a dynamic speaker, emcee, and host of the top-rated national radio show, Catholic Answers Live. He has degrees in theology and philosophy from McGill University in Montreal and Franciscan University of Steubenville. A former stage actor, Patrick has appeared on the FOX Channel,...

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