Why Catholics Should Write about Non-Catholic Stuff

I need help articulating an idea. Maybe it's even a principle. Here's what I have so far, stated in a summary form:

Catholics on the Internet should engage with, think about, and write about non-Catholic stuff, not just Catholic stuff.

Let me explain my terms and where I'm coming from. Then, please add any clarification, disagreement, or explanation of your own in the comment box below.

What is "Catholic Stuff"?

I don't have any precise definition of Catholic stuff. Here's what I have in mind:

Imagine you're one of those slightly grumpy-looking men who has obviously been dragged to Christmas Mass (or Easter Mass) halfway against your will. As you look out from your pew, not quite fully engaged with what's going on in the liturgy before you, what do you see? 

You see:

  • A big nativity scene,
  • Statues of saints,
  • A giant crucifix,
  • Incense smoke rising from some metal thing that's being swung around,
  • Fancy-looking clothing on the priest and other guy (the deacon), and
  • People around you standing, sitting, kneeling, hitting their chests, shaking hands, kneeling again, and then lining up in front of the priest and an assortment of folk who have just rubbed their hands with a sanitizer to receive wafers and drink from the same cup.

You hear some Latin chant (at least the refrain Adeste, fideles in Come, all ye faithful), some references to a "culture of life" in the prayers, and perhaps a mention of the bishop. You smell the incense. Afterward, maybe you're curious and grab a free calendar, filled with saints and paid for by a mortuary.

All of that is what I call "Catholic stuff."

The Incarnation and Stuff

If you're Catholic, you believe that stuff is good. Here, I mean stuff in the sense of physical stuff —material things — things you can pinch or sniff or listen to or chew.

God created the world. And there's one God. The God that created souls and angelic intellects is the same God that created rivulets, birds, bread, and anything that we can make doughnuts out of. Material stuff comes from God. Material stuff is good.

Side Note: "Material stuff is good." People get this wrong all the time, more or less explicitly, depending on context and circumstances. People have taught outright that God is not responsible for the material world, and that some other being (an evil one) must have created physical existence. And even if people believe that God created the physical world, they often get vague ideas that the body is somehow "bad" or that making a sandwich is less human than solving a math problem or praying a novena.

The doctrine of the Incarnation is a giant firework show drawing our attention to the goodness of material stuff and God's loving attentiveness to the physical world. Christmas is the birth of Jesus, God Incarnate, true God and true man — body, blood, soul, and divinity.

With Christmas and the Incarnation, God is no longer the Creator of a work He admires from a distance. He's in it. He's into stuff.

Creation and the Incarnation — Catholics understand these doctrines robustly, even aggressively, which is why we're so comfortable with Catholic stuff: vestments, incense, music, images, statues. We celebrate stuff. Sacraments are our life.

Catholic stuff matters.

Engaging with Non-Catholic Stuff

If you've followed me so far, you realize that I'm making this basic point:

Because Catholics have a right understanding of the Creator and a profound sense of the Incarnation, they are attuned to the deep goodness of stuff, and they use stuff to strengthen and express their faith and celebrate God in worship.

In light of that, I now want to say this:

Catholics should pay attention to non-Catholic stuff and concern themselves with non-Catholic stuff, precisely because they are Catholic.

I italicized that last clause because it holds the juice of my argument. 

I'm not saying something like:

  • "Catholics should pay attention to the culture around them because they're equally citizens in the republic" or
  • "Catholics should concern themselves with contemporary politics or mass entertainment because the outcomes affect them and their children."

I'm saying that a Catholic's Catholicism should be pushing the Catholic to attend to non-Catholic things.

Why does a Catholic's Catholicism push in that direction? Because Catholicism has a robust understanding of (1) Creation and (2) the Incarnation. 

A Digression on Midnight Illness and "They Laid Him in a Manger"

Think about it this way:

As soon as Jesus is born — as soon is God is incarnate — He is subject to all the incidental details that go toward making an actual human life. 

And one of the largest of those incidental details is this: being born into a particular family and undergoing family life.

In the liturgical readings, the story of the Incarnation is largely the story of Mary and Joseph, their unique relationship, the unexpected turns that the relationship ended up taking, and some of the incidents that made up their family life (travel to Bethlehem, shortage of rooms, the move into Egypt).

Family life has all sorts of non-Catholic stuff in it. It's not all incense and novenas and texts from the Summa Theologica. My littlest son, Dominic who's three, woke up a little after midnight on Christmas eve and puked. Midnight Mass: Catholic stuff; cleaning vomit off the IKEA sheets: non-Catholic stuff. 

The Christmas story has the same kind of family-life realism: "They laid him in a manger."

Think about that for a moment: in the grand epic of the Incarnation, we are a told where Mary and Joseph set the baby Jesus. Yes, I get it: the manger is where the animals eat, and Jesus is the bread of life. Symbolic, admittedly.

But the detail must have survived in a family story, a tale that Mary and Joseph reminded themselves of and told to their son. Families do that: "Remember that time we went to Seven Springs, and Noni left her jacket? And we went back a week later, and it was still there." Cultures are formed by attending to such incidental details.

How These Reflections Apply to The Kindling

The Kindling is a project run by Catholics who live in Phoenix. These Catholics write about non-Catholic things:

And this is as it should be.

Yes, Catholics should be writing about Catholic stuff: Latin liturgies, what Pope Francis is saying on airplanes, and the Church's teaching on sexuality and marriage.

But Catholics should also be writing about the other things in creation and in human culture. And that includes coffee and Netflix shows.

Jamie Hanson