Weigel Chapter 1

Below are Nick's reflections on the first chapter of George Weigel's book Letters To a Young Catholic which explores the Catholic world and Catholic writers:

Notes on Chapter:
- Growing up in Catholic Baltimore in the 50’s and 60’s
- Baltimore Catechism
- In the first American Diocese, w/ the first bishop and first cathedral in America
- Recognized people as Catholics and non-Catholics.
- First Section was about differences of being Catholic.
- Baltimore Catholics were different, identified themselves with their parish, not by geographical location. This showed a type of tribalism, which fostered rivalries among other Catholics, such as youth groups or sports teams, but garnered an even more powerful sense of belonging. “An intense sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves, something beyond ourselves that somehow lived inside us too.
- Another difference came in vocabulary, the way that they used words that had been used in mass. (Using Latin-derived vocabulary) the words used went in the opposing direction of short, sharp Anglo-Saxon words, when Latinate words were more luxurious. Also pronounced things differently… all ways to self-identify
- Another difference for the kids… knew the religious affiliation of their sports idols (the best QB in NFL history is a catholic – Johnny Unitas.) as well as their parish, and felt even more connected to these athletes over anyone else.
- Also separated by their dress, always were wearing uniforms. Taught by different people, in this case, sisters. They commanded respect, even if it was known that they were lacking in knowledge (nun thought sun revolved around the earth) sisters were allowed to physically discipline students without it being considered abusive.
- Another type of identification came in the calendar, getting off for holy days, led to envy among the public schools, also lent and not eating meat on Fridays separated Catholics even more.
- Confirmation and the first communion were large landmarks in the catholic life cycle. Protestants knew the bible better, but Catholics knew the catechism much better, and the catechisms’ answers was not only the basic structure of early religious instruction, it was a first hint that Catholicism is deeply invested in ideas, and breaks things down into single sentence formulas.
- Going to mass every Sunday was also another way of being set apart. Mass was always in Latin, but the gospel was in English before the sermon. Boys often memorized the responses in Latin to become altar boys.
- Didn’t seem odd that they prayed in an ancient language that none of them knew or understood, that is until they got to high school.
- Families often said the rosary together
- Going to confession is what set most Catholics apart from the rest of the “non-catholic” world.
- Seen as an etiquette of self-examination and self-accusation that most others found incomprehensible
- International connections to missionary works and the Pope also separated the Catholics from non-Catholics.
- Second section on implementation of Flannery O’Connor, and her influence on himself.
- O’Connor was born in 1925, and moved back to Milledgeville after the diagnosis of lupus.
- Speaks about a “moral sense” which is perceived by Weigel as a “habit of being.”
- Used an analogy of “wingless chickens” (page 12)
- O’Connor wrote that Catholicism is an antidote to nihilism (i.e. Nietzsche and Sartre) nihilism claims that everything is of no consequence and that the entire world is just a cosmic joke. Where as Catholicism claims that everything is of consequence, because everything has been redeemed by Christ.
- Cool story, O’Connor was invited to dinner with Mary McCarthy, who was a big intellectual, who made her fame writing about her separation from the church… left the church at age fifteen. At the dinner, another guest made the statement that when she received the host; she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, since it is the most portable figure of the trinity. Also that it was a symbol, and a good symbol. O’Connor’s reaction was, “if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” Lesson learned: it is more than a symbol!! It is the body of Christ (page 16) O’Connor went on to state that the host is the center of existence for her; all the rest of life is expendable.
- It is Weigel’s hope that we see this as HIS-story, Christ’s story.

Quotes to Think About
- “A Catholic tribalism that fostered fierce rivalries and even fiercer loyalties… but beyond and through all those rivalries, an intense sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves, something beyond ourselves that somehow lived inside of us too.” (page 2)

- “Looking back, I see that the memorization of its (The Catechism’s) answers was not only the basic structure of our early religious instruction – it was a first hint that Catholicism is deeply, even passionately, invested in ideas, even ideas boiled down into single- sentence formulas.” (page 4)

- “We learned an etiquette of self-examination and self-accusation that our Protestant friends found incomprehensible.” (page 6)

- “However it’s (Catholicism) described, though, it’s not something you simply argue yourself into. Rather, it’s something you experience aesthetically as well as intellectually, with the emotions as well as the mind, through friendships and worship and experiences – beyond – words as well as through arguments and syllogisms. And that, to go back to the beginning, is why, in thinking through the question of what it means to be a Catholic today, it’s a good idea to make a tour of the Catholic world – because there are particular places where this uniquely Catholic way of seeing things comes into clearer focus.” (page 10)

- “Catholicism wants to change the world – primarily by converting it. At the same time, Catholicism takes the world as it is – Catholicism tries to convert this world, not some other world or some other humanity of our imagining – because God took the world as it is. God didn’t create a different world to redeem; God, in the person of his son, redeemed the world he had created, which is a world of freedom in which our decisions have real consequences, for good and for evil.” (page 14)

- “An evangelical Protestant of my acquaintance once said, ‘If I really believed, like you say you do, that Christ himself is in that tabernacle, I’d be crawling up the aisle on my hands and knees.’ That’s about half right, for the Catholic habit of being teaches us both the fear of the Lord (in the sense of being awestruck by the majesty and mercy of God) and an intimacy, even familiarity, with God the Holy Trinity, through the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is the heart of Catholic faith.” (page 16)

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