Deep Catholicism

Eight years ago, during the Long Lent of 2002, I started using the phrase “Catholic Lite” to denote a cast of mind that, in my judgment, had contributed mightily to the crisis of fidelity that was at the root of clerical sexual abuse and episcopal misgovernance. Within that mindset, one of the fundamental questions shaping ecclesial life had become, “How little can I believe and do while still remaining a Catholic?” Then as now, the question struck me as not only mistaken, but ultimately boring. But it didn’t come from nowhere, and understanding its origins was, and is, important.

In the late 1960s, the emergence of Catholic Lite was a reaction to some of the weaknesses of pre-Vatican II catechesis, and especially the kind of teaching that failed to distinguish between those parts of the Baltimore Catechism that stood at the core of Christian conviction and those that were on the periphery.  This dumbing-down tendency in catechetics received intellectual reinforcement from efforts by scholars like Karl Rahner, an influential figure at the Council, to create what the German theologian called “brief creedal statements” (three examples of which may be found at the end of Rahner’s Foundations of Christian Faith). Rahner likely meant to provide short, compelling summaries of the Creed from which the serious work of explaining Christianity to unbelievers could begin; what too many learned from efforts like his was Catholic Lite.

Catholic Lite was also informed by interpretations of the Council which held that Vatican II marked a decisive break-point with the past, and that the boundaries of faith and morals were now sufficiently elastic as to accommodate virtually any construal of what it meant to believe, pray, and live as a Catholic. This notion of a “council of rupture” was rejected by the 1985 Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which counterposed a “council of continuity and reform.” But traces of the mentality of rupture remained.

Catholic Lite also had a certain pastoral appeal. During the Long Lent of 2002, and again during 2010’s Scandal Time II, I’ve been approached by concerned Catholics who begin a conversation by saying, “I’m a bad Catholic, but… .” To which I invariably, and truthfully, reply, “We’re all bad Catholics… .” – before going on to make the point that holding the bar of expectation high, even knowing that we’ll fail,  is the path to genuine spiritual and moral growth. Yet it’s also understandable that, in a society dominated by the culture of the therapeutic, some pastors would imagine it more, well, pastoral to prescribe Catholic Lite rather than challenging parishioners to live Catholicism-in-full: understandable, but short-sighted and, in the final analysis, a disservice to Christians baptized for spiritual and moral grandeur.

What’s the alternative to Catholic Lite? I found one answer in a new book by Father Aidan Nichols, O.P., one of the intellectual adornments of Anglophone Catholicism, who teaches at Cambridge University in England. In Criticizing the Critics: Catholic Apologias for Today (Family Publications), Father Nichols responds to the challenges posed (according to the book’s table of contents) by “modernists, neo-gnostics, academic biblical exegetes, feminists, liberal Protestants, progressive Catholics, the erotically absorbed, and critics of Christendom” in a series of trenchant essays. Toward the end, he gives us a luminous description of the Catholicism-in-full that we need. That kind of Catholicism is not sectarian, nor does it attempt to re-create the Catholic 1950s, “which … showed its Achilles’ heel by the manner in which its adherents subsequently fell way.” Rather, what we should seek is:

“…a deep Catholicism [that] is not simply sure of its dogmatic basis and at home in its corporate memory, though these are essential. It is also profoundly rooted in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the great doctors and spiritual teachers, and receptive to whatever is lovely in the human world of any and every time and place, which the Word draws to himself by assuming human nature into union with his own divine person.”

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.