The religious ghetto

This is the third of a four-part reflection in response to the question: How does one raise children authentically in the Catholic Christian faith? 

Last week I focused on the first of the two “ghettos” , or chasms, as Milan Kundera calls them – the secular ghetto.  And now a few thoughts about the other one.

When I came to school this morning – the first day of Catholic School Week – I noticed a poster featuring a cherubic young boy, taken I think from the Family Circus comic strip, kneeling in prayer.  His words went something like this:  “Thank you God that I go to a Catholic school where people can pray and talk about God.”

I do get the point and I, too am very grateful that I can spend my days talking to teen-agers about God.  In fact, I can’t imagine anything else in the world worth doing for a living.

And yet, as a parent of two children in our local public school, I couldn’t help feeling for a moment as if I was sending my children to a gulag.

I’m sure the person who came up with the poster did not want me to feel that way.  What I’m not sure that this person realized, or that many Catholics today realize, is the way such things play in the wider community.  One could come to the conclusion  after viewing such a poster that those not in “the system” of our Catholic schools and, by extension, active in our parishes have been conquered or seduced by that vast swamp we call American society.

You might well disagree with me about whether or not the poster hints at such an attitude – and if you feel differently, I welcome your responses and comments. What I feel certain about, however, is that such an “us vs. them” attitude is the essence of the religious ghetto.  Those trapped in this place see the modern world and developments within it as predominantly evil, aimed at destroying souls and dehumanizing society and ultimately destroying the Church. The world therefore, beyond the safe boundaries of our Catholic institutions, should be avoided if at all possible, and if not possible …..well, always keep your guard up.

Thank goodness Jesus didn’t look at things this way or those outside of his own synagogue might never have heard of him!(In fact, the scriptures suggest quite the opposite – see Luke 4:16-30 ).  Neither did Pope John XXIII, who convened the Vatican II Council as a means of confronting those “prophets of doom” who denounced EVERY new development as another piece of the sky falling.  And of course, there are these powerful and beautiful words that open up “Guadium et Spes” , the Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World: “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.”

I’m not saying we should embrace the world uncritically, of course (see last week’s reflection).  St. Paul calls us to be “in the world , not of it” and Pope John Paul II calls us to take a stand against he “culture of death”.  But all of that is very different than approaching the world with suspicion and mistrust.

Were it not for the”world” in the form of some dedicated and courageous reporters at the Boston Globe, would we even know about the horrific sex abuse scandal that has caused such massive tragedy to so many? Sadly, too many did not find safety within the institutions of the Church.

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

(I wrote a book that gives a brief overview of turning points in Church history several years ago. It’s entitled, Turning Points: Unlocking the Treasures of the Church, and can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or at


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