Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blog 103 Cultural Changes / influence

Blog 103 Cultural Changes /influence I remember one time years ago when I was pastor in a small rural parish there was a beauty contest for girls from the local high school. Twenty-six girls vied for the title.Here are their first names; Jill, Jamie, Emily, Brandt, Kristen, Darissa, Kelly, Mandy, Mandi, Lorrie, Nikki, Misty, Ayesha, Sharlee, Samitha, Wendy, Ami, Jena, Kristen, Melissa, Jeanna, Leanin, Krystal, Renee, Jennifer, and Wendy. In my immediate family there were only boys. Here are our names: John James, Andrew Paul, Thomas George, William Francis, Edward Joseph, and Charles Matthew. The difference in the list of names is not merely in the fact one is a list of girls and the other is a list of boys. Another significant difference lies in the fact one of the lists is made up totally of the names of Saints, and the other is not. This difference is rooted in significant cultural and religious changes that have been occurring in our world and nation during my lifetime. No such changes came about with the pressing of a button or overnight. In the case of our generation almost all of the kids in the neighborhood back in New York City, girls and boys, had the name of a Saint. But in most cases the names were also those of the father and mother of the family, then of uncles and aunts. There was a combination of the secular and the sacred. I don't know what degree of awareness there was in the average person's experience of the fact he or she was named after an especially holy person so that he or she might be inspired by that person's example and follow suit , but nevertheless most of my neighbors and friends possessed the name of a Saint. In our Catholic tradition we had the regulation that everyone was to have the name of a Saint which was to be given on the occasion of our Baptism. Born of mother and father we were children of nature. Reborn or born from above in the Name of the Holy Trinity we were children of God, united with Jesus and one another as branches on a vine, the Church. I would imagine in my own generation the practice of having the name of Saint was to some extent just something taken for granted, a custom handed down, secure for whatever , or, perhaps for no reason at all, unquestioned from age to age. In other words the custom had become something different than it had been in the past. All of us celebrated birthdays. A far smaller number of us even remembered the date of our Baptism let alone celebrating it with the joy of a festive meal. Health and pleasure began to compete with holiness and prayer on the list of the top priorities in our lives. From a comparison of the two lists given above it is easily and clearly seen the practice of giving a Saint's name to our children is far less common than a universal custom today. This is just one example of the general secularization of our current American culture. If we wish and seek for explicit support or inspiration for our Christian life we cannot look to the secular world around us. We would have a hard time discovering the God Jesus claimed to love and to be if all we relied upon was current experiences of popular TV , newspapers, magazines on sale at the check-out counter in our grocery stores, junk mail, shopping malls, politics and public education. Only in a strong religious culture would these realities be explicitly supportive of faith. They are not committed to faith or to life beyond the grave. They deal directly and explicitly with earth not Heaven. They do not pledge more and we should not for the time being expect more from them. My observation, therefore, about them not being a source of explicit support for my faith is not a complaint. It is an observation. But it is a very important observation and invites a response. I'll leave that for another blog, tomorrow.

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