On “Brown” Catholicism — Personal Background

It’s Good Friday, the observance in the Christian churches in the West of Christ’s crucifixion, and I must say, my dear readers, that after hearing some bit of news from my mom about current family-medical issues, I’m starting to feel much more solemn (and a little fearful) than I’ve been so far today. It makes it hard to concentrate on the two hours of prepping I’ve been doing in order to make coherent what “brown” Catholicism is — what I half-jokingly/ half-seriously refer to as the Catholicism that I grew up in and am living in right now. But I have at least two friends who have asked, and so I will continue what I was doing, before I talked to my mom thirty minutes ago.

So here goes. (I’ll apologize early — it’s loooong… and not finished.)

1) The “brown” in “brown Catholicism”:

As I’ve mentioned in several places, I’m Catholic — baptized as a baby, in a Catholic church in Taiwan, had first Confession and first Communion as a second-grader, in a Catholic church in Guam, and had my Confirmation as a college undergrad, in an ecumenical Navy chapel in Texas. For the first two sacraments, I had really no say in the matter (being just a kid), but I chose to confirm my faith in the Church I was baptized in, although, what I experienced in Texas and in other parts of the US, if I were baptized and raised Catholic in the US, I would probably think *really hard* whether to stay with the Catholic church or not.

I call my faith “brown” Catholicism because I grew up, surrounded by Filipino Catholics, and the core of my Catholic faith was formed in the tiny Pacific island called Guam, which is mostly Catholic. It’s the Catholicism as brought by the Spanish conquistadores of the 16th century — determined on empire in both the secular and sacred realm. It’s the Catholicism of the Spanish Inquisition, of the forced conversion or banishment of the Spanish Jews and Muslims to Catholicism — leave, convert, or die. The Spanish soldier lands on a New World, and the Spanish priest is not far behind.

But something happened to that Spanish Catholicism — mixing with the indigenous people just as the Spaniards who came also mixed genetically with those people — it became the Catholicism as espoused by the Mexican, by the Jamaican, by the Chilean, by the Filipino, by the Vietnamese (ok — for the Viet it’s French Catholicism). Still, it’s the Catholicism that seemed to have escaped the strangeness of a Catholicism that I encountered when I went to my first Mass in Texas: There was an odd “Us vs. Them” mentality, probably because Protestant churches outnumbered Catholic churches by the order of, say, 5 to 1, and yet there was a “fire and brimstone” haranguing quality that startled me down to my little brown toes. It was as if non-Spanish Catholicism fell on American soil and sprouted thorns and oozed poison.

It wasn’t long before I felt alienated from the Church I thought I knew and love, and my story could’ve easily turned into the story of three, former Catholic friends of mine: 1) one became a Wiccan high priestess because it was the closest thing to the Catholicism that she knew when she was growing up in El Salvador, 2) one became a zealous atheist, calling the Bible chauvenist lies and God a fantasy creation that she’s outgrown, and 3) one started hopping from one religion to another, as if he were sampling a Chinese buffet. It wasn’t until I attended my first private Catholic school — my undergraduate university — where I learned from my classmates, my friends, and those I dated (who were also cradle Catholics) just WTF was *wrong* with some of the Catholicism I encountered when my folks moved back stateside.

2) The Heresies Infecting non-Brown Catholicism

First is Manicheanism. From http://www.kat.gr/kat/history/Rel/Chr/Manicheanism.htm, here’s a quote:

The fundamental belief of the religion pictured the universe as the scene of an eternal conflict of two powers, the one good, the other evil. Man, as we know him, is a mixed product, the spiritual part of his nature consists of the good element, the physical of the evil. His task, therefore, is to free the good in him from the evil; and this can be accomplished by prayer, but especially by abstinence from all the enjoyments of evil: riches, lust, wine, meats, luxurious houses and the like. Like Gnosticism, taught that the true spiritual Jesus had no material body and did not actually die.

Second is Jansenism. From http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0008876.html, here’s a quote:

Jansenists held that people are saved by God’s grace, not by their own willpower, because all spiritual initiatives are God’s.

Third is Pelagianism. From http://www.carm.org/heresy/pelagianism.htm, here’s a quote:

people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God. He [Pelagius] denied original sin, the doctrine that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam. He said that Adam only hurt himself when he fell and all of his descendents were not affected by Adam’s sin. Pelagius taught that a person is born with the same purity and moral abilities as Adam was when he was first made by God.

Fourth is Lefebvritism. From http://www.catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?recnum=1392, here’s a quote:

Defiant in their belief that the Second Vatican Council had undermined the Church during the post-conciliar era, Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers had come to believe that a grave crisis infected the Church which necessitated the illicit consecration of bishops.

On my campus, I saw Manicheans, Jansenists, Pelagians, and Lefebvrites, all saying they were Catholic, all going to Mass along with me, and all saying that those who didn’t think like them were in mortal sin and risk going to hell if they didn’t change their ways. And all I could think was, “Are you even listening to yourself? You espouse the Nicene Creed, believe in the sacraments, all of that — but by God, is there no charity at all where you are? For a Catholic, you sound so, so, so — Puritanical!”

And that’s why I call my Catholicism “brown.” It’s Catholicism, but with a heady dose of charity in there — love God, love your neighbor, and boy howdy, “neighbor” has to be inclusive when you’re a poor Filipino, minding your own business, when all of a sudden armoured men with swords, guns, and a cross say “Love God or else.” You learn to develop a sense of humour real quick.

Okay — it’s getting late (I started writing this at 9:40pm, and it’s nearing 11:30pm). So next time: a brown Catholic’s understanding of the Nicene Creed, the Sacramental nature of Creation, the Purgatorial nature of Fallen Creation, and the Marian dogmas.

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About lizardqueen

If single-mothering were a paid job, I'd be rich. However, it doesn't, so I write (which doesn't pay the bills) and teach (which does). I'm overly-educated in the liberal arts, but that doesn't hinder my ability to be pragmatic and realistic. YAY.
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