You might wonder, what do wine and nibbles have to do with being Catholic? Bear with me …
I live in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse cities in the world. But I don’t live in an ethnic enclave of any sort — not that there’s actually anything like an ethnic enclave here for Irish-Americans anyway.
For most of my career, I’ve worked in and around the entertainment industry as a journalist, spending time on sets and locations and interviewing scores of people that appear on TV, including those who don’t do it for a living. Interviewees have included law enforcement, doctors, scientists, authors, artists and athletes, from all over the U.S. and the world.
And, before reverting to the Catholic Church, I hung around with agnostics, atheists, New Agers, neopagans, people who dressed up like it was the Middle Ages (or the Civil or Revolutionary War, or the Victorian era), rock musicians … you name it.
All this is to say that I’ve done diversity, and there are wonderful things about it. It broadens the mind. I can’t say as it changed my opinions on some things, especially politics — if anything, it made me more sure of what I thought — but it taught me to listen to and interact with people who had beliefs wildly different from my own, without allowing it to necessarily change me, or necessarily trying to change them.
I also joke that it made me bomb-proof. Having heard so many strange thoughts, notions and experiences from others, very little surprises or rattles me. That’s why journalists become cynical, especially those who cover hard news. Lift the cover on anything, dig below the surface of most people, and you’re going to find stuff you don’t like, don’t approve of or just find plain horrifying (like the normal-looking suburbanite couple that didn’t bother to hide the sex toys before the reality-show crew came to redo some rooms in the house.).
But in the last few years, I’ve started seeking out, and hanging out with, fellow Catholics, especially those who are more orthodox (though you wouldn’t necessarily know it just to look at us, since several of us are in and around showbiz). Some of us meet once a month for food, drink and conversation at a swanky restaurant — the staff of which finds our group endlessly amusing. We’re loud; we laugh a lot; we eat and drink a lot; and at any moment, everyone might produce a rosary (honestly, it happened at the last gathering — we totally geeked out). And now and then, we have a priest or two in the bunch, joking and talking like anyone else.
These have been some of the most fun times of recent years. There’s something so liberating about being in the company of friendly folks with whom you agree on basic beliefs, values and principles. We have lively debates, but we’re not stuck arguing things like papal authority, women priests or any number of other issues that heterodox Catholics try constantly to put on the table, but which were long ago settled by the Church.
We stand with the Magisterium, but within that framework, there’s plenty of room for opinion and interpretation. We all have different ways of living out the Faith, from deeply devotional to intellectual to artistic. But we know who we are and what we believe, and among ourselves, we can relax.
I find this recharges my batteries, helps me to get back in balance, and gives me the internal fortitude to plunge again into the wide world.
Recently, I spent some time at the Catholic Center at USC, attending Mass at its beautiful chapel and hanging out afterward with the pastor and the students. When you’re at a Catholic college, perhaps the Faith can be taken for granted, but in a big secular institution like USC, places like the chapel — which, though about three years old, is very traditional and looks like it’s been there for a century (see below for a picture of a recent Tridentine Mass celebrated there by local Norbertine priests, with the help of students) — and the Catholic Center, with its neighboring coffee shop, are an oasis.
We should never underestimate the power of groups like FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and places like Cardinal Newman Centers to give students, perhaps for the first time for some of them, immersion in Catholic life, culture and fellowship.
Also, this past week, I went to a meeting of a group reaching out to Catholics working in media in the L.A. area, who are in real peril of feeling very isolated in most of their working life. Also, the long hours and irregular schedules of TV and movie production don’t always allow time to make it to Ash Wednesday Mass or Holy Days of Obligation, so we talked about what can be done to make sure these folks, whether cast or crew, have access to the Sacraments if they’re on a studio lot or a remote location.
Today’s militantly secular Western society is trying to quash all Christian, and especially Catholic, expression in the public sphere, and our core beliefs are constantly under assault. So, to know that you are not alone, especially when you’re young or you work in a faith-unfriendly industry, is invaluable and encouraging.
Ecumenicism is fine as far as it goes, but I think we underestimate the value of being with each other (which, considering we’re the Universal Church, can result in a pretty diverse bunch, in every way except religious belief). We don’t live in the Church-saturated world of the Middle Ages, and those of us in cities like L.A. sure don’t live in the same environment as Ave Maria, Florida, where the Faith is woven into all aspects of life, even outside the church and home.
No one who’s not ordained in my little meeting group is wrapped within a faith community (though a couple folks think about that from time to time), but without the community we’ve built, and the ability to share ideas and experiences with people to whom we don’t have to explain ourselves, living in the world at large would be a lot harder.
So, by all means, live in the world and meet, befriend and spend time with all sorts of people, but don’t neglect the chance to, every now and then, surround yourself with strong, believing, faithful Catholics.
Oh, and a few glasses of wine and some good food don’t hurt either.
Images: Wikimedia Commons, Kate O’Hare