Retail Catholicism Print
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 17 February 2008 07:37
From the dining table of Fr. Shane Tharp in Prague, Oklahoma. (pronounced Prayge)

Last night, Fr. Shane (who is also a blogger), Mark Egbert and I went out to dinner at a quintessential local joint - a old filling station converted into a restaurant where I enjoyed local Okie fried catfish but turned down the okra. Fr. Michael Sweeney would have liked it - he always insisted on eating at "Joints" where the locals eat wherever we were and abhorred fast food. Taking that once in a life opportunity to eat fried Oklahoma catfish would have appealed to him.

Anyway, the food was good and the conversation sparkling as Fr. Shane is a very lively and sparkling kind of guy. He is pastor of a small town parish with an average Sunday attendance of 140 and the Shrine of the Infant of Prague - a devotion about which I had only the vaguest idea before. Fr. Shane explained that it is a devotion to Christ as King in his infancy. Since it developed out of a private late 16th century Spanish family's devotion, the Infant wears the elaborately ruffed and frilled royal clothing of the period and has spread throughout large parts of the world -especially those with Hispanic cultural backgrounds such as the Philippines where every province apparently has its own version of the Infant and the Madonna.

The many, many faces of American Catholicism are fascinating. Despite the homogenization of our culture through the mass media, St. Wenceslaus, Prague is still definitely not St. Dominic's, San Francisco. As our Australian co-Director put it when we took her on a little jaunt to Taos, New Mexico " I was told before I came that the US isn't one country, it is at least 6 countries in one."

The little parishes of the great plains, usually founded by central Europeans farmers and ranchers, Germans and Czechs, who have lived there for generations (almost everyone in the workshop was born in the area, which is extraordinary in my experience) are a whole 'nother world. People of the land, stoic, hard-working, enduring. (One woman rushed out as the workshop ended: "I have to feed the cows!" she gasped). The land is mostly flat and the wind blows hard. Breakfast was traditional Czech pastries. Small Catholic communities are immersed in a lake of (you guessed it) Baptists and Pentecostals.

This weekend, our teachers put on events in a wealthy, huge, suburban southern California parish like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, in the Cathedral in Boise, Idaho, in little St. Wenceslaus and way down in Palesteen, Texas. Last week was the"blue dot in a red state" university town of Bloomington, Indiana. Last week was also South Carolina and Bob Jones University territory. All of them different universes that you have to imaginatively enter because you have to try to understand and speak to their lived reality of Catholics in this place.

The faith is universal but the living of the faith, like politics, is local.

It is easy to forget that Retail Catholicism is where the action is, is where God is entering this world, where God is encountering and saving people. The faith as she is lived - catfish, Kalochees (sp?) and all - in Prague, Oklahoma.

Note: Fr. Mike rose from the proverbial dead on Thursday morning to our great delight and so was able to go on to Texas. Thanks a million for your prayers!