This mega-conversation has been fascinating and another learning experience for me. Thanks to all who participated.
The concerns and fears and questions that I have gotten over the years in online conversations are remarkably consistant.
I am going to use the metaphor I used below, of Catholicism as the graduate school of the spiritual life. We have this enormous, gorgeous "Great Library" (the Church) full of the riches of the ages and open 24/7 to anyone who wants to enter and read the books at their leisure. But first you have to teach yourself to read and write. Cause we don’t have a public elementary school system and the majority of our people are illiterate.
In this metaphor, "literacy" stands for a man or woman's personal faith response to Jesus's invitation to follow him in the midst of his Church. In other words, discipleship.
So remember as you read this, Great Library = Church, "literacy" = personal discipleship.
And the conversation goes like this:
Evangelizer: All sorts of studies indicate that 70% of our citizens seldom or never use our wonderful Library. And over the years, some of us have noticed that the vast majority of our citizens whom we have interviewed are either completely illiterate and can’t read at all or only can only read at a first grade level while the books in our Library are on a graduate school level. We’re thinking that the fact that our people can’t read might be the reason they don’t come to our beautiful Library.
Response: We built the Great Library. It’s the biggest, oldest, most beautiful library in the world. It has a spire that is a hundred feet high.
Evangelizer: Oh, I agree 100%. Our Library is a stupendous, gorgeous treasure and I love the gothic architecture. But I’m worried that 85% of our young adults don’t use the Library regularly and that the majority never cross the threshold at all.
Response: Our Library is the Great Library. It is not only bigger and better than anyone else’s library, it is the only real library.
Evangelizer: True. But over the years, we’ve noticed that the vast majority of our citizens are either completely illiterate or only can only read at a first grade level while the books in the Great Library were written on a graduate school level.
We’re wondering If the fact that most of our people either can’t read at all or can’t read well enough to understand our books might be the reason they don’t come to our beautiful Library.
Response: We wrote most of the books in the Great Library. And they are great books: they are old and complicated and deep and lots of them are in Latin.
Evangelizer: Oh I love to read our books. But I can’t help worrying about the fact that most of our people never enter the Library at all. And that large numbers of the 30% who do enter at least once a month, only have a first grade reading level. They can’t read our books in English, much less in Latin.
Response: We are the people of the Library. The Library is everything. Real Catholics love to be in the Library, to smell the books, to dust the books, to touch the books. Our books are better and older and more beautiful and deeper than anyone else’s. Our library is filled with treasures. They are too precious to loan out. You couldn’t read all the books in our library in a lifetime.
Evangelizer: Absolutely. I get euphoric smelling old books. But I’m concerned that most of our citizens don’t read any of the books in our library. I thought the point of a library was to make books available so that whole community could have access and read them. But most of our people can’t read so they aren’t coming to the Library at all.
Response: The purpose of the Great Library is to be a beautiful place that keeps great collections of great books safe. Having lots of people reading all the time is Protestant, not Catholic.
Response: I know what I’m talking about. I used to have a library card over at the Protestant "library". It was small and plain and only one story high. And the books were much simpler. Most of them were cheap paperbacks and written only at a high school reading level. And the place was always filled with badly educated working people checking out books and reading them outside the library. But I wanted more. So when I heard about the Great Library and incredible collection of leather-bound books it held, I went to visit it and was so enthralled by its beauty, that I signed up right away. I never go to the small library anymore.
Evangelizer: So you are literate? That's great.
Response: Oh, yes. I learned how to read at the small, plain Protestant elementary school across town. But I’m so excited now that I am Catholic because I have access to all the incredible books in the Great Library. I am in training to become a librarian.
Evangelizer: That is great! Wouldn’t it be great if all of our people could experience the same joy? We don’t have a good elementary school system and I’ve been wondering if that is why so many of our people aren’t literate and don’t come to the Great Library. We could found our own elementary school and teach everyone in Catholictown to read and write and then many more of them would want to come to the Great Library to check out the books!
Response: Elementary schools are Protestant. If we start our own elementary school system, our people might go over to the small plain library and check out the ugly paperback books there and read them by themselves. You are talking about a “me and the book” faith. That’s Protestant. We are people of the Library.
Catholics aren’t into literacy, we are into mystery. We are an incarnate faith. Real Catholics learn by looking at beautiful books, smelling them, touching them, shelving them, dusting them in the library because they are too valuable and precious to take out. Borrowing cheap, paperback books out and reading them by yourself at home or on the bus is Protestant. That’s individualistic. Catholics have a communal and incarnate faith. You just want us to become Protestants.
Evangelizer: No! No! We just want our Catholic citizens to be able to read and be changed and be made wise by the incredible riches to be found in our library, the Great Library. The beautiful, leather-bound books were written by Catholic authors to be read by all our citizens. I want all our people to be able to access the beauty inside our books as well as the beauty outside. After all, that’s what Jesus, the Founder and Lord of the Great Library, told us was our mission. . . .
Response: Shhhh. We never mention the Founder by name except in the liturgy. It’s disrespectful and irreverent and Protestant. The Founder isn’t your buddy. If you were a true Catholic in culture, you’d know that.
You would also know that the majority of our people have never been literate. My parents and grand parents were good, devout Catholics and none of them were literate. Ordinary Catholics don’t need to be literate and we don’t talk about the Founder. We have the Great Library.
It’s probably a good thing that the majority of our citizens don’t come to the Library anyway. They don’t understand and would just make it noisy, crowded, and dirty. It is much better that only a small, tidy, well behaved group of Catholics who really understand, enter the Great Library.
There we can talk about the Great Library. We serve the Great Library. We live in the Great Library. We love the sight of the ancient, burnished, leather, the sunlight gleaming on their gilded lettering, we love the sound of the old pages crackling. We work together in reverent silence: cleaning the books, repairing the books, smelling the books.
Ordinary Catholics don’t need to be literate. We have a small group of very brilliant Catholic librarians who read the books and talk about and to the Founder so other Catholics don’t have to. I am being trained to be a librarian right now. Catholics are the people of the Library.
And so the conversation goes in my experience . . .
I'm under the gun with a huge project so may not be able to respond to your comments much.