Sphere of influence: The impact of Catholics on U.S. society

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It's the influence Catholics have had on Americans--whether they realize it or not--that makes Kevin P. Considine proud of his identity as an American Catholic.

Guest blog post by Kevin P. Considine

In a way, it is a privilege to be a Catholic in the United States. We are an immigrant church that has worked tirelessly to both gain a foothold in society and to be given the freedom to practice our faith in a largely Protestant nation. In the process, our church has embraced the idea of religious freedom and has had a strong impact on American culture, although often unseen

On this 4th of July, there are two reasons why I’m proud to be an American Catholic, and they both have to do with the influence of the church on the larger society.  First, I’m thankful for the role that Catholic spirituality, the social justice tradition, and a “sacramental imagination” have played in the upbringing and formation of those who have left the Catholic Church (some for good reasons). Many of these men and women have absorbed the spirituality and social justice tradition so thoroughly that they cannot help but be involved in ministering to the poor and the underprivileged. They may have rejected participation in the church, but their Catholic background has played a positive role in their formation into men and women of virtue who are imitating Christ, albeit anonymously. Many ex-Catholics work in communities where a good number of practicing Catholics would never go and are participating in the God’s ongoing work for healing and justice in the world.  In my opinion, this wouldn’t be possible without their Catholic background and education.

Second, I am proud to be an American Catholic because of the church’s subtle, yet important influence on many parts of non-Catholic Christianity. This is particularly true with the socially-minded, younger generation of Evangelicals and charismatics whose movement is symbolized by Jim Wallace’s Sojourners magazine. Many are embracing traditional Catholic spiritual practices such as lectio divina, praying the hours, and going on retreat to participate in the Ignatian spiritual exercises. There is also a movement called the “new monasticism” that looks to the Catholic justice tradition—both religious orders and lay groups such as the Catholic Worker—and are imitating their work among the poor and disenfranchised. Many young people are relocating into underserved communities, listening to their needs, and running tutoring, ESL, “know your rights”, anti-violence, and other programs out of their homes while also partaking in communal prayer and bible study. They have been emboldened by the “mystical-political” strand that runs so deep within Catholicism. I am proud that our tradition has had such an influence, albeit mostly unseen, upon other Christian churches. This is particularly true for those Christians who would’ve seen Catholics as heretical a few decades ago and never would have used the word “monasticism.” This kind of cross-pollination seems likely only in the United States.

I am proud to be an American Catholic due to its positive influence in forming and emboldening those outside of the Church.

Kevin P. Considine is a doctoral candidate in theology at Loyola University in Chicago.

In honor of our country's official birthday, we're asking U.S. Catholic friends and readers what's unique about being an American Catholic. To submit your answer (about 200-600 words), e-mail onlineeditor@uscatholic.org.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.