In recent years, however, a reaction has set in. Disgusted with the secular culture, growing numbers of individuals and families, both Catholic and non-Catholic, have begun taking steps to withdraw from what they judge to be a morally destructive environment.
Some home-school their children to avoid the sex education imposed in schools. Some have given up on television and take great pains to police internet use. Still others have made the radical move of quitting big cities and their suburbs in favor of smaller, more tradition-minded and culturally homogeneous communities making fewer assaults on their eyes, ears, and morals. (Thomas Monaghan’s Ave Maria, Florida is a high-profile prototype of this.) Meanwhile, the infrastructure of a new Catholic subculture has begun to emerge. It can be seen in a handful of proudly orthodox Catholic colleges and universities, media ventures like the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and rapidly expanding Catholic radio stations, a growing number of websites and periodicals and a few publishing houses, and organizations and movements dedicated to promoting Catholic spirituality—especially, a spirituality of the laity. In other cases, older Catholic institutions and programs have begun taking steps to reaffirm their Catholic idenity. Often, these things happen with encouragement from a new generation of bishops and priests who have gotten the message and taken it to heart. This is all to the good—up to a point. But note that when I speak of the desirability of a new Catholic subculture, I do not mean a self-regarding, inward-looking ghetto. Unfortunately, signs of such a thing already can be glimpsed here and there. They seem likely to spread if steps are not taken to discourage that from happening. Here is where the new evangelization comes in. It provides rationale and motivation for Catholics to set their sights on something far better than a Catholic ghetto—the creation of a new, dynamic American Catholic subculture specifically designed to be a source of creative energy for preaching the gospel far and wide, with particular attention to former Catholics and nominal Catholics who are teetering on the brink. This is asking a great deal—a subculture able to nurture and sustain a strong sense of Catholic identity without turning in on itself. Can it be done? No one really knows because up to now it hasn’t been attempted. Evangelization is the key. Meanwhile, one thing does seem certain: If it cannot be done, or if no attempt is made to do it, the situation of the Catholic Church in the United States is likely to become increasingly troubled in the years ahead.