How Will They Know Who We Are?

Hello, ACNM readers! My name is Lindsay Wilcox; I’m the campus minister at the University Catholic Center over at UT, and I was recently invited to join the ACNM family. I’m very excited to share some of my perspectives on Catholicism in Austin with all of you.

I am new to Austin, being from Maryland originally. As I meet people around town and the weather remains unremarkable, the conversation inevitably turns to what I do for a living. I used to simply say, “I’m a teacher.” Gradually, they would discover that I taught Catholic school, but you don’t have to necessarily be a very religious person to do that. Now that I’ve tested “I’m a campus minister” on various Austinites, I’ve determined that simplicity is not the best tactic anymore. People are confused by the prospect of a young black Catholic woman, sometimes one who is sitting in a bar, being a minister. It’s confusing for them and frustrating for me. Lately, I start by saying I work for a non-profit organization and let my conversational partner leave it at that or pursue it all the way to the UCC. My day-to-day responsibilities are a lot more like working for a non-profit than what most people imagine when they hear “minister,” so it’s still the truth. It’s just not direct.

This everyday occurrence has led me to draw two conclusions. First, I have been in a Catholic bubble for a very long time. I went to public school, so I grew up around people of all faiths and none, but now that being Catholic is literally my job, it’s different. I spend a large portion of my waking hours praying, reading about Catholic things, and helping Catholic students get to know God better. It’s easy to forget that not everyone knows my jargon or even believes that active, happy Catholics exist.

My second conclusion is that maybe when I’m outside the Catholic bubble, I’m not Catholic enough. As Martina did a few weeks ago, I could dissect “Catholic enough” based on the basic doctrines of the faith that you ought to believe if you call yourself Catholic, but I’m thinking on a social hour level. What does it say about me that I don’t want to come right out and tell people what I do? How much of an active effort should I be making to let people know that I’m Catholic? Can I stop at my holy medals, my saint bracelet, and the Catholic Terps window decal on my car? Should I carry around Catholic tracts and a list of local parishes, just in case? As the hymn goes, will people know I’m a Christian by my love, or will my words need to play shortstop?

Last week, a friend of mine posted a link on facebook to this article at Patheos examining Stephen Colbert’s method of playing a Catholic on TV in addition to being one in real life. Rather than alienating his audience by portraying a stereotypical “bad Catholic” or a “good Catholic,” author Emerson writes, Colbert opts to create a middle ground: his character is a little irreverent, but he has a solidly catechized core and a good heart.

[H]ere’s Colbert, on a channel known for ribaldry [Comedy Central], slipping in talk about sacraments and saints, hassling the pope as though he were a beloved uncle, and conversing with a prominent Jesuit about Jesus and Mother Teresa. Here’s Colbert divulging an affinity for St. Patrick’s Cathedral and defending Catholic social thought. It’s as if, through his character, Colbert is trying to convey what others lack the forum or believability to explain: that Catholicism is not about predatory priests or the solving of ethical puzzles, but an adventure filled with joys and hopes, grief and anguish, sustained always by a foundational faith in things unseen.

With all this in mind, I think my approach to explaining what I do is just fine. If you see my love (or my sins) and wonder if I’m a Christian, I hope you will know that I am. If not, and you ask, I will tell you. And if you don’t want to know, well, that’s okay, too. But I still am.