In one of my classes last semester we read about the concept of “netwar.” Contrary to what you might first guess, netwar does not deal with the internet, but instead with networks of people. Whereas conventional warfare is waged by clearly demarcated forces operating under a strict hierarchy, the networks that wage netwar have flat hierarchies and ambiguous membership. Thus, arresting a certain group of people will not destroy a network: interlocking groups will carry on the work, affiliated but unofficial members of the suppressed group will reform it elsewhere and new leadership will emerge. That’s the nature of a network. It’s robust, flexible, diverse and innovative, as a result of a web of ties which connect all sorts of people, with no clear head or even center.
Reading about such social networks, I was immediately struck by how apt this description could be fitted to the world of Catholicism. The Brookland neighborhood of Washington is filled with overlapping circles of Catholics. There are so many Catholic schools, parishes, institutes, orders, men’s and women’s houses, Bible studies, and softball leagues that everybody knows everybody within a degree or two. It’s really a funny thing. Now I must confess, I have been tempted on occasion to bring together all these groups under one great umbrella, for a single purpose (usually undetermined). It would be a formidable group indeed, with connections all over the place and the ability to recruit members from a variety of sectors; it would have lots of energy and talent, if only these could be harnessed in a single direction. But then I realize that part of what makes the Brookland Catholic Mafia - as it has occasionally been called - a great thing is that it is a network, that it's diverse and flexible in a way that no single organization could be.
Switching from the framework of national security to that of ecclesiology, I see that we in fact do have a single purpose which unites us: to glorify Christ Jesus and to make Him known to all men. It is nothing less than the mission of the Church, into which we have all been baptized.
So as much as I'm tempted, I won't make a grand call for a meeting at the Quincy house, like a gathering of Resistance leaders during World War II. I won't ask you to enlist your friends as members in some great coordinating organization. Instead, I share with you two words of exhortation. First, embrace this body, in all its messy confusion, for it is the Body of Christ. Strengthen the bonds of fraternal unity, as you are called and able. Second, invite others to share the life we live. I don't mean inviting someone from another Bible study to come to yours; I mean reaching out to those outside the network and drawing them in to whatever quirky corner of it you inhabit.
Perhaps you don't live in Washington. Perhaps this passing description of the Brookland Catholic Mafia means nothing to you. I assure you, there are networks of Catholics around the globe, most of them as ambiguous and confusing as ours, often with no clear head or center or membership. Find yours. But perhaps you're not Catholic at all. To you, I say welcome. The allies found under the banner of Christ are not temporary comrades but brothers in the greatest task mankind has ever known.
Labels: Brookland Catholic Mafia, netwar, networks