Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Brookland Catholic Mafia

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.

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  • I find the term Catholic Mafia distasteful. I wonder where the term came from? Maybe an irrational love of all things Italian? No matter though. Peoples is peoples.

    And I can't help but wonder if the emphasis on flat organizational structures isn't inherently irrational. The notion seems to be romanticized in democratic societies and it's become a buzz word in current business culture, a banner many organizations claim. But the truth is, an effective organization has clear, strong leaders.

    In what sense is the disorganization ideal? Perhaps this 'messy body' is the result of post-modern confusion, and the distraction of worldy goods? Perhaps it is a great weakness.

    What can be saids of the networks and their netwar? Can we even assign a clear mission to them, or are not they a scattered and often contradictory jumble of missions?

    Hierarchy is important for Catholics, more important than grassroots movements. Sound teaching must precede Catholic activism. Though perhaps the reality is a bit more complex than can be addressed here. Yours is certainly an interesting point.

    By Blogger Paul, at 5:14 PM, June 06, 2007  

  • Perhaps each subgroup of this larger Brookland world has it's own hierarchy, and the more effective the hierarchy the more effective the group.

    I think that the coffee house crew is a good example of this. We have set up an effective administration which allows others to come and to flourish in their different ways at the event. In this instance we are the "clear strong leaders."

    I think that the ideal is not disorganization, because we don't have anything to be organized about in a large Brookland sense. If there were a war or strong persecution it would be necessary. For now, however being organized on a small scale in the different groups is what is important.

    Now if only we could get more people to use google calendar.

    By Blogger Nathan, at 8:28 AM, June 07, 2007  

  • Points well taken, Paul. Lumen Gentium is very clear, for example, that the Church is hierarchical, in the formal sense of the bishops and the pope having authority. I'm not denying that or suggesting it should be otherwise. Nor am I suggesting that disorder, as such, is a good thing.

    But if we look, for example, at the various religious orders that the Church not only allows, but encourages and blesses, we see that there is room for a variety of spiritualities, a variety of works, a variety of groupings of the faithful.

    While confusion, in a doctrinal sense, is a dangerous thing and is probably a result of the general confusion that reigns in the post-modern age, organizational confusion (who is doing what public works, when, and where) is not such a big deal. Indeed, being OCD about it is as often our pride at work as it is a genuine desire to love souls. In this vein of thought, the distinction between ends and means is helpful. Clearly Carthusians, Jesuits and Franciscans all have the same end: to love and serve God. But they all go about doing so in different ways. In our own lives, the Catholics we live and work and pray with are often going in different directions, and with regards to means they do indeed have a "jumble of missions." But so long these are all ordered towards the proper ends of the Church, under the care of her bishops, we should not be concerned that we are not all doing the exact same thing in some organized way.

    By Blogger Aaron, at 11:56 PM, June 07, 2007  

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