Editorial – Three Days in Branson
In our fair land, there is a place where an active and harmonious interplay between God and country is the attitude de jour – every jour. Branson, Missouri is a town of six thousand souls that plays host annually to a number of visitors equivalent to the population of New York City. They are drawn there by its natural beauty, its abundant activities for sportsmen and nature lovers, and its entertainment. Andy Williams, the Osmonds, and a goodly number of Country and Western stars have there own theaters in Branson. From the Branson Belle showboat to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, the entertainment in Branson is family friendly – completely clean and proud of it. This "Bible Belt" community stresses the importance of faith in God as an integral part of the ambience of their town in the Ozarks.
Not too long ago, I had the occasion of accompanying friends on a trip to Branson to see family who had made their home there. Catholics make up a small percentage of the denizens of Branson. Remarking about the evangelical character of the people, our hosts commented that many people wondered why Catholics were not as forthcoming in proclaiming their Christian faith. This statement remained in my mind as we visited other parts of the country. Are Catholics really that reticent in spreading the Good News?
I can only speak from my experience, but maybe we are. Even in the seminary, I do not remember engaging in any long discussions on theological issues outside of class. That is not to say, however, that one's faith played a limited role in the functioning of one's life. The arena in which teaching, preaching, and discussing the faith was the family. Great emphasis was placed on growing up Catholic. The importance of worship, religious education, and moral behavior was powerful and persistent. Yet, its calorific energy tended to be parochial, moving and breathing within a sacramental system. The faith was deeply personal and introspective expressing itself in communal ritual, private prayer, and moral example.
I would opine that evangelization was a foreign term to most Catholics of my age; perhaps, it fit among missionaries in faraway lands. Although attendance at Mass exposed the worshipper to a reading from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament, and the Gospels, knowledge of the exegesis of scripture was lacking unless included in the content of the sermon. Such instruction would have come in handy when a certain denomination knocked on the door and tried to convince you of the error of your ways. By my deacon year in the seminary – laden with knowledge of scripture – I, now well armed, looked forward to that "knock on the door." Although I believed their theology to be misguided, I did admire their zeal. Their manner of proselytizing was both alien and uncomfortable to my notions of proclaiming the Good News. The "activity" of spreading the Gospel was mixed within the operations of official Church organizations such as Catholic Charities, Catholic Family Services, and the Propagation of the Faith. Each parish had its own groups providing some service to the individual and the community at large. Programs to educate youth or adults, organizations specifically for teenagers, men, and women all emanated from the clergy, nuns, and parish staff. The individual Catholic was busy working on maintaining a right conscience and fulfilling the obligations and service necessitated by the love of God, family, and country.
I have no conclusive answer for the good people of Branson, but I offer some advice to my fellow Catholics. The life of Dorothy Day led her from darkness to light. This amazing woman whose love of God and neighbor led to the founding of the Catholic Worker Movement often remarked that she was never shy about talking of God to others. It is our mandate to proclaim Jesus Christ. Let us find our best way of meeting the challenge and let us do it well.