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Toddler plays with mother's rosary at pro-life youth rally and Mass ahead of March for Life in Washington

Fitting our Faith into a world of secularism

Journalist Brandon McGinley writes a letter from Catholic America - By Brandon McGinley

ONE of the most famous Pittsburghers of the last 150 years also happens to be one of the most famous modern Scotsmen. Andrew Carnegie is remembered fondly in my city for the institutions he funded and built—libraries and museums and schools and, of course, the iconic United States Steel Corporation, for which my father worked for two decades.

His name was even adopted—during his lifetime—by a town situated just outside the western limits of the city.

It is appropriate that Carnegie Borough carries the name of a great industrialist. It was a town sustained by mills and factories and railroads, and now it is a microcosm of the American Rust Belt—that swath of exhausted land and people that runs from inland New England through upstate New York and Pennsylvania into the river valleys and lakeshores of the Midwest.

The borough’s population, like that of Pittsburgh itself, has declined by half since World War II, and while Main Street shows signs of renewed vibrancy long-term residents can’t help but reminisce about more prosperous times.

My family—that is, my wife and I and our three young children—live in Pittsburgh proper, but we find ourselves in Carnegie reasonably often—especially on Sundays.

This old mill town, it turns out, is home to the most beautiful Ordinary Form Mass in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

And so, when time and children’s moods permit, we often drive the very consistent 18 minutes to the town with the tartan-themed welcome signs.

At St Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carnegie, consecrated in the name of the first canonised American, we are treated to a talented schola, Latin chant, and worship ad orientem, facing Christ in the tabernacle.


My wife and I and our friends find this embracing of Catholic tradition to be elevating and tantalising—not just for us, but for our children who will need deep roots in the Church’s awesome patrimony to be able to withstand the intensifying gales of secularism.

But we will come back to this topic in later dispatches.

A few weeks ago my wife and I decided, both in observation of Pentecost and because we were quite hungry, to stick around in Carnegie after Mass in order to visit a popular diner.

While Bob’s Diner might have been new in the sense that it opened fairly recently, in every other way, from the dated décor to the unassuming menu to the gray-haired clientele, it was an old-fashioned American ‘greasy spoon’.

Even in a venue as traditional as Bob’s, when my wife and I march into a restaurant with three children under four years old, we are keenly aware that we do not represent a ‘normal’ lifestyle.

The hostess politely seated us—but was she secretly annoyed to have to find a space suitable for two toddlers and a car seat?

The diners at the next table smiled warmly—but were they also irritated that their conversation may be interrupted by noisy children?

If I seem suspicious it’s because our world, ruled by concepts like convenience and efficiency, has no time for even the well-ordered whimsy, let alone the sometimes ill-tempered unpredictability, of toddlers.


And so even when our little ones behave uncommonly well, I can never fully escape the suspicion that we are a nuisance (and we’re only at three kids!).

Rather than shrink from this feeling, though, I have come to embrace it. After all, in a culture dominated by secularism and materialism, Catholics should be nuisances.

The Truth we manifest in our lives should defer to convenience just as much as Christ did: not at all.

This is the special charisma of small children—to make embracing our role as Catholic nuisances unavoidable.

There is simply no way to make a family full of children fit comfortably into a world built by and for ‘very serious’ grown-ups.

But neither is there a way for Catholics to fit comfortably into a world built by and for ‘very enlightened’ secularists!

We should feel just as conspicuous in this world as a toddler in a restaurant—but we should learn from the unthinking confidence and unashamed buoyancy with which that toddler strides into the room.

Pittsburgh is an old Catholic city, and Carnegie (Andrew’s Presbyterianism notwithstanding) is an old Catholic town. But even here secularism is the dominant, cultural force.

Every Catholic child who spills orange juice in a diner is a witness to Faith—a perfectly messy reminder that there is another way to live.


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