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By Matthew Smaldone

Hello, everyone! My name is Matthew Smaldone. I am the new pastoral and social media assistant here at Notre Dame Parish. As I settle into my various responsibilities, I found myself desiring to create ways to share my voice with you, the parishioners. As your online representative, I want to develop that voice with you, not just for you. Therefore, I thought I’d experiment with a little think-piece column in your weekly Flocknotes email New at Notre Dame! to try and connect with you all and share a little of what I’ve been thinking. I’m posting the first one here to help get the word out!

With my first week at the Notre Dame administrative offices under my belt, I’ve finally had a chance to put down the manuals and instructions and password sheets and reflect on what the social media portion of my job actually means. My ministry will be one of digital evangelization, communication, and online community building, all three of which rely in part on aesthetics, i.e. how things look, the Notre Dame brand, the immediate, subconscious feeling a social media user has when they see our material. How impactful is it? How eye-catching is it? To an extent, how cool is it? That word cool is very tricky.

In modern society, being cool is synonymous with breaking the rules. We like to march to the beat of our own drums and stick it to the man. This is especially true in American society where the archetypical figure of the young rebel (James Dean, Robert Redford, Pete Davidson, Harry Styles) has become the image for American independence and individuality. The great virtues of our historically rebellious leaders such as George Washington or Martin Luther King Jr. have permeated through pop culture into the aesthetics of our modern icons; however, through the permeation process, the virtue seems to have been filtered out.

Famous Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft once said, “In an age of relativism, orthodoxy is the only possible rebellion left.” We certainly live in an age of relativism, and its inception came from the modern rebel who says, “Every rule should be broken, and the biggest rule of all is that there are rules. Nothing matters.” The rebel is now the nihilist. James Dean is now Friedrich Nietzsche. We see this in our sexually frivolous television, our morally depraved social media influencers, and our life-dismissing culture. So where does that leave Catholic writers and marketers and social media assistants like me? It seems being cool is societally incompatible with the Catholic faith, a faith predicated off of the notion that things matter, that there is a God who is above us whose very being begets objective principles of morality, i.e. rules. How can I be cool and still Catholic?

The answer lies with the second half of Peter Kreeft’s brilliant quote: OrthodoxyThe key to creating an aesthetically attractive Catholic brand, to being cool, is not to run away from Catholicism as society has done, but to run towards it, to run ever deeper into it!

People crave truth. People crave beauty. What is more true than the love and grace contained in the Eucharist? What is more beautiful than laying down one’s life for another or for one’s faith. What is more heroic than living a life of self-sacrifice for God? Our Catholic heritage is filled to the brim with incredible figures who defied the evil of the world to uphold these realities intrinsic to goodness. Catholics are historically fighters, trendsetters, rule-breakers! But the rules we break are the oppressive rules of sin, the standards society demands of us that we will not follow. We break these rules by stepping in the footsteps of the true Rebel. The Rebel who broke the rule of death itself. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” 

We are orthodox rebels. That’s pretty cool.

Written by Matthew Smaldone

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