May 10, 2007

Easier or More Demanding?

I'm in the curious situation of living in one diocese and working in another. So as I start to think about Ascension day next week, I had something to figure out. I know Ascension is still on Thursday here where I live, but is it on Sunday in the diocese where I work?

As far as I understand, most places in the world have moved Ascension to what had previously been the seventh Sunday of Easter. And most clergy I know support this, saying that weekday "holy days of obligation" that have to fulfilled under penalty of sin are a hardship for working people and parents.

I'm sure this is true to some extent. Not everyone can afford the beautiful witness of being like Sandy Koufax, who famously refused to pitch game one of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.

On the other hand, it has been my anecdotal experience of living in the inner city that poor folks are often attracted to sects and ecclesial communities which are very demanding. The Jehovah's Witnesses around here spend their time dressed up nice and going door to door, while we catholics hardly even dress up for Sunday Mass. I've often observed people in the storefront Pentecostal churches at mid-week or in the evenings.

So for me, a question of pastoral strategy emerges. Is it better for a religion to have the sort of particular expectations that produce group identity and solidarity and preserve their distinctiveness within the larger culture, or is it better for these sorts of things to be relaxed in order to make it easier for people to be faithful?

This is one of those questions for which I honestly don't have an easy answer. Any thoughts?


Hidden One said...

My thoughts go like this:

If people are striving, make easier their striving that they may more easily achieve their worthy goal. If people are not striving, give them something to strive for that they may achieve a worthy goal.

Anonymous said...

maybe a nice persecution by the UN or China will get rid of some of the driftwood...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand. Is it better to dress like a slob going to a church to hear doctrine passed down from generation to generation with little focus on a 'God' and how HE wants to be worshipped; or is it better to go from door-to-door, dressed neatly, using the Bible, and talking about God? Hmmmm. If people CHOOSE to do it, there's no 'demand'. My suggestion: visit a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses at least ONE time. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you learn.

Charles of New Haven said...

Forgive me, second anonymous, I fear I have not been clear. I actually meant to compliment the Witnesses on how seriously they seem to take their mission, and to contrast that with how we ministers of Catholic Christianity sometimes think it's better not to challenge but to make things "easier" on people.

When I encounter the Witnesses, as I often do, on the street or (more likely) at the subway stop, I always wish them all the best in their ministry.

Anonymous said...

I feel VERY strongly that holy days should not be moved. It is significant that the Ascension happened on a Thursday (and Corpus Christi which follows it, although that too has been moved from Thursday to Sunday) because it calls our attention to Maundy Thursday and serves to remind us that through the Eucharist Jesus continues to remain with us. It is also a reminder of the Mandatum to love one another as we contemplate the mystery of the Ascension.

I'm also really bothered by the resultant supression of the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The 7 Sundays of Easter form a week of weeks, and living these out reminds us that the work of Easter is a fulfillment of the 7 days of creation.

But more than by these these others I'm bothered by the continual sweping away of the small disciplines that gave shape and substance to the faith in our daily lives. Obedince in the small and easy things prepare us for those times when the road gets difficult. If a person is not practised in the small and easy acts of faith like abstaining from meat on Fridays throughout the year or getting to mass on the short list of Holy Days of obligation left in the US, how much harder is it going to be for him or her when they are asked to do the really hard, difficult and important things like, embracing chastity, not use birth control, and loving the poor....even when they curse you.

Having to do the small difficult thig makes the big difficult thing eaisier, NOT harder. Ridding us of these small and easy disciplines, which have the effecting of building up solidariy among the faithful, have made the big and important difficult things HARDER. I expect that is part of the reason why over 90% of married catholics engage in the mortal sin of contraception.

Charles of New Haven said...

Great comment, Anonymous. Quiet, mystical messages like Easter's "week of weeks" recalling, as it does, so many things like ancient Jubilee and the New Creation itself, are too often lost in our discussions of these issues. Thanks!

Mike D said...

I definitely support having it on Thursday. People pour into the Churches on Ash Wednesday even though they have no obligation to attend Mass that day. Why should Ascention be any less important?

Parishes can easily schedule Masses to be convenient for their parishoners. A few days a year is not all that demanding. Moving the days gives a sense of unimportantance to the days.

Charles of New Haven said...

The point about Ash Wednesday is well-taken too!