July 13, 2009

Catholic Conflicts

The comments on yesterday's post reveal that I hit some neuralgic spots for us Catholic Christians. I've been thinking about it.

There have been several moments in the journey of my baptism when I have found things very different than what I expected. These experiences have almost always left me confused, and sometimes quite scandalized. My entrance into religious life was one of the hardest; so hard in fact that I needed to quit and start over.

Another, not unrelated crisis of expectation and experience, deeper and more seminal for who I would become as a Catholic, came upon me almost immediately after my sacramental initiation. I found, to my surprise and confusion, that one had to decide whom to listen to when it came to Catholic teaching and practice. I had entered a church that seemed to be full of conflicts. Liberal vs. conservative, progressive vs. traditional, radical vs. restorationist, the "spirit of Vatican II" against the continuity of ancient tradition, those who were derided as "70s priests" vs. those equally derided as "neocons." Being innocent and somewhat ignorant--as well as very scandalized by the whole thing--I hardly knew what to think.

It was even hard to know what was the genuine Catholic doctrine. One priest said one thing, and another priest something else. One confessor identified something as a serious sin, another as a minor sin, and a third as not a sin at all. One spiritual director would advise you not to believe anything you read in National Catholic Reporter, while another would warn you not to believe anything you heard on EWTN. When rubrics or parts of the Mass delineated in my hand missal were not included in the liturgy I attended, I would ask the priest about it. One priest would tell me that certain parts were optional, while another would assure me that they were not.

Fortunately, I found a solution to this confused and frustrating situtation, one that I now recommend to others: I empowered myself. I picked up a copy of the Catechism, which was new in those days, a Code of Canon Law, and an enchiridion of doctrine. (For this last treasure, read this and then buy this.) I read it myself.

Catholic teaching on faith, morals, and practice is not a secret. You don't have to wonder what it is, or if the priest or whoever trying to tell you something is trustworthy or knows what he is talking about. Be empowered and read it yourself. It worked for me.


Anonymous said...

Nothing like taking responsibility for your life and faith and reading some books, but to limit my own confusion I simply put myself at the feet of Jesus and stick with the gospels. It is so easy even a child can do it, and the Lord says only a child can do it. Ministers who complicate things are only avoiding the Lord.

pennyante said...

Being a cradle Catholic and now an aged Catholic, I have seen the pendulum swing from right to left and on its way back again. As far as I remember, when I was growing up, the height of clericalism was reached in the 1950's. Something had to give. The People of God were changing from uneducated to more highly educated people... and they had begun to question the simple answers that had always been accepted from their priests and teachers... Modern life had brought to ordinary people challenges that had not been apparent in earlier generation.

From my reading I have learned, the theologions and historians, etc. had already begun to look at different aspects of salvation history and were incorporating their findings into a new understanding of the Church.

I realize I am glossing over a lot but I want to say that the time was right to finally re-convene the previous Vatican I Council and that happened. John XXIII opened the windows of the Church and Vatican II came into being.

Fr. Charles, I can very well understand your confusion at what was being taught in the Church when you became a Catholic and I am amazed that you were able to weather the storm you stepped into. God certainly had a special plan for you and would not let you go!

Even after 40 years, we are still not over the transition period. There has been a lot of hurt and misunderstanding that have alienated many many people. Anger at changes that have not been adequately explained or too quickly implemented have caused the awful unchristian comments that one reads on some Catholic blogs. It often appears that the seamless garment of our Christian Faith has been rent.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us out of this hurtful period. We absolutely have to trust God and as Brother says, to place ouselves at the feet of Jesus. We all need to do our part too, since each of us is God's presence in this world to everyone we meet.

Thank you for addressing the issues that trouble you...

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for that post, and especially for the links at the end-- I never knew such a book existed! One more to add to my long unread list. I am very amused to learn that "enchiridion" means "handbook". I'd heard of the Enchiridion of Indulgences and it sounded so impressive; I thought enchiridion must mean "wonder mystery book of light" or something. I'll have to use it in conversation now, perhaps at work: "We need an enchiridion of procedures."

kam said...

Bro C - I'm a Secular Franciscan, professing in October (I hope), and my conversion back to a stronger, more spiritual Catholic life has been ongoing for the last 4 1/2 years. Even in our S.F. group you hear all kinds of different things, and the attitudes of some are also different. It's maddenning! What I'll believe is important Franciscan-wise is ho hum stuff to another. Yeow! I've finally decided to just pray often, remain humble and follow in the footsteps of Our Savior as Francis did.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

While I think the first correspondent (above) is somewhat right by saying we need to take responsibility for our faith by putting himself at the foot of Jesus with the gospels and then doing the hard work of getting an education in the faith, as Catholics we are given a guarantee by the Church that the path offered by those who teach, rule and sanctify are not going to give their own opinions about faith. The ordained are to give the faithful the teaching of the Church as known through the various gifts of Scripture and Tradition. I have a right to the verified teaching of the Church.

What you, Friar Charles, point out is that prudence is needed when following others. As you know, I left an order that started seeing itself as the loyal opposition to the Church thus forfeiting its original call.

One of the supreme gifts of the Church for me in recent years has been the charism of Communion & Liberation, a movement given to the Church by John Paul II. See www.clonline.us.

Qualis Rex said...

Br Charles, your post today REALLY hit home with me today. I was educated in the US by Marianists and Jesuits in the 80's/90's and in retrospect was given a borderline heretical education. It was almost as if everything they taught were a direct challenge or argument against long held orthodox church teachings (i.e. the perpetual virginity of the BVM, the Real Presence, women's ordination, even the Resurection). This type of challenge can be healthy, but ONLY if the orthodox teaching is firmly taught and understood BEFOREHAND; and this was simply omitted altogether. Liberation Theology was taught as the proper interpretation of the gospels (and I was a huge supporter for years). There was simply no side A to this side B education. Since I was raised to trust all priests and religious, I was simply convinced that this WAS the church today. Let's just say, it was a very difficult and harsh reality to find out that what I was taught and believed to be absolute truth was simply the opinion and yes, even heresy of a very select group of thinkers with their own agenda.

Br Charles, you have been blessed with the gift of discernment; one of the most valuable but difficult gifts God can bestow. Ignorance is bliss, and blind faith is so incredibly comfortable. To be able to discern what is important to one's Christian mission and in the larger context to God's church on earth in the presence of so much noise and opinion trying to pass as absolute truth will surely make you a very good and effective priest/Christian/human being. I have no doubt God has great plans for you. The best is yet to come.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, QR, for your kind encouragement. Having spent my morning listening to one more sacrilegious "eulogy" of drinking stories, I need it today.

Qualis Rex said...

Brother Charles - I'm sorry, but you just made me chuckle out loud there : ) Try listening to one of your favorite songs, then wash that down with your favorite gospel passage (mine is Matthew 28:20) and then do something physical, like work out, run, do some light gardening. Should get the "bad" taste out of your ears : )

Brother Charles said...

I went to the bank, prayed None, returned a bunch of phone calls, heard confessions in the parlor, searched the circuits for a phone number of unknown destination, and now I'm going to Vespers and a name day part for one of the senior friars. Does all that count? :)

A Bit of the Blarney said...

Not only was your post enlightening, but the comments were uplifting and eye opening as well. Thanks to everyone! I'm still treading water but it seems after reading blogs like yours my feet do touch bottom on occasion!! Cathy