September 4, 2009

I Don't Get It

Sometimes I feel like I don't understand what's going on in the Catholic Church here in the U.S.A. From certain points of view, things look healthy and encouraging. From other angles, though, it looks like things are falling apart in a catastrophic way.

On the one hand certain things I see and hear make me think the Catholic Church is full of life and zeal: the pastoral visit of Benedict XVI, the installation of Archbishop Dolan here in New York, religious orders growing because they are willing to reject indifferentism and relativism and embrace the values of traditional religious life, Catholic blogs and internet evangelization full of zeal and erudition, converts entering the Church from separated ecclesial communities and even from godlessness, martyrdom increasing in the world, etc.

But from other points of view the state of the Church can seem pretty dire: There are general problems, such as church closings and their attendant troubles here in the Northeast and the Midwest, our continuing embrace of denial about the root cultural problems of clergy sexual abuse, a lack of zeal for souls and pastoral answers as populations shift and economic problems become spiritual dangers to individuals and families, etc. There are also very disturbing aspects of my own individual experience, such as presiding at funerals time after time in which it is clear that few of the mourners have been to Mass any time recently--and for which I sometimes receive the most discouraging comment I can imagine, "Mom (or whoever) would have loved that." *sigh*--as well as "eulogies" that make a mockery of the Lord's sanctuary with foul language and drinking stories, how only a very small proportion of families with whom I celebrate infant baptism are ever seen again, practicing Catholics whom, when you actually get to know them, seem to lack even the most basic catechesis, etc.

So sometimes I feel like I have one foot in a devout and energetic Church and the other in a Church in a tailspin of decadence and decline. Would the real Catholic Church in the United States please stand up?


Anonymous said...

I have felt that way for years too Father. As frustrating as it can be, I take advantage of good liturgy, and devotions, priests,the sacraments, inspire me beyond these frustrations. No doubt, it seems like a losing battle at times---but the real Catholic Church I feel is emerging and unfortunately we have to have patience and many prayers...
God Bless You,

Brother Charles said...

Thank you, Momoften, for the encouraging analysis and invitation to practice!

Paul A. Zalonski said...

You are NOT alone in pointing out the ecclesial, theological & liturgical discrepancies in parishes, monasteries and religious orders today. A recent experience in my diocese led me to think that there are parallel churches, both seemingly approved of by the bishop. I was so angry and disappointed about all this that I could've eaten nails. AND certainly these observations have little, perhaps no, correspondence to the mind of the Church as known in ecclesial documents and recent writings of popes. When, O Lord, will things change? Lord, have mercy.

I save for a better opinion.

Lee Strong said...

You just have to keep doing the best you can, setting an example, proclaiming the Word, and trusting in God. Be the best priest you can be (just as I try to be the best lay person I can be).

This is not new. Through out history many of the people in the pews were not particulary faithful, they were there because they had to be, because of appearances, because someone in the family nagging, whatever. Some of those we view as saints now were indifferent Christians in parts of their lives, but ultimately their hearts and minds were opened. Think of St. Francis!

Meanwhile, I just try to keep in mind that I have enough flaws and spiritual blind spots on my own to keep me busy.

Brother Charles said...

You and me both, Lee. I have both worlds in my heart. Weeds and wheat.

Rachel Gray said...

That's our Church in a nutshell. :)

From a review of a book about the ancient Byzantine liturgy, here:

"Citing the Great Fathers, he evokes free-ranging congregations where young men and women trolled the crowd for romance. Chrysostom complained that the women at church were no different from courtesans, and the men like 'frantic stallions.' Chrysostom also noted that people were talking throughout the liturgy, and 'their talk is filthier than excrement.' Old Golden Mouth went on to report that the rush for Communion proceeded by way of 'kicking, striking, filled with anger, shoving our neighbors, full of disorder.'

It almost makes today’s American parishes look reverent."

Brother Charles said...

LOL! Let us also remember, though, that John was a famously grumpy man.

It reminds me of two summers ago when I was at Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi. I couldn't fight my way to the front for Holy Communion!

Paul A. Zalonski said...

Lee's is correct, of course!

History is tremendous teacher. That's why I am Catholic.


ben in denver said...

In Colorado, spring is a season of nearly violent and abrupt change. I expect that is the case in many places, especially those plces where snow sits on the ground for much of the winter. So my perception of spring is a sudden bursting forth of new life. Hence, when I think of the "New Springtime of Evangelization" I'm confounded.

However, I lived one of my springs in Oregon. There spring is the longest season of the year. It often starts with the first shoots of new growth in late January, and summer does not arrive in earnest until June. The pace of change in the Oregon spring is nearly imperceptible. Sure there are many beautiful moments when the various flowers bloom, but as a Coloradan I was frustrated that it dragged on and on, and it seemd that summer would never come when everything is full of life.

I think that the new evangelization is more like the Oregon Spring than the Colorado Spring. The Church is proceeding slowly through the spring, and is perhaps right now only at the Presentation, barely in February (which, ironically, is the driest month of the year in Denver). Spring has begun, we can see that the new growth is coming, but Lent is still in front of us, and Easter sometimes seems a long way off sometimes.

Victoria said...

A recent experience in my diocese led me to think that there are parallel churches, both seemingly approved of by the bishop.

Your experience is not only felt in the USA. I live in Australia and have experienced exactly the same. Sometimes I want to shut down the computer, not go to Mass/mess and just concentrate at home on my walk with God.

I get so depressed sometimes at the state of the Church particularly when I see or read about the 'pastoral' bishops who say nothing about egregious abuses of Church teaching and yet discipline or criticise the Faithful Catholics who dare to speak out about the bishops' failures to be shepherds.

If I didn't believe that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ I would say "to hell with it." to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor.

As for the parallel churches, they are alive and well in Australia but I don't think that the bishops have the intestinal fortitude to clean this Augean Stable and excuse themselves by intoning the "we must be pastoral" mantra. I am reminded of millstones and "to whom much is given much will be asked" but it is rather cold comfort though when I see the Faith I love slowly collapsing because those in charge have not performed any maintenance or done any repairs for forty years.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, as the others have already said, "Welcome home". This has pretty much always been the state of the church (and humanity on a larger scale). Isn't this one of the reasons St Francis founded his order; to reevangelize a culturally Catholic populace? Nowadays (see? I got that one from YOU! : ) we are just far more aware of all these problems as we live in the age of information.

Unfortunately, I believe the church is now facing the biggest battle it has faced since the reformation; the tendency to throw out tradition and ritual in favor of expediency and accomodation. Far too many priests run their parishes like their own personal feifdoms with no regard to rubrics or even dogma but instead focus on whatever political/social message they will score points with the audience (Pfleger anyone?). And while 300 years ago, such priests would have been ceremoniously burnt at the stake, these days you just can't get give the proper fire permits. So, we have to deal.

And not to be a continuous downer, but you can trace the sex abuse crisis back to the "spirit of vatican II". Before V-II, there was of course no shortage of priests, or church-goers. After Paul VI, the church was left in a shambles, and priests/religious left in droves. So, any remaining priest was treasured, regardless of merrit (or lack thereof) and any indiscretions tolerated/overlooked. In sum, as Momoften says, I think things are definitely looking up now with our Blessed Pope Benedict (may God bless him and grant him 100 years!) and good priests like YOU! God loves you, and SO DO WE!!!!!

Alan said...

Your description of the Church in America reminds me of a pretty good description of my life: sometimes hot, sometimes cold, often tepid. Sometimes saint, sometimes sinner, too often just gliding along. That's why "the Church" is that way; because too many of the Church are like me.

Rachel Gray said...

Very good point, Alan.

Reminds me a bit of Chesterton.