February 4, 2010

My Catholicism

The other day I noticed a Facebook 'status update' from one of the classmates from theology. It was a reproduction of a quote from a 'Catholic' publication in which the hierarchy and priests were put down for being out of touch, and various sorts of deviants and dissenters were held up for what was called their heroic and long-suffering faithfulness.

It's curious to me how people could go through the same course in theology and come out with such different view of things, but I suppose it happens all the time.

I guess my trouble with such proclamations is that despite any sophisitication as a Catholic I have grown into over the years and despite the very fine theological education I have received thanks to the generosity of God's people and the trust of my Capuchin brothers, my own Catholicism still sits at its original location in a desire to 'follow the instructions.'

Part of my own conversion to the faith, and the ferocity with which I pursued it at the time, was driven by my unwillingness to live in a world without unified, demanding, and ultimate meaning. I was burned by one of my first philosophy professors who consented with glee to the conclusion of our class that there was no such thing as a 'meaning of life' but only 'meanings in life.' It wasn't good enough for me; I needed something better to stand on. And from my first St. Joseph Sunday Missal and rosary pamphlet, down to my cover-to-cover devouring of the Catechism when it first appeared in English, to the Code of Canon Law and the GIRM and GILH and my Denzinger enchiridion, I have rejoiced to find in these the authentic, apostolic interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures that I first began to read during the hot summer nights of 1991, when I took my first eager but stumbling steps to go out to meet the Person who had been coming to meet me all along, Jesus Christ.

I just want to follow the instructions and find in them deliverance from the entangled mess of confusion and passion and noise that Christian Tradition calls the 'world.'

Not that I don't have my criticisms of bishops and priests as well. All of us--bishops especially--should be doing public penance for the crimes we have committed against children. Even in this, our bishops made a mess of themselves in Dallas. Though I have known many priests who are among the sea of quiet saints who hold the Church together, men of humility and work, gentleness, devotion, and prayer, I am the first to admit that I am daily scandalized and disedified by priests who seem to take the promises of their state very lightly, seem to relish to indulge the disorderly parts of their personalities, and who display a spirit of bourgeois and privileged entitlement in their lifestyles. These things have been sources of scandal, hurt, distraction, and confusion since my very first day living among religious and clergy. At a few moments in the course of things it has gotten so bad as to distract me from everything else and threaten my own vocation and resolve. So I know what it's like to be hurt and feel betrayed.

But I will never condemn my priests and bishops, nor recommend that they 'get over it' and start to conform to the confusions, errors, and glittering fashions of the world, because it is from them that I have received the apostolic teaching that has given me a reason to live in this world and something to do while I do.


Mandrivnyk said...

Amen, Father! It's always struck me as a little mad, this notion that because our ideals are very hard to live up to, we ought to just toss them away. Of course, this is precisely why our priests and religious so desperately need our prayers, I guess.

At various points, I, too have been scandalized by the dissent that seems to be found at all levels of the faith... and yet, it's always been like that. God rescued the Israelites, and guided and protected them through miracles I can scarcely imagine... and they weren't exactly consistently faithful. The Disciples, too, they knew Jesus in a way that we can't possibly... and yet, well, St. Peter denied Him three times.

As you likely know by now, I haven't exactly been faithful to my baptismal promises; when things got too difficult for me, I didn't bother with trying to "reform" Catholicism, I just walked away. I used to dream, sometimes, that the Lord would ask me when I would stop running, and I would rail and rail and rail at Him - what was the point, when nobody cared. Nobody believed. Why should I? He would always tell me that, if it bothered me so much, to do something. Be faithful. To, in a sense, help feed His sheep.

That's exactly what you did, and you do through your fidelity, Father. I read your blog for quite some time before I returned to the Faith, and even that helped a great deal. It's people like you who help me find hope, and I imagine that a lot of people would say the same. May God bless you, Father.

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for your encouragement, Mandrivnyk. Peace.

ben in denver said...

Yes, yes.

Perhaps "the world" looks more attractive to those who have never been there.

I think that many of those who dissent within the church are like the brother of the prodigal son. They see the sinner returned and wish that they could have squandered a protion of their inheritance on a little fun as well. I imagine that the brother of the prodigal son must have figured that his brother must have really enjoyed himself a little with all that wine and those prostitutes and saw that he suffered no lasting harm from that indulgence. Because the prodigal son returned home, the brother may end up with the wrong idea about "the world"--for him it may seem fun and ultimately harmless. While the truly repentant sinner clings to his new life in fear and trembling because he truly knows that "the world" wants him dead.

Tina aka Snupnjake said...

Hi Fr. Charles!
As to how two people can go through the exact same class and draw different conclusions: I could bore you with tons of educational psychology theory (I'm getting a phd in the stuff) or I could make a quick summary: It is one of two thngs: A. They weren't paying attention and the stuff went in one ear and out the other or B. Their personal lived experience has given them a different schema for processing and organizing the world.


Brother Charles said...


he truly knows that "the world" wants him dead.

That hits the nail on the head. One of our Scripture professors, Stanley Marrow, SJ, used to say, "Never forget that the world hates you."


In this case I suspect the latter.

penny ante said...

I am actually less concerned about the dissent than I am with the church politics and pettiness among some priests themselves. The way some priests in power treat other priests. It was eye-opening to me when I first came across it. It's disgraceful and made me so angry that I had to actually make up my mind to pray for those very priests. That was the only way I could get rid of the anger and to see them as God's children, just as I am.

We need our priests so desperately and we expect more from them because of who they are. But sometimes I wonder if we are expecting too much...

Brother Charles said...

It's true, PA. The misuse and abuse of power is a serious problem in the clergy.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, this was perhaps one of the hardest blog posts to read from you. Ever since I came to the US, I've been surrounded by very liberal "my way or the highway" priest. I'm not sure if you heard of/remember Bruce Ritter (outwardly compassionate and saintly; inwardly an egocentric sociopath). While being covertly taped during one of his repugnant indescretions, he said, "I came to terms long ago that if God didn't accept me for who I am then that's His problem." To me, this summed up what I had been dealing with for so many years, and was a cause of deep turmoil and "dark night of the soul".

This is why I thank you so much for being who you are and doing what you do. De profundis ad lucem.

Warren said...

I have always had a tendency towards Orthodoxy, whatever it is, "following the instructions" works as a good enough definition for me. Underneath that, the Orthodoxy is a thing about the heart, really. It is using the head to aim, where the heart knows the truth to be; In the authentic, original, orthodox revelation of Faith that came to us through the Apostles.

Cor ad Cor Loquitor.
Deep calls to Deep.