Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Church in America: a crisis of faith and a call for homiletics

Over on Mark Shea's blog today, we can read about a woman who insists she's a good Catholic...except that she's really into the spirit world and thinks witchcraft is cool (no word on whether she's also a liturgist, but I wouldn't be surprised).

Meanwhile, Larry D explores the reasons ex-Catholics give for leaving the Church, in a thoughtful post which considers all of our duties as lay Catholics to work harder against this phenomenon.

And from our own comment boxes in the rather lengthy comment thread below this post, you can read such gems as:
Part of what I love about the Church is how it has remained true to tradition in some things, but part of what I loathe about the Church is its utter inflexibility in others....

I have been Catholic for almost 20 years. I know how I feel at Mass on a personal level, and that is why I go. So I may be a "catholic, but"...but I daresay, there are a lot of us who would like to see some things grow and change within the church...

Jesus was a revolutionary and bucked the traditions of his day...

If everything was to remain the same, we would be in the same clothes, with the same morality of Jesus' time. We no longer have slaves, women can cut their hair and speak their minds. Yes, the Bible uses Wheat as a metaphor, but many metaphors are used that we don't take so literally...

In all my life as a Catholic, I have never been taught a catechism that even comes close to what you guys are preaching here. My children are following in a Catholic School, and I know that they have only very minimally discussed the Pope. I was never told I had to bow down to the Church's will no matter what, and I was never taught, nor are my children, that there is one way, or the highway (to Hell) as some of you suggest. I have been told by a priest that reconcilliation was not a necessary sacrament. I have also heard a priest say to not worry ourselves too much with the goings on in Rome. I have to say as well, that I cannot recall a homily ever discussing taking everything literally. I know the Catholic community in which I participate, and I don't know anyone who takes everything as seriously and as literally as some people on this blog...

One can't be a good Catholic, a devout Catholic, a Catholic in full communion with the Church unless one what believes what the Church teaches. This is true. One can only be a dissenting Catholic, a "cafeteria" Catholic, a "Catholic, but."...

I think that ricegirl's point... is that many "catholics" are just that...catholics with air quotes. I like being that kind of Catholic, because frankly, if I had been told at RCIA that it was all or nothing. I would've looked somewhere else. I don't recall any homily regarding following Rome. I know that some parishes do things more seriously than others. I would say my parish is middle of the road. So there is a LOT of inconsistency in the Church. How is this "allowed" to happen in the one and only church? You can't deny that if we took a poll of Catholics, VERY FEW would say, "Yes, I take EVERY last bit of the catechism to heart, and if I deviate from it, I am in sin and not truly Catholic". You'd lose lots of the women (and men) right off the bat for using artificial birth control....
There are probably more, but these were the ones that stood out.

Show of hands, anybody: when is the last time you heard a homily on what it means to be Catholic? On the papacy? On what the Catechism has to say about the Church? On the sacraments (including matter and form)? On moral law or the precepts of the Church? On contraception, abortion, or any other serious issue?

I don't mean to pick on our priests, here. They get approximately five to seven minutes a week to tackle 40 years of horrendous catechesis, creeping relativism, a culture which thinks that to be good one must be nice and to be bad one will be judgmental, and a laity comprised of anywhere from thirty to sixty percent functional heretics (in terms of their actual understanding and acceptance of Church teaching). Above and beyond all of this, our priests today must deal with the inconvenient reality that from earliest infancy American Catholics are taught to worship one false god: the god of self. The only criteria for truth is, "Do I like this? Does it fulfill me personally?" and it is the standard by which all other truth is judged.

Thus, you can have people beside you in the pews at Mass who really don't believe a word of the Nicene Creed, for instance (and who are going to go ballistic when one of those words becomes "consubstantial" next year), and who are actually charming pagans instead of Christians because they think of Jesus as a not-divine but rather nice social justice sort of person--and yet these same people will insist that they are Catholics, really, because their only criteria for what the word "Catholic" means is their own highly personal definition.

And our priests, as I said, get five to seven minutes a week in which to address any of this. Which is not nearly enough time--but wouldn't it be nice if this time were actually used for this purpose?

I mean, during my life as a Catholic I've heard countless homilies on our Christian duty to love each other, as in be nice and kind and caring and forgiving to each other. I've also heard countless homilies on how important it is to have a close, intimate, personal relationship with Jesus. In terms of putting the focus on Christ's call to love God and love our neighbor, then, these homilies haven't been all bad.

But like many adult Catholics, I can probably count on one decade of the rosary the number of times in the last ten or fifteen years I've heard homilies about serious moral issues, Catholic teaching on the Church, the papacy, and so forth, or our duty as Catholics to assent to Church teachings. Actually, let me take that back--one pastor of mine probably filled a whole decade by himself each year I was privileged to attend his Masses; but that's one pastor out of a great many. The "Get to know Jesus and be nice to everybody!" homily has been the standard fare.

There's a lot that needs to be done, if the Church in America is going to reach out to those Catholics who are only Catholics by their own lax definition of the word. The laity have an important role to play, too. But if our priests would lead the way by using that five-to-seven minute Sunday homily to address key aspects of Church teaching, pressing issues of morality and virtue, and other topics of similar importance, I think it would help. As the one commenter I quoted above said, "I don't recall any homily regarding following Rome." What would it mean to her and to many others, I wonder, if we all had heard many such homilies?


L. said...

"..if the Church in America is going to reach out to those Catholics who are only Catholics by their own lax definition of the word."

My own "lax" definition of the word is that every baptized person is Catholic.

I am not quite sure how one would "reach out" to people like us. Very often in the past, "reaching out" has been a euphemism for, "accept everything, or get out, because only the truly faithful belong."

LarryD said...

You forgot to include the "preferential treatment of the poor" homilies (which is true - but come on! Being Catholic is so so much more than that!) Oh - and Social Justice too...

The 5-7 minute homily is certainly not enough time to effectively teach the truths of the faith. But if the priests spoke more of salvation and the saints and the reality of hell and the blessed hope of heaven - if they themselves displayed the joy and beauty of being Catholic - that would certainly help.

And thanks for the link, Erin!

Red Cardigan said...

L., my daughter's seventh grade religion textbook today contained this question and answer:

"What is the Church?

"The Church is the community of disciples who, through the Holy Spirit, profess the faith of Jesus Christ, participate in his sacraments, and are united in communion with the pastors he has appointed. (CCC 815)"

If you do not profess the Christian faith, do not participate in the sacraments of the Church, and are not united in communion with the Pope and the bishops in union with him, then to what degree are you Catholic?

Yes, baptism imparts an indelible character. But it is possible to be outside of the unity of the Church, and to be "Catholic" only in the loosest possibly sense of having been baptized but not having formally apostatized.

And by "reaching out," I simply mean that the Church has a duty to bring those lapsed Catholics back into the fold, for the sake of their own salvation. It's a work of charity, and it's very much in keeping with the mission of the Church.

The Sicilian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Sicilian said...

You would love my parish priest. He's young, orthodox and he most certainly tackles marriage, contraception, assisted reproductive treatments/IVF, abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality/gay marriage. He covers these topics in his homilies and in the bulletin as well, on a regular basis. You cannot attend Mass at his parish and come out of it not knowing the Church's position on things.

And, although he has admittedly gotten bashed by Democratic parishioners for speaking out against liberal positions, and by Republicans for conservative positions (really, only immigration as far as I can tell), he continues. He posts voting guides frequently leading up to elections, and also talks in other parts of the year about how Catholics should vote.

I agree with L above, that "reaching out" is not going to be successful with most people similar to us. Some have been poorly educated in the faith, while some have been well educated but simply do not believe. If "reaching out" means telling those lapsed in the faith that they have to believe all RC doctrine, dogma, canon and so forth to be considered truly Catholic, then such efforts would likely have limited success. Understand that I am in agreement with what you consider "reaching out" should be, but I do not think an "all or nothing" approach will be work very well.

Though I attend Mass, I cannot and do not consider myself a true Catholic, as I make clear to those who think otherwise. I haven't converted to another faith because a) I'm lazy, and b) I don't believe any one faith understands God correctly.

However, for all that I dissent, I applaud Father for his sincerity and consistent preaching what the Church believes, especially in light of parishioners approaching him in disagreement. Dissenters can either sit there at Mass and keep quiet as I do, or go elsewhere.

Kerri said...

I am perplexed as to why priests don't speak the Truth from the pulpit. People's eternal souls are at stake! What are they playing at? Is the prospect of losing some parishioners so distasteful to them that they would risk the souls of those whom are entrusted to them? Isn't that making a god of money and/or popularity?

With the topic artificial birth control ALONE, they could set 90-odd percent of their flock straight- with one homily on the evils and mortal sinfulness of ABC, those that are truly serious about and wish to grow in the knowledge and practice of their faith would welcome the message... the rest will complain and pout and stop their feet... maybe they will even leave the parish or Church. Would that be so bad? Wouldn't that be like pruning dead wood?

I know that sounds harsh, but "Catholics" that are not faithful to the teachings of the Church are diluting Her relevance in this world and I am tired of it! Obedience and humility, PLEASE!

L. said...

Is someone who is Catholic "in the loosest possible sense" still Catholic? If an excommunicated Catholic is still Catholic, then I'd have to go with an affirmative answer there.

I believe I am in the same part of the cafeteria as The Sicilian above, or at least nearby. I attend Mass and mostly keep quiet, but I am honest about what I think when asked, and would never present myself in any way as a devout Catholic. People have asked me why I bother to go, and I don't have a good answer for them, and yet...I continue to go.

Is the Church just a haven for saints, or also open to confused sinners, who are intellectually honest about their lapses (or lack) of faith?

L. said...

"Would that be so bad? Wouldn't that be like pruning dead wood?"

If one truly believes that all of us are sinners and that no one is beyond hope of redemption, then I imagine it isn't so easy to refer to human beings as "dead wood" and write them off so easily.

John Thayer Jensen said...


"Is the Church just a haven for saints, or also open to confused sinners, who are intellectually honest about their lapses (or lack) of faith?"

I am very glad you do go, L. I absolutely thing you are on the right tack here. I know there are many in our parish in the same boat and I am just glad they are there.


Red Cardigan said...

Certainly the Church is a haven for sinners, and certainly we are all sinners.

But where I become confused is when those people who truly want to undermine the Church, who openly reject her teachings and wish for her to change them, who agitate for women priests or birth control or gay marriage or abortion or whatever the case might be, also insist that they haven't really left the Church and that their "mission" is to subvert the Church from within.

Sitting quietly at Mass every week while staying away from Communion because one is at odds with the Church is, as John Thayer Jensen says, the right sort of thing to do (so long as one is open to the possibility that one is, in fact, wrong and ought to reconcile with the Church as soon as possible). Receiving Communion weekly while working for Planned Parenthood and attending WomenPriest conferences is another thing altogether, I think.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

For the most part, this discussion is none of my business. The Roman Church has every right to define itself by its own internal processes. I have no more say in the edicts of the Papacy than I have in whether the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elects a gay man as bishop. I don't adhere to, pay tithes and offerings to, nor have I committed myself to communicant membership in, either one.

But I must note that the word "catholic" means "universal," not "subject to Rome." Millions of Protestants recite the words "holy catholic church" in the Apostles Creed every week. It is hardly necessary to add the little asterisk, "church universal, not the Roman Catholic Church," because everyone knows the difference.

I have only one quibble with CCC 815. I would substitute the word "called" for "appointed." That is not the Bishop of Rome and the other bishops who have chosen to subordinate themselves to his diocese. But if that is the leadership you choose, it is none of my business to stop you.

Kerri said...

Of course we are all sinners, but to whom much is given, much is expected... we are so blessed to belong to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, founded by Jesus Christ! We have the absolute GIFT of having 2,000 years of Tradition and wisdom of Jesus, the Apostles, popes, Saints, Doctors of the Church, etc. and all we have to do is be humble, obey, and bend to the Will of God. We will fail, we will fall down, but we must persevere in trying to perfect ourselves as our Father is perfect. And this cannot be done by dissenting or even being lukewarm.

I apologize for my choice of words ("dead wood"). I truly do wish for all people to go to Heaven, I pray for it fervently.

L. said...

Thanks, John. :)

And Erin, I think the key word is "agitate," and how you define it.

I am not out to "subvert" the Church -- I agree with Siarlys Jenkins above, in that the Church (and all religions) has every right to define itself by its own internal processes. I don't work for PP, nor do I attend any public advocay demonstrations as a participant because of the nature of my job. I did seek healthcare at PP in the years when I had inadequate health insurance, and I don't vote for pro-life politicians (with whom I usually disagree on other grounds, too). It is not alignment, but it doesn't seem like "agitation."

My "agitation" is largely on my own personal blog, or the comment boxes of others, and even then, I am careful never to imply that I am a Catholic in good standing.

I am not sure what being "open to the possibility that one is, in fact, wrong" means in practice. Strictly speaking, I was "wrong" to marry my partner according to the Church -- and yet, if any event in my life was pre-ordained by God, I'd have to say it was that.

L. said...

The other thing you mention, Erin: receiving communion. This raises a whole 'nother question.

I haven't received in almost 30 years, since I decided I wasn't pro-life, as the Church requires. I would never be a godparent or Confirmation sponsor for anyone. I know other people whose opinions mostly line up with mine, not the Church's, and yet they do all of the above. I do not presume to know what it is in their hearts, though I do see a contradiction.

On the other hand, just by identifying myself as "Catholic" -- even as "Catholic, but..." -- I realize I raise a similar contradiction in some people's eyes.

Susan said...

well, I guess I'll leave a little something here since I'm so heavily quoted in the post... :) L., you and I should get some coffee! Our ideologies are scary close! (though I am more of an attachment parent...)

Anyhoo. I just have to say (again) that it has never been my experience to hear a "hard line" preached in the Church...except from a fringe group of laity on blogs and sometimes in our Catholic newspaper from a priest columnist. I am not calling some of you "fringe" out of disrespect, but from all of the people I've met through the church, including priests and old school grandmas, (and I've been Catholic for almost 20 years)you, by taking the hard line ARE "fringe" catholics. Either that, or all of the hard line Catholics are carefully closeted. Catholic around here (large midwest town) mostly means that you are part of what is basically a social club. It means you know all of the other catholic families in town. It means that you may or may not attend Mass, it means that you show up late, talk through the whole thing (with your coat on), and leave early if you do bother to show up for Mass. It means witnessesing altercations between parents at CYO sports games.

Well, I'll back off that a little. Those are the bad things. Being Catholic also means that there is a large sense of community and a sense of belonging. It means that if you are ill, just had a baby, a death in the family, or moved into a new house, expect that you will get lots of food brought to your house. It means that people have your back, that they are praying for you. That they care what happens to you, your spouse, and your children.

I was raised by a staunch atheist father and an indifferent (religiously) mother. I took myself to church with friends starting about the age of 9. (Methodist church) I became Catholic after meeting my husband. I may not be the best Catholic as far as the ritual, background knowledge, nitty gritty liturical stuff. but to me, that is just "stuff". I know that this is offensive to some of you, but I am OKAY with it. So far, every priest I've told this to, is OKAY with it. None has ever told me that I am sinning by not buying in whole hog. I've never been told to read up and come back when I'm ready to believe it all. Like L., I'm just being honest, and I don't hide these thoughts from anyone. You don't consider me to be Catholic. I do.
And Red, the last line of your post...what would it mean to me if my parish priest took the hard line and talked about submitting to the Pope at every homily. It would probably mean me not attending mass, but still volunteering to help our refugees from Burma, helping with the inner city sister school, and volunteering at school. In other words, being a catholic, just not "practicing" catholicism.

Anonymous said...

I haven't received in almost 30 years, since I decided I wasn't pro-life, as the Church requires. I would never be a godparent or Confirmation sponsor for anyone. I know other people whose opinions mostly line up with mine, not the Church's, and yet they do all of the above. I do not presume to know what it is in their hearts, though I do see a contradiction.

And whatever differences we have, I do respect your integrity here. We live in an age were people don't realize that actions speak louder than words, (or know and don't care). And when one takes communion, one is tacitly telling everyone that there is true commuinion. That is, unity which includes unity of doctrine. Taking communion when one rejects a teaching binding on the faithful is like saying, "I am in communion with all of you" and crossing his fingers behind his back.

priest's wife said...

great post!

I remember when we were taking required marriage classes at the Roman-rite church we would be getting married in (my parents' church although our Byzantine rite bishop married us)- After 6 weeks of classes, the ONLY strong stance the priest took was "don't have separate checking accounts." Nothing about living together before marriage, birth control, etc. Everyone was 'forced' to be there- why didn't he tell hard truths?

Patrick said...

The Church focuses on love, hope, and eternal justice because the mass of people are poor and unloved (in the world) and have other things to think about than euthanasia and other peoples' faith.

Of course, white American Catholics think the Mass should address what they want to talk about, right? Talk about self-importance. You get a little money, a family that cares about you, and now you think the highest priority should be the issues of culture that most of the Catholic population already accepts: it's only white yuppies who discuss killing themselves and their babies voluntarily.

Let the bishops do the bish-ing, I say.

@ Jenkins: Roman Church? Seriously?

The Sicilian said...

Sitting quietly at Mass every week while staying away from Communion because one is at odds with the Church is, as John Thayer Jensen says, the right sort of thing to do (so long as one is open to the possibility that one is, in fact, wrong and ought to reconcile with the Church as soon as possible).

And if we are not open to the possibility of reconciliation, we should just remove our quiet-yet-dissenting selves? Really? Sorry, but until Father ever asks me why I don't take Communion and I tell him and he throws me out, you'll continue to find me in the front row on the left side of the altar.

Speaking of which, I, too, do not take Communion due to my dissent of/doubt in Church teachings. Dissent does not always equal disrespect; at least that's the way I live. Though I do know of others who have contracepted, or currently are, or are divorced and remarried without an annulment, and think nothing of taking Communion.

c matt said...

I think maybe too many confuse sinners and heretics. The Church is a refuge for sinners - those who agree with Her teachings, strive to live by them, but often times fail. Heretics may also be sinners, but they are of a different category - they do not believe what the Church teaches, and therefore do not try to strive to live by it - often the opposite, they try to change the Church as Erin pointed out above. I personally don't understand why they would stay - they have already left the Church spiritually, if not physically or offically, and they don't seem intent on coming back. Then again, greater miracles have happened, so who knows. Maybe still remianing physically or officially will somehoe bring them back.

Red Cardigan said...

C Matt has a good point; it's one thing to attend Mass knowing one isn't in communion with the Church, while staying away from Communion and striving to work towards reconciliation. It's another thing to say, "I will never be reconciled with the Church, and I believe she's absolutely wrong about some important matter concerning faith and morals--in fact I utterly reject her teachings on the subject, now and forever--but I'm going to show up, receive Communion, and pretend to be fully Catholic."

Sicilian, why aren't you open to the possibility of reconciliation? Here's the thing: if you believe that the Church is completely, totally, irredeemably *wrong* about something--then you no longer believe that the Church is *the* Church founded by Christ for the purpose of the salvation of all men, which He promised to preserve from error via the working of the Holy Spirit. If the Church teaches error, then the Church is not the Church, and you might as well go elsewhere.

Susan, I wish you'd share with me (privately via email if you're not comfortable sharing it publicly) the name of your parish. I would like to make sure that I never set foot in it. I don't think it's funny that a parish full of heretic "social club" Catholics has replaced the real thing where you live. Somehow, I don't think your bishop would find it amusing, either.

LarryD said...

It's distressing to read some of these comments. It's as if they're saying: "I'm a lukewarm Catholic, and I'm kinda sorta okay with that."

Kate said...

Last week our priest spoke on abortion and included a handout, same-sex marriage, euthanasia and our responsibility to be informed voters. He's taken some heat from parishioners for speaking out, but I'm glad he does it. I live in California in a town full of old hippies and hybrid cars. The mission field is local.

eulogos said...

I think maybe the other Susan here only thinks she knows what "everybody else" in her parish thinks and believes. I would guess that there is a wide spectrum of belief and degree of adherence there as in many other places. The "closeted" faithful may just be quietly practicing their faith, and she doesn't know about them. Perhaps their numbers are few, but I am sure they exist.

I want to ask L and Sicilian, and perhaps the other Susan also: Do you want to know the truth? Whatever it is, do you want to know it? If you found out this opinion or that opinion of yours was false, would you prefer the truth to your own opinion? Do you want to know God? Are you open to God teaching you about Himself?
Would the three of you be willing to pray "God please teach me the truth about You, whatever it is."?
And then to stay in quiet meditation for 15 minutes or so?
The best place to do this would be in the empty church or the Blessed Sacrament chapel, but if you can't do that, a quiet place at home.
I am asking all of you, not to change from your opinion to mine, but to make yourself open to whatever God might have to teach you and to wherever He might lead you. Please...
Susan Peterson

Susan said...

Other Susan, I have prayed that prayer my whole life. perhaps that's why I am Catholic today. Perhaps, my faith and religion (two separate things to me) are ever evolving, and I will come to know the church as absolutely as some of you seem to. Maybe I'm coming about by degrees so to speak. Are you going to judge the Holy Spirit and say that my mind isn't being changed fast enough? I can't help how I think and process information. It is counter intuitive for me to submit blindly and wholly to anything. I have opened myself to it. God knows this. You don't. It takes more than 15 minutes of quiet contemplation for the Spirit to work sometimes. Believe me when I say that I am sincerely open to God's Plan for me.
Red, and others: I don't profess to know what "everyone" else thinks, I'm only telling you my perceptions of Catholics in my own age group--in other words, the parents at my school. I know that there are some devout by the book types at my parish, but what I am really trying to drive home is that these people are not outspoken. I can only speak to my own perceptions. But to me, these are people who don't quibble much about the details, but who unequivically show that they are Christians by their deeds. This parish comes together like nobody's business, and I wouldn't trade it.

Red, really, I am shocked that you wouldn't want to step foot in my church?! Frankly, I'm part offended and part relieved. Know that you are always welcome, though. It doesn't need to be named, because I feel that the comments and my perceptions are not limited to only my parish. We attend Mass every week. It doesn't matter where we are...on vacation in Michgan or in the Southwest, in another midwestern town or state travelling for soccer tournaments... My comments are not limited to only the parish I attend now. I have been an actual parish member in three different states. None were any more orthodox than the one I attend now, in fact, I've been to a much more liberal parish. Red, what is your parish name? Does your priest get on the Bully Pulpit for Rome? Maybe I need to go there and get schooled. Like I said...I'm open.

priest's wife said...

Kate- I hope you have thanked your priest for his truth-speaking and also talk loudly in the coffee and donut line so people can overhear you that you think Fr. is really faithful and you are happy to be a part of the parish. He needs your support :)

Red Cardigan said...

Susan, I think you may have misunderstood my point: if your parish, as you said initially, is full of people who reject most of the Church's teachings with the support of its pastor, then it is a parish which is failing dramatically to do the work of the Church.

And you, and the others you describe, are the ones suffering for it.

The Sicilian said...

Erin, as I said in my first post, I don't believe that any faith has understood/interpreted God completely correctly. It'd be pointless for me convert, or go anywhere else.

Mass each week is a focal point, a set-aside time (in addition to other random times during the week) to reflect on God with a community of people, even if we are believing differently. I know the routine, so I can follow along. Plus, Father is an intelligent, well-spoken man, and I enjoy his homilies and respect his dedication, regardless whether or not I agree with what he's saying.

I do this without stepping on anyone's toes. I don't take Communion, I am not a lector or extraordinary minister, I do not get up and walk out when Father talks about things with which I disagree (I haven't seen it done at the particular Mass I attend, but a friend said that a family walked out at one Mass when Father spoke against IVF), I don't approach Father with my disagreements, I am not volunteering to be anyone's godparent, and I am not asking nor expecting the Church to change. I contribute to the collection - albeit not much - but I do give something, I've donated food for food drives, and I've supported food fundraisers. And I cannot stand the disrespect of the Catholics who split before the end of Mass, especially those who leave as Father makes his way down the aisle, sometimes getting in his path. For a sinner and a heretic, I show a LOT more respect to your faith than many of your fellow Catholics do. End of story.

L. said...

"After 6 weeks of classes, the ONLY strong stance the priest took was 'don't have separate checking accounts.'" --->

I must say, based on my own experience, that is very bad advice for some people. Be honest with each other about finances, of course, and big investments should be joint, but separate spending money is sometimes a great idea.
(Sorry, couldn't leave that one alone!)

L. said...

Erin, you say, speak against those who say, "I will never be reconciled with the Church, and I believe she's absolutely wrong about some important matter concerning faith and morals--in fact I utterly reject her teachings on the subject, now and forever--but I'm going to show up, receive Communion, and pretend to be fully Catholic."

What about those of us who say, "I don't think it's likely I will ever be reconciled with the Church, since after long reflection, I believe she's absolutely wrong about some important matter concerning faith and morals, but I'm going to show up, NOT receive Communion, and NOT pretend to be fully Catholic, in communion with the Church."

I think the second description fits me better. Susan Peterson, I think your comment suggesting 15 minutes of contemplative prayer was meant well, but it implied that those of us who aren't in full communion with the Church don't regularly pray or seek truth. I imagine that this is true for some, but certainly not for all.

Other Susan, I think I would like your parish very much.

Red Cardigan said...

L., what matter do you think the Church is wrong about? Have you ever taken a college-level class or the equivalent concerning that particular thing? Have you ever debated it with serious Catholics in an open forum?

The reason I ask is this: if you are convinced that the Church is truly, truly wrong about something, how are you being charitable to the rest of your fellow Catholics not to inform them--and the Church herself--of the fact?

Susan said...

but, wait a minute...Red...You say it is charitable to fellow catholics to speak up when you think something is wrong? to actually inform the church that you think it is wrong about something? I thought that was heresy?!?!?! Isn't that what the couple petitioning for a rice host is doing? They are informing fellow catholics and the church herself that they feel in their deepest heart that there should be a change.

Red Cardigan said...

Gee, Susan, you mean that the family in question thinks that the Church has actually been *wrong* all these centuries to use wheat bread? And they have, what, ancient documents showing that the Jews of Jesus' day frequently ate rice cakes?

Nope. They "feel in their deepest heart" that there should be a change--because they don't like the present laws and find them difficult.

If a parent changed every law his or her children fussed about, pretty soon there'd be family anarchy.

Which is why I challenge those who think the Church is wrong about something to present an intelligent, thoughtful debate which is rooted in history and respects the doctrines of the Church. You know what? It can't be done. Dissent isn't some powerful force in the Church--it's the equivalent of stamping one's feet and shouting "It's not *fair*!" because one really *wants* birth control, or abortion, or torture for prisoners, or whatever the case might be, and one doesn't, in one's heart of hearts, give a damn what Jesus and His Church have to say about any of it.

L. said...

Red Cardigan, I'm not sure what "college-level" course you mean. I'm in in the adult education group in my parish and I do all the reading for it and attend all the lectures and workshops. I have ample exposure to Catholics across the spectrum -- from conservative clergy to those far more liberal than me.

"Which is why I challenge those who think the Church is wrong about something to present an intelligent, thoughtful debate which is rooted in history and respects the doctrines of the Church. You know what? It can't be done." --->

I believe you are wrong. I see it done all the time. And the dissenters agree to disagree, and no one on either side of the issue stamps his feet. I have been privelged to know devout Catholics who have as much respect for us dissenters as I have for them.

Somehow, though, it seems easier in real life, than on the Internet like this. This is a forum that seems to naturally attract the metaphorical "foot-stampers" on both sides.

L. said...

I personally am grateful to the Catholics who came before me, who challenged the Church on its policy of excommunicating those who married outside the faith without dispensation.

Someone -- probably lots of people -- presented an intelligent, thoughtful debate which respected the doctrines of the Church, or the penalty of excommunication would not have been abrogated.

L. said...

Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt.

eulogos said...

I only meant to make an act of the will to say that you choose truth and that you choose God, and ask God to enlighten you. Of course neither I nor anyone else can know if you have done that or are doing it. I just wanted to hear the three of you say not "I think" and "my opinion" but that you want truth. Because I think God wants all of us to know Him, I believe He will lead on and give light to anyone who really wants it-in His time.
Susan Peterson

Anonymous said...

The Eucharist is the Source, Center, and Summit of our lives as Catholics (thank you, Fr. Corapi). Without it, how can our prayers have any power? Our lives are nothing without that Communion with our Lord. It just seems so spiritually passive to not want to repent and RUN to the nearest confessional, returning to a state of grace so as to take part in the Lamb's Supper.

In Revelation, it says that God will SPIT the LUKEWARM out of his mouth... some of these posters sound like they are just shuffling down the wide path... any one of us could die during the next moment. Where is the urgency to accept the Truth?

Charlotte said...


I have a slightly different take on all this, but know in advance that I agree with Erin 100%.

1. The Church has never required a person who doesn't agree with the pro-life stance to refrain from receieving communion UNLESS you've committed some grave, mortal sin against life. Now, I'm not suggesting that a person who is pro-choice is in any way "in communion" with their fellow Catholics or the Church, but as long as you have not done something like actually get an abortion, or procure one for someone else, or work at Planned Parenthood, or purposely and directly mail a contribution check to them, then you are still in "communion" with the Church and should still be able to receive communion. Others who are part of this discussion might disagree with me, but it's the same as a same-sex attracted person or a divorced person receiving communion - which they CAN - as long as they aren't actually having gay sex or getting remarried without an annulment. Thus, I think here is a case where, again, you do not understand your own Catholic faith. It may be that you are needlessly depriving yourself of communion. The Church never said to agree with them - the Church said, instead, OBEY.

2. However, that being said, I am strongly suspicious that you don't believe in the Eucharist anyway. As in, you likely don't believe that communion is the real and actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. If you don't, honestly, I don't think you should bother coming to mass anymore, ever again. (I know, some people here are going to yell at me for this.) I say what I say because, for me (my own personal opinion, but lots of other Catholics out there agree with me on this one), the Eucharist is the primary reason for my being Catholic at all. Odd minority denominations aside, the Catholic Church is *the* only Christian religion that believes it's really and truly flesh and blood that we eat. If you don't believe that or don't think you'll ever start to believe it, then why bother? Seriously! There's a ton of Protestant churches out there that preach and teach and believe as you do WITHOUT the same beliefs as Catholics as concerns the Eucharist. I mean, seriously, why not just go to where you conscience feels whole?

As for some of the other comments on this thread - WOW. I'm just floored at how stubborn these folks want to be in holding onto their ignorance. It might be innocent ignorance, but you can't plead the "innocent" part too much longer when you're reading blog posts at a blog like this. The Truth hurts sometimes and you can fight it with lame-o excuses like "MY priest never said that," but at some point, you've got to recognize that it sounds patently ridiculous.

Erin, if I'm being too mean-spirited in these comments, I apologize, but I just had to say what I had to say. You know me!

mandamum said...

Just a quick point--it is commonly said that "catholic" translates as "universal", but actually the "catholic" in the 4 marks "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" actually means "according to the whole", ie holding the whole of the deposit of the faith instead of removing parts. (Thus the need for the asterisk to redefine it in protestant prayer.) Not universal as to people and the globe, but universal as to the Truth. So ... in some sense one might argue (might...might) that "dissenting Catholic" is a bit of an oxymoron.

L. said...

My conscience "feels whole" as a dissenting Catholic. So, even though I am not a great fit, I stay.

"I am strongly suspicious that you don't believe in the Eucharist anyway." ---> This is perhaps the most offensive assumption I have seen on this thread -- I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you did not mean it so. If I weren't at least open to the possibility that the Eucharist is what it is, why would I refrain from receiving it?

Also, I think you're wrong on the pro-life part. If one truly dissents even on principle with no action, as I did when I was 15, I think one has an obligation to admit that one is not in communion with the Church. Aren't we taught that the "sin of intention" is a mortal sin? When I was 15, I decided I intended to end the life of the baby if I were ever raped, or my life were ever in grave danger. So I stopped receiving.

L. said...

Interesting -- Google search of sin, intention and abortion turned up this, which isn't quite applicable but is peripherally relevant:

“The exact time when a fetus becomes ‘animated’ has no practical significance as far as the morality of abortion is concerned. By any theory of ‘animation’ abortion is gravely wrong. Why so? Because every direct abortion is a sin of murder by intent. It is, to say the least, probable that every developing fetus is a human being. To deliberately kill what is probably human is murder.

“If a person does not know for certain that his action is not killing another human being, he must accept the responsibility for doing so. Anyone who is willing to kill what may be human is, by his intention, willing to kill what is human. Consequently, the one who performs or consents to abortion inescapably assumes the guilt of voluntary homicide.” -The Catholic Catechism, John A. Hardon, S.J

Also, is donating to Planned Parenthood the same as consenting to/performing/procuring an abortion? I have been a significant donor over the years, because they were once my primary healthcare provider. Surely, supporting PP in any way must be cosidered a sin, but is the penalty ecommunication, since I likely indirecty helped others procure abortions through the money I donated?

L. said...

"So ... in some sense one might argue (might...might) that 'dissenting Catholic' is a bit of an oxymoron." --->

True! It would be far easier for me to just stay away. And yet, I don't. And there are many, many others like me.

Barbara C. said...

I think the biggest issue is perspective. Many Catholics really have this idea that their church is a democracy and that the Catholic church should represent the will of the people, specifically their own personal views. That's where they get these idiotic notions of "forcing" or "waiting for" change. Sure, some of the externals might change (song choices, the order in which things are done, etc.) but the core things (teachings on marriage, abortion, chastity) WILL NOT. If it hasn't happened in 2000 years, it ain't happenin'!!

The Church that God built is really a monarchy with God literally as the King. The Magisterium is the King's steward. The steward's job is to pass on and carry out the King's commands and do things in accordance with what THE KING would want. Thankfully, God is a benevolent ruler who has OUR best interests at heart.

Now there were times in my life where I was a cultural/cafeteria Catholic (thanks to lots of bad catechesis in Catholic schools). And as I learn more and more there are lots of times when I see things that I don't like about Church teachings...but it's because I don't like that they are right and they are personally inconvenient to me.

L. said...

Barbara C, the Church's position on marriage DID change, within my own lifetime, on the penalty for marrying outside the faith without a dispensation and raising children Catholic.

Charlotte said...

For the record, I am an offensive person a lot of the time. Oh well. Take it in stride because I don't think you're fully aware of the impact *you* have been having on Erin's commboxes. You've said plenty to make people squirm, and I've had to figuratively bolt myself down to stop myself from saying something before now. (Although I give you points for keeping things interesting.)

Feeling whole = dissenting Catholic? (You said it.) Sorry L, that sounds pretty contradictory to me. It comes off more as you feel whole just by being a dissenter, rather than "Catholic" having anything to do with it.

You say you don't know why you keep coming back to mass. I think you owe it to yourself to figure it out. Continually doing something for no reason at all seems pretty empty; to me (again, just my offensive opinion ), it lacks integrity unless you are truly seeking and searching for WHY. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. But I might suggest that sitting at mass every week, not going to communion and mentally making a list of all the reasons you disagree with Catholic teaching and doctrine isn't exactly the most logical or straightforward path to figuring out why you keep going.

Anyway, so you DO potentially believe the Eucharist is the real flesh and blood of Christ to be respected, but you theoretically (or really) don't believe that the flesh and blood of humans is to be respected ala the teachings of the Church about the sanctity of human life? Again, sounds pretty contradictory to me. And again, I'm suggesting that if you can't resolve that contradiction (it's ALL about the Eucharist, baby!) then you're not ever gonna be a Catholic and it makes no sense to try and be one, whether real or counterfeit "dissenter Catholic."

I should probably bow out of this conversation now, since I know how far I could take this, and I already erased a few more choice comments here. It will end up being an ocassion of sin for me, but I will continue to read with interest.

L. said...

"But I might suggest that sitting at mass every week, not going to communion and mentally making a list of all the reasons you disagree with Catholic teaching and doctrine isn't exactly the most logical or straightforward path to figuring out why you keep going." -->

Actually, I think this is probably the most offensive thing I've read on this comment thread. You really do believe the worst of us dissenters, don't you? So there's likely nothing I can say to convince you otherwise, that I am not going to mass just for kicks, or on some secret mission of subversion, so I should probably just stop addressing your comments directly.

I will just say that as for the impact *I* have been having here in Erin's commboxes, while I might have made people squirm, this was not my main intent in coming here.

I am not sure why I go to mass, but I know why I come to this blog, and others like it over the years: I find exchanging views with those with whom I disagree to be rich and enlightening. I try to be respectful (despite what I admit is my generally cynical/snarky sense of humor). I value this. And I hope I contribute something in return, though I am not quite sure what that might be.

Red Cardigan said...

Charlotte: you're fine. Everybody's been reasonably civil here, and I'm not one of those people who thinks that passionate discussion automatically needs to be shut down.

L., I really do think you come off as being rather confused about a lot of things. The Church's teaching on marriage, for instance, hasn't changed. Her penalties for marrying outside the Church without prior dispensation may have, but those are merely ecclesial matters which the Church has the authority to change.

As far as past support of PP, or your feelings about abortion--have you ever tried to discuss these matters with a competent spiritual director?

To me it seems both sad and dangerous to reject the faith while for reasons of habit and personal satisfaction showing up at Mass. I'm not saying God can't work through such a tenuous connection to the faith--but I wonder if it isn't in a way a spiritual bandaid, a way to keep up the pretense that one is Catholic when one has thrown out major areas of Church teaching. Again, I'm not saying God can't work through that situation--but if I were to reject the Church's teachings I would know I was rejecting the Church, and would further know that merely showing up on Sunday wasn't enough.

At the very least, the Precepts of the Church require Holy Communion once a year, with a prior good confession if one is aware of any mortal sin. I would strongly recommend that those whose connection to the Church is fragile seek to keep this precept.

L. said...

"I really do think you come off as being rather confused about a lot of things." --> I honestly admit to being so. It would far easier -- and probably more personally satisfying -- to going back to being the "former Catholic" I used to call myself.

I know that "merely showing up on Sunday" isn't enough.

And forgive me, due my the personal circumstances of my own marriage, that I can't so easily dimiss such things as changing Canon Law and abrograting the penalty of excommunication as "merely ecclesial matters."

If you think I am upsetting too many of your commenters -- or you yourself -- I will go back to being a lurker, as I am on Simcha Fisher's blog (through which I found my way to yours).

Red Cardigan said...

L., you're more than welcome to continue commenting. I have a pretty open comment policy, and delete only spam or abusive stuff. Otherwise, so long as people are being honest and reasonably civil, I prefer for conversations to continue.

I don't think, by the way, that you're as far from the Church as you think you are, or that reconciling would be impossible. May I pray for that?

L. said...

I am always grateful when anyone prays for me, in any form, for any reason.

susan said...

"competent spiritual advisor"...hmmm...that's a tricky one. How do you know? I have described in a different post all of the priests in my life that have had, let's say, "difficulties". Who do I go to? I see it this way, I can't trust the Church with blind obedience because her history is riddled with abuse, scandal and corruption. In other words, human error. How can we be SURE that it's not happening now, or that SOME of the things followed still are the result of greed, racism, or other matters of politics? Because it's THE CHURCH, it's right? Sorry, that's not good enough for me to stop doubting at least a little. How could an infallible church allow for children to be abused by clergy? how could an infallible church even have these people who commit genocide, rape, etc. to be in positions of power? nope, 'cause it's run by people. people who are sinners. including Popes. Infallibility is narrow in the Church. It's not always claimed. I don't claim to know that everything is or isn't the Truth, because I'm not God--and neither are you. You don't "know" any more than me. You only have faith that it's True. If you feel it in your heart, it's Truth for YOU. Not for me. The arrogance that you somehow "KNOW" the Truth, and I don't is staggering. I became and remain Catholic because I know how I feel at Mass. I know that I don't get that same feeling at other churches because I have been to other churches. Those of you who were born into the Church do not have that perspective. If me remaining catholic for that reason isn't good enough for you, tough toenails. You are in small company. there. I said it.

Susan said...

let me further qualify that last comment by saying that I'm not saying that the Church is definitely wrong. I don't think that necessarily. I am only saying that the church is run by humans. I, personally, for many reasons, have a difficult time with blind obedience, when my God Given intellect is telling me to question. Read some of Donne's Holy Sonnets...I relate..."Batter my Heart..."

The Sicilian said...

Susan above (not eulogos), I have to agree with Erin and all who say that your Catholic education and the Catholic churches you've attended was/are poor in regards to teaching Church doctrine and ancillary matters, including papal infallibility.

"Infallibility" is believed in matters that are "ex-Cathedra," from Latin meaning, "from the chair." Simply put, papal authority is considered infallible only when the pope is speaking about theological matters - Church truths, doctrines of faith and morals - from his authority (from his chair). In other matters, the pope is a flawed human, as we all are.

I would suggest, that, as I did, you attend RCIA classes, even though you've gone through the sacraments. If you go through RCIA classes at a parish with an orthodox priest (though I doubt you have any nearby), as I have, you will learn much more about Catholicism than you likely did growing up.

One of two things will happen: You will either be able to believe and accept all Church teachings, or, as in my case (this should answer eulogos'/Susan Peterson's post), you will not. It truly will be all or nothing, with "in-between"=nothing from an orthodox Catholic perspective.

At least, however, when you come to Catholic blog (or a Protestant or atheist blog), you will understand better the differences among the faiths and mindsets, which I personally find very interesting, and which is one of the reasons I am here, besides the fact that Erin is a good writer, and I appreciate good writing, regardless of differences in points of view.

susan said...

Sicillian, I did go through RCIA classes. what is an "orthodox" priest? do they classify themselves... how come there is such a vast difference? the priest who did my RCIA ended up exposing himself at a rest stop (to a police officer) and I believe has left the priesthood. I find it interesting that the more orthodox people on this website tend to gloss over anything a "lesser" in their eyes priest has said assuming that they know better.

The Sicilian said...

By "orthodox," which is my own classification, I mean a priest who, such as the pastor of my local parish does, emphasizes Church doctrine regularly, in his homilies, in the bulletin, anywhere he can, no matter how unpopular such doctrine might be (re: artificial contraception, embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage, etc.). This would be a priest whose stance is that there is no room for individual interpretation or decision-making in matters of Church doctrine. Likewise, to Erin and other devout Catholics, a true, devout (or in my terminology, "orthodox") Catholic is one whose beliefs do not deviate from Church doctrine.

As an example regarding my parish's priest, Father is a vocal supporter of natural family planning (NFP) and a similar opponent of artificial contraception. A co-worker of mine got married two years ago. At her ceremony, he mentioned, no fewer than three times, that "there is no room in a Catholic marriage for artificial contraception." I had never seen that happen at any of the Catholic ceremonies in my life. Have you?

Father is also a member of our region's natural family planning board, and his responses to questions on its web site are consistent: No artificial contraception, ever, even if the wife, as one person asked, has a serious physical problem which would be complicated by a pregnancy. (The couple in question already had five small children.) In a case such as that, Father said that the couple would have to continue to follow natural family planning and abstain as much as possible. (I have a feeling you and I might agree in dissent on this issue.) He also ensures that the parish has regular NFP sessions, and occasionally has an NFP practitioner make a speech at Masses.

So again, in terms of "orthodox", I mean that no matter what the issue is, Father is vocal, regular and consistent in presenting Church doctrine.

I'd forgotten that you had gone through RCIA. Sorry - so many responses to this post! At your RCIA, were you given a copy of, and did your RCIA leaders go over, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)? My local parish's RCIA does. The CCC is your written guide to Church doctrine; a priest is supposed to be a living guide to it. Any priest who deviates from it or does not vocally support it is not what I would call "orthodox." (I'm confident that this is one thing upon which Erin and I would agree.) If you were able to find a parish with a priest such as ours, I'd suggest that you sit in on its RCIA classes again, as I am an equal opportunity supporter of informed consent AND dissent. :-)

I guarantee you that if you ever attended my parish, you would see a huge difference between Father and all other priests you've known, and you would understand what Erin and others who believe as she does are saying, even if you didn't agree with them.

Am I saying that all of the parishioners in my parish are completely loyal to Church doctrine, that all of them believe that it is Truth? Of course not. Some of those are individuals who were much better educated, and were educated pre-Vatican II, than I was. Will Father change the minds of all who disagree? No. There are plenty more people like me. There's not yet a Belief-o-Meter (TM) installed to weed out us heretics as we pass through the doors of the church.

But I can tell you this: Father has made a difference in this parish since his arrival a few years ago. The parish in this small community (pop. of about 150,000 over 8 towns) has grown in number (most especially in the Hispanic/Mexican population; attendance at the lone Spanish Mass is full-to-overflowing), and, among some parishioners, in adherence to the faith.

L. said...

"There's not yet a Belief-o-Meter (TM) installed to weed out us heretics as we pass through the doors of the church."

Someone should invent one -- it would make everyone's lives so much easier.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sicilian,
Please know how blessed you are. I have been Catholic 36 years and have never had a priest like yours. I pray someday we will!

L. said...

Funny -- I've met many "orthodox" priests, like the one The Sicilian describes above. (Just this morning, in fact, one of the priests at my parish sadly told me I'm bound for hell unless the mercy of God saves me and/or I repent for my support of gay marriage.)

Perhaps such priests are more common than one thinks, but it takes a heretic to bring them out of the woodwork? Perhaps if one scratches the surface of many liberal, progressive-seeming priests (as only a heretic can scratch), one can see the orthodox doctinarians within?

Joan M said...

"Perhaps such priests are more common than one thinks, but it takes a heretic to bring them out of the woodwork? Perhaps if one scratches the surface of many liberal, progressive-seeming priests (as only a heretic can scratch), one can see the orthodox doctinarians within?"

Unfortunately, no. There are, indeed, orthodox priests. In many cases, you will need to observe them - how they celebrate Mass, listen to their homilies, read their bulletins, etc.

Certainly, any priest of Opus Dei will be orthodox. If there is an Opus Dei center anywhere within your reach, I would suggest that you attend a recollection or a retreat. You will soon find out what an orthodox priest is like - a gift straight from Heaven!

Anonymous said...

I put it to you orthodox folks---how can this true, one and only church, have so much inconsistency among it's clergy? Could it be that it's purposeful? Could it be that there should be some different perspectives? Maybe we have many good and (relatively) liberal priests because the church really doesn't expect us all to take the hard line. I wont touch the clergy scandals. Just liberal priests. However, getting to know a few of you posters, you may lump them all together. Liberal equals pedophile. One evil is the same as another. Oh, and here's another gem for your file: my parish priest told us that there wasn't one clear cut good choice in the last election. (for president). With one candidate being pro choice, but the other so clearly indifferent to the poor. He actually told us to weigh them with our own feelings and, get this, our own intelligence! Yes, a priest who trusts us to think for ourselves. What the what? Yes, 'Tis true.

c matt said...

Odd minority denominations aside, the Catholic Church is *the* only Christian religion that believes it's really and truly flesh and blood that we eat.

I think the Orthodox believe that as well, and not only believe it, but their Eucharist is a valid sacrament.

I would agree with no good clear cut choice in the last election to some extent, but for different reasons. There were some good choices available (third party), although their chances of success were extremely low.

Anonymous said...

Life is the most important issue. Jesus said the poor will always be with us, and as Christians we should help them to the maximum extent. But abortion is always the murder of an innocent and *should* be the one issue upon which we choose who we vote for.

The Sicilian said...

Anonymous, Father says what you are saying; that Catholics can never vote for what is considered intrinsic evil, i.e., abortion, euthanasia, etc. He again emphasized how Catholics should vote at last weekend's Mass, not mentioning parties or candidates, but rather the issues, and I have no doubt he will do so again this coming weekend. I have never heard any other priest be so forthright about voting issues.

He also mentioned that not voting might be a sin of omission. Oh well. I haven't voted in 10 years, I am not registered anymore since my move several years ago, and I have no plans on doing so. I used to identify myself as mostly Republican/Conservative, but I've moved a bit leftward the past 20 years. But not leftward enough that I can pull the lever for the Dems/Libs, especially not the current group that's in office.

L. said...

"He also mentioned that not voting might be a sin of omission."