Thursday, August 18, 2011

Crisis of Confidence

On my post entitled "Suffer the Children" a reader left the following comment:

Dear Mr. Dunns:
From time to time I read your blog and now for the first time I'll comment (I don't usually comment on blogs... blog comments usually only rile people up). 
Let me start by saying I am a former priest from Orange County and I still love the Church. While I did not leave the priesthood because of the scandals, the way the Church handled the abuse crisis did make it easier for me to make the decision to leave. Much of me still yearns to be in active ministry as a priest.
Your blog today struck me deeply. The bishops have damaged the Church I (and millions others) so deeply love. Our bishops are completely out of touch with the people of God. While they are busy with new translations, respect for them and the institution they serve is at an all time (and deservedly) low point. They need to listen to the needs of God's people. People are hungry for the Gospel, hungry for leadership and guidance and they offer more malfeasance and new English translations. How do we tell them to listen to the thousands of young people (and the not so young) who leave the Church everyday? How do we tell them to clean up their house before they tell us to clean up ours....?
Enough said, I hope and pray that you persevere in your vocation, the Church needs people like you.
Ron (name withheld)
 Ron's comment haunted me for much of this afternoon and, as I cleaned up after today's picnic, I couldn't seem to shake the feeling that he was speaking to something that I have felt in my own heart for quite some time.

I have no question that there is a great hunger in our world today. How many of us spend our lives consuming - technological innovations, food, clothing, sex, drugs, alcohol, money - and it never fills us, never satisfied the deep and gnawing hunger that calls out for 'more'. I see this daily in my own students who demonstrate a tremendous spiritual hunger and they are eager to hear about the Gospel when they see it can bring joy and excitement into a person's life.

My fear, however, is that Ron is only too right when he lays at the feet of the clergy a great deal of the responsibility for the growing disaffection with the Church. While I am in no means opposed to the impending changes in the Roman Rite of the liturgy, it does seem that more energy is spent debating about language than about how we live out that language toward the children of God. That is to say, I fear that more time is spent on whether Credo in the Nicene Creed should be rendered as "I believe" or "We believe" rather than teaching people what shape this belief might take in the lives of those who profess the faith.

I believe fully that the Eucharist is the "source and summit" of a Catholic's life. Furthermore, I believe we should exercise due diligence in ensuring that the ritual we use reflect the solemnity of what we are about. That greater attention is being paid to 'how' we celebrate the Mass doesn't bother me at all: the NFL, after all, reviews yearly its protocols and adjusts accordingly. If we truly believe that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ Jesus, then surely we should be equally attentive.

My sense is that Ron's departure, as for very many others, does not originate in a crisis of faith. Rather, it is a crisis of confidence in leadership. I know quite a few former Catholics who, while enraged by the abuse scandal, recognized that our Church is a sinful Church and that some of its members are deeply troubled. Their departure from the Church was hastened, if not precipitated, by the (mis)handling of the abuse cases when they came to light: the sin was one thing, but the (continued) cover-up and deceit was another. Sexual abuse was the trauma; duplicity and mendacity become an insuperable scandal or stumbling-block.

As women and men of the Gospel, we are called upon to be servants of the Truth. This should give us evangelical courage to go to the rooftops to proclaim the Gospel, just as it demands that we look with a self-critical eye at ourselves and own our failures to live fully into the Truth. When we proclaim the Gospel without being humble enough to be self-critical, we bear the marks of arrogance and hypocrisy.

A good teacher is, first and foremost, a good listener who canvasses students and addresses their questions, whether they have been asked or not! I pray that our magisterium will find it within themselves to continue to grow as discerning listeners so that they might hear more clearly how God is moving in and through the People of God. I pray that our bishops will embrace their vocation as teachers and leaders, as shepherds, called to help those entrusted to them to grow in holiness and and enthusiasm for the Gospel.
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