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.


Jim said...

I believe that the authentic depth of the Jesuit charism as articulated in the spiritual exercises is an antidote to the loss of hope and perserverance exhibited in Ron's post. I am not convinced that any previous "golden age" of the Church existed in which the leadership was so stellar that God's children did not have to primarily rely upon the internal resources furnished generously by the Holy Spirit (through the medium of the sacraments and the magisterium) in order to fulfill their respective vocations. Things are bad today but sin, infidelity, corruption, incompetence are not new phenomenon. They have been with us since the day of Pentecost and are like negative signs of why we each must strive for the personal holiness that comes from cooperation with the grace of God. St. Ignatius realized this in his day and in our day human nature has not changed a wit. I don't know why Ron abandoned the holy priesthood and now posts on how "others" be they bishops or whomever are negatively impacting the Body of Christ with their infidelities. Ron (and you and me) need to concentrate on removing the planks from our own eyes so that we can discern what is good, pleasing and perfect to God in our time of history. I very much enjoy your blog precisely because you remain engaged in the struggle that constitutes the life of grace. I have been privy to all the filth and degeneracy that mark so many areas of Church life today (what Pope Benedict refers to as the "miseries" of the Church). I realize more and more the older I get (I'm 47 now) what a monumental grace final perserverance is and how much we need to pray for this grace daily. Thanks for exhibiting this virtue via your blog and don't yield to the voices of discouragement.

Tzipyo said...

This man's posting and your reply to it reminds me of a situation that occurred in the late 1960's with Boston's Richard Cardinal Cushing. A friend who was a priest of the archdiocese at that time had, after much prayer, agony and discernment made the decision to request return to lay status from the priesthood. Routinely, he had to meet with the Bishop of the diocese, who was at that point
not in the best of health. He described as best he could his journey and the years that had led him to this point, framing it as a crisis of faith. The Cardinal listened patiently, and when the priest was finished, "The Cush" leaded back in his chair, gesturing wildly with his arms and hands as was his wont: "Fahtha, St. Paul had a crisis of faith; Mahtin LUTHa had a crisis of faith. You and I, Fahtha, we don't have crises of faith. What's the problem?"
Humorous though he was in character, Cushing was right: what is often mischaracterized as a crisis of faith is often a problem that has little to do with faith. Despite the seriousness of the topic and situation, the account of Cushing and his young priest is humorous in the late Cardinal's ability to cut through b.s. and get to the heart of the matter in a totally uniquely-Cushingesque way.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you're just too unrealistic for this job?

It doesn't seem like you've reconciled the church past with the church as it is and even whether or not what you yourself personally believe is consistent with what it's always been.

Unknown said...


To whom are you speaking?

Your second sentence is not exactly clear to my mind, which surely indicates more about my lack of understanding than it points toward your lack of clarity. If you could help out with this, that'd be great.

Jules said... WHEN WILL IT END?!?!?

Unknown said...

Jules, With all due respect, these are allegations of atrocities committed nearly fifty years ago. I don't know that it's a matter, in this case, of 'when it will end' as much as it is 'when will all things come to light.'

Jules said...

I get what you're saying. Perhaps I should have said, 'when will we run out of cases coming to light?' When will the credible accusations stop? When will this nightmare finally come to an end?