Tuesday, March 05, 2013

We Needed a Poll for This?

The New York Times is carrying a story this evening entitled "Poll Shows Disconnect Between U.S. Catholics and Church." Call me cynical, call me crazy, call me to task for just having finished two glasses of wine before reading the story, but my initial response: Duh! Ecclesiastes got it right: Nothing is new under the sun (1:9). American Catholics are discontent, demanding that the Roman Catholic Church conform itself to the image and likeness of 6% of the world's Catholic population.

No surprise. No shock. At least not here.

I'll be the guy to say it: the Catholic Church is at its worst when it adapts to American culture. Speaking only to the Catholic Church in America, I'd say that we are at our level worst when we behave as other institutions: profits over people, secrecy over transparency, power over prophecy. In order to preserve our good name, to safeguard our reputation, we have lied and covered-up terrible atrocities against our most precious resource: our young. In the process we have lost the trust of many and eroded the confidence of even more.

We bought into a culture of short-term fixes, we subscribed to a mindset that the ends justifies the means, we lost our connection with the message of the Gospel and surrendered to a culture that encourages us to "do whatever it takes to get ahead...so long as you don't get caught."

It pains me that so many wonderful contributions of my religious tradition - contributions to art, literature, music, education, the sciences, the humanities - are covered over because we engaged in the same practices used by other organization to conceal their misdeeds. It breaks my heart that the beauty of Catholicism is rubbled over by so much filth. My one consolation: at least its not met with a shrug of the shoulders and an admission of, "Oh Well." The anger and disgust felt by so many speaks to the ultimate reality: the Church is called to more, to be more, than it has.

It's not too late.

Not that anyone asked, but I'd like a truly conservative pope to be elected. I want a man of deep prayer, a lover of our tradition, a good communicator and administrator (right, I've already asked for too much).  I want a guy who can discern what needs to be conserved, what constitutes the "base memory" and truth of the tradition, and preserve it. I want a guy who, given heart by the Gospel, engages a world culture that needs to be lifted from the doldrums and given something to believe in once again.

Many in the Catholic Church lament our times. Some wish the Church would change. Others long for a long-past (and probably non-existent) golden age of the past. I differ. I think this is the best time to be a Catholic. Hard, yes, but the best because we have to get back to our roots, to come to know Jesus Christ once again, and to share the Gospel with a needy world. We can't take for granted any longer that we will be the only voice heard. But of the voices that have promised satisfaction and happiness - money, power, prestige, etc. - none has delivered. The Gospel can, and must compete with this.

If we let it.

We didn't need a poll to tell us American Catholics felt estranged from the hierarchy. We need only look around. That said, we may still ask: so what? Will we stay alienated or will we summon the courage to be what we could be, a light to the nations, a word of hope in a time of despair? We are all looking for a new pope, and there's excitement about it to be sure. But the credibility of the Catholic faith neither rests nor falls on the merits of its leader. It's our duty, as sisters and brothers, to live the faith others can believe in.


Unknown said...

I love this! You're right, it's up to every one of us to pray, to evangelize, and to hope.

Brian H. Gill said...

Three points.

First, folks on the parish registers in the United States are far from a homogenous group: demographically, or otherwise.

Second, The New York Times is a fine hometown newspaper for America's primary east coast city. I think it may not represent the values and assumptions of all Americans.

Third, I've known Americans who fall into these categories: 'cultural Catholics,' who say they're Catholic, but whose beliefs are more nearly those of the dominant culture; Catholics who say they're Catholic, know what the Church teaches, and follow those teachings to the best of their ability; non-Catholics who learn what the Church teaches, and incorporate it into their lives.

I fall, or fell, into the last two. I was raised in a nice mainstream Protestant household, and became a Catholic as an adult. That was one of my more sensible decisions, I think. :)

naturgesetz said...

Amen, Mr. Duns.

Your fellow Jesuit, John Predmore, copied an article by Thomas Reese in a blogpost today, including this gem:
"What should the cardinals do if they cannot find Jesus Christ with an MBA? At the time of St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order, there was a monastery faced with a similar dilemma. They wrote St. Benedict telling him that they were divided over who should be abbot. They had three candidates, each backed by a third of the community. There was a monk renowned for his holiness; another who was a brilliant theologian; and finally a practical man. St. Benedict wrote back, ;Let the holy man pray for the monks, let the theologian teach the monks, and let the practical man rule the monks.' While the pope is not an abbot, perhaps there is some wisdom here."

I'm not so sure the pope is not an abbot.

Anonymous said...

I want to believe you...I really do...but I am so weary of trying to find hope in the Church I have loved since infancy. I do believe we are the Church but I cannot ignore the hierarchy. I cannot teach my children to accept responsibility for their mistakes when Church leaders do not.

In one sense I really do agree with you - this may be an exciting time but it is a really crucial time.

Unknown said...

Anonymous, I know something of this dubiousness (over the last ten years, I've felt it often).

One thing we must be careful to avoid is a rash dismissal of the whole. Without question, members of the hierarchy really failed to be the pastors they were charged to be. Yet there are many who are sincerely trying. Yet shame on us if we think they can do it all. Now is the time for us to step up and to take responsibility to be the Catholics the Gospel calls us to be.

It cannot, and must not ever, devolve into an "us" versus "them" mentality. It's the seduction of the American imagination and it's one we must fight against. We're in this together: if the Church should collapse, falling bricks and mortar will bury all those who remain, shepherds and sheep alike. We need to work together to shore up our foundations and be the Church , the Body, can be.

Anonymous said...

I love our church. I will be a Catholic until I die. However, I am not sure that some doctrine cannot be changed. I have a hard time with the Church saying that women cannot be ordained because Jesus was a man and because in the counts of the early church in the New Testament all the ministers were men. Well of course, because it was a male dominated society. I sure do wish this would be changed.

SRT said...

How about accepting a pope appointed to the papal office by Jesus Christ.
Don't take my word for it, ask your superior who is Francis Juan S.J.
and where is St. Peter's Mumbai.