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.

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