Monday, April 8, 2013

The "Bad News" of the Gospel

"Catholics Come Home" is a good idea. The New Evangelization is a good and necessary thing. Why is it important that we do these things though? Why is it important that we reach out to fallen away Catholics and urge them to return to the sacraments? I think many otherwise good Catholics are reluctant to explore these questions. "We love you and miss you, and want you to come home!"

"How can you miss me? You don't even know who I am."

"By abandoning the Church and the sacraments you are putting your immortal soul in dire jeopardy of burning in hell with Lucifer and all of his fallen angels for eternity."

"Oh! Oh... Uh... I'll be there this weekend."

A lot of this New Evangelization stuff strikes me as an effort to expand the Catholic brand cachet. It reads like recruiting literature for a secular organization.Our mission is to preach the Gospel. ALL of the Gospel, and not just the parts people like to hear:

Martin thinks, and with reason, that the loss of impetus to evangelize is based upon the widespread notion after the Council that almost everybody will be saved—except maybe really evil people like Hitler and Judas. Having the sacraments or an explicit faith in Christ is seen as a nice add-on. But essentially the theology of salvation could be summed up by the 1989 cartoon movie All Dogs Go to Heaven.
 ...The Council’s “optimism,” Martin rightly notes, is about the possibility of salvation outside of the Church, not the probability that everybody inside or outside it will be saved. The Council doesn’t give odds on this question or tell us whether hell is densely populated or not, nor does Martin attempt to do so. But he notes that the “very often” is attached to the negative possibility. In a chapter examining the scriptural references in LG 16 he demonstrates that this “bad news” is indeed biblical. Where, then, did theAll Dogs view of the Council come from? Mostly from two sources: Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar.
It's difficult to overstate how much Hans Urs von Balthasar dominates contemporary Catholic theology. Ask your parish priest a question about the nature of Christ and I guarantee he'll respond with some half-remembered blurb that stuck in his brain after a cram session at the seminary. This is a real pity as some of von Balthasar's ideas are deeply problematic. I'm pleased that more and more Catholics are starting to challenge von Balthasar's monopoly on the seminary classroom.

Balthasar and Rahner and many of their followers believed that the Church’s missions would be successful only if we could stop telling people the bad news. Whether or not they actually agreed with the speculative views of the theologians, many bishops and pastors embraced the idea that the Church would be better off if it stopped talking about sin and hell and accentuated the positive. As one theologian in 1973 wrote, with this strategy, “men will storm her doors seeking admission.” The result has been less than spectacular. Rare are the people who will spread the faith merely because the Church says so if there is no point to it other than drawing new members into “our community.” To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if the Church isn’t a place of salvation, it is simply an Elks Club. And the Elks aren’t doing that well these days either. It was Rahner, after all, whose talk about the “optimism of the Council” yielded at the end of his life to essays on the “winter of the Church.”
Martin does not spare bishops or popes in his criticism of this strategy of talking only about the positives. Paul VI’s and John Paul II’s encyclicals on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi and Redemptoris Missio, are scored for omitting “the traditional focus on the eternal consequences that rest on accepting or rejecting the gospel that motivated almost two thousand years of mission.” Martin calls for an end to this “unwise silence” about a significant part of the Christian message. It is a particularly heartening sign that his book is blurbed by seven US bishops. Perhaps these endorsements are a sign that what Russell Shaw once called the US bishops’ “Potemkin Village” is now being torn down. 
I swear, before I entered the Church it was like pulling teeth to get Catholics to share their faith with me. Their attitude toward potential converts was like that of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi: "You don't want to convert. You don't know what it means to be one of us. You'd be taking on a lot of laws and obligations. You have a much easier time of it as a gentile." If all dogs go to heaven, then it does seem a bit odd to have missionary fervor. I mean what's the point? If anything you should work to keep men ignorant of the Catholic faith. If they're ignorant, or one of Rahner's "Anonymous Christians," then why introduce them to something that will only saddle them with a lot of moral obligations they can't live up to? Someone should write a book about that.

In the end, everyone will spend eternity either with God or with Satan. To not fear hell at all is a greater danger than to fear it too much.

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