Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ask and ye shall receive my answer

Pope, in candid speech, speaks of 'exodus' from the Church:

(Reuters) - Pope Francis, in a stunningly candid assessment of the state of the Catholic Church, said on Saturday it should look in the mirror and ask why so many people are leaving the faith of their fathers.
On the penultimate day of his trip to Brazil, Francis delivered a long address to the country's bishops in which he suggested elements of what could become a blueprint for stopping what he called an "exodus."

"I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?" he said in a speech remarkable for its frankness about the hemorrhaging of the Church in many countries.

The Argentine pope, who is in Rio for a Catholic international jamboree known as World Youth Day, referred to what he called "the mystery of those who leave the Church" because they think it "can no longer offer them anything meaningful or important."

The Church has been losing members throughout the world to secularism and to other religions, including in Latin America, where evangelical groups have won over many converts.

He acknowledged that many people see the Church as a "relic of the past," too caught up in itself, and a "prisoner of its own rigid formulas."

While he said the Church "must remain faithful" to its religious doctrine, it had to be closer to the people and their real problems.

"Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people's side, of doing more than simply listening to them," he said.

"At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people," he said.
I don't know about that. My biggest criticism of the Church in the US is that we don't get nearly enough formulas or doctrine, either from the pulpit or in the classroom. Whenever someone starts going on about how the Church is too rich, too splendiferous, too ostentatious, to trimphalist, too arrogant I always answer "Hey buddy, some of us signed up because of that stuff." Give me the formulas of a St. Thomas Aquinas or a Reginald Garrigou-Langrange over the reflections of a Rahner or von Balthasar any day. Perhaps the Church in Latin America faces this problem, but I'd say that a rigid legalism or cold doctrinal intellectualism are the least of the North American Church's worries.

Christ himself told us that not everyone would be receptive to the Gospel; see the parable of the Sower or when he told his disciples to shake the dust from their feet if a town rejected them. But if people leave the Church because they think "it can no longer offer them anything meaningful or important" then I believe that some of the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Church leadership. The Church offers us Jesus Christ himself, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament. Why would someone knowingly turn away from that? Some leave because their moral lives have become compromised. I suspect many more leave because they were never taught the truth of what the Church is and who is present in every tabernacle in every parish in the world. "Reversion" stories have become a cottage industry in the Church, and one thing the reverts all have in common is they received terrible or non-existent catechesis as children. When it comes to a parish's religious instruction the buck stops with the pastor.

I'd be perfectly happy with a dense dogmatic sermon every Sunday, but all four of my loyal readers will agree that I'm an odd duck among American Catholics. The best homily I ever heard  went the extra mile and gave instruction on how the doctrines about indulgences applied to our spiritual lives. Most homilies I hear boil down to "Jesus was a nice guy so let's all be nice to each other too." Okay Father, being nice is all well and good but why do I need to go to Church to be a nice guy? Why do I need to believe in God at all to be a nice guy? I know plenty of Evangelicals, Mormons, and atheists who are nice people. Volunteering at the soup kitchen or visiting elderly shut ins at the retirement home are laudatory things. Why is it that we do these things? I'm an ignorant layman and even I can think of several doctrinal homilies that could spring from that question: Loving your neighbor for the love of God, what we do unto the least of us we do unto Jesus, the corporal works of mercy. Heck, I even recall a few Sunday Gospel readings that segue into those topics.

If the Church's message is less compelling to modern man than it was to his grandfathers, I believe much of the problem is rooted in the Church's identity crisis. Is her mission to lead souls to heaven or is she just another charitable NGO among many? Is it a social club for old people, women, and children or the Mystical Body of Christ? Is she the manufacturer of truth or an infallible guide to the truth? True, modern culture and its emphasis on self-indulgence is antithetical to the Gospel. The world has always been hostile to us though. We can't change the world until we change ourselves. An important change we Catholics can make is to regain some of that old confidence we used to have. I personally don't have all the answers, but I'm certain the Church contains within herself everything I must know and do to have eternal life.

h/t: Rod Dreher


  1. I'm sure that the Holy Father means well, but one can easily interpret his comments to say that the Church and her teachings do not conform to human nature. The opposite is true. Humans are made in such a way that we are attracted to ritual, tradition, and all that other papist stuff. We are made for it. The reason that people reject the church is not for its material trappings, but because it makes them feel guilty about their sinful lifestyles.

    1. "Hardly anyone leaves the Church over the Creed, but instead over the Commandments."