I'm back in the Boston motherhouse (for three weeks!), where I perused yesterday's edition of the Globe Sunday magazine. A cover story a couple of weeks ago detailed one Catholic's love-hate relationship with the Catholic Church (here it is). The vast majority of the letters to the editor were from disaffected Catholics who could totally relate to the article. Overall, it was pretty sad. You know the picture: the older person who insists that he or she is a lifelong Catholic, but who wants to see so many changes made in terms of structures, hierarchy (maybe a doctrine or two) that they are intensely frustrated that things are actually going (as they see it) "backwards." While the article didn't have that tone, the letters, for the [most part, did.
There are a lot of frustrating things happening in Catholic circles. I'm probably frustrated personally by the exact opposite of things that frustrate most of those disaffected Catholics, but there's plenty of room for improvement especially anywhere a clerical mentality dominates (something that happens just as much in the progressive subcultures as in the more tradition-oriented ones; it just takes a different form!). Even St. Therese, the "little flower," made rather pointed observations about the clericalism and mysogynistic attitudes that affected her life in the 19th century. Of course, Therese did something extraordinarily positive to remedy those attitudes: she became a saint and a doctor of the Church, so that her influence will continue through history, while the narrow-minded priests she had to deal with lost all their earthly influence the day they died.
When people say "Catholicism is mine" or "I'll continue to be a Catholic, but in my own way," when they snap about the Pope "going back to Munich" if he "doesn't approve," there's something more than simple frustration being expressed. These are people who truly do not know what Catholicism really is. "The Church belongs to the people, not the clergy" just isn't true: the Church belongs to Christ. All of us, lay and clergy, are branches on a vine that is way bigger than the configuration we can see; and this vine extends through time, not just space, so that what any of us do now may only "bear fruit abundantly" when we are no longer around to evaluate the productivity that is even now underway.When I feel disillusioned, sometimes I find that I need to address, not the situation that falls short of my expectations and desires, but the "illusion" in my expectations and desires. I suspect that many of yesterday's letter-writers need to make that sort of self-examination. It can be a moment of profound conversion, so that instead of being angrily disaffected Catholics, they can be contributors to a lasting good in the Church--though it may be a lasting good that does not match their current (all too narrow?) specifications. (That's what Therese did when her plans were derailed by priests.) But how can such an approach be proposed to people who, while wanting desperately to see change in the Church, appear so inflexible themselves?