Monday, August 02, 2010

Anti-Catholic Catholics and Change in the Church

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?
Any ideas?


Teófilo de Jesús said...

You and I are in the same wavelength! See my own riposte here


Carol said...

You always have such a good grasp on it all.

J.T. said...

Very well written, Sister. There's nothing one can really add to what you have written, except a "thank you" for writing it! God bless!

Sr Anne said...

Thanks, y'all. It's always a risk to write about something that touches other people's hearts so closely. The anger, frustration and alienation of disaffected Catholics is a real suffering for them, and one whose remedy is quite close at hand, but they are unable to grasp it because it means unclenching the fist and leaving one's hand empty: a big risk! Today I prayed in a special way for these alienated members of the Body of Christ, especially those like the author of the original essay whose eloquence (and unreal self-confidence) can have a broad influence. They have a place in the Church, if they will only allow themselves to be grafted into the life-giving vine!

Sr Anne said...

This is sadly pertinent, but the writer offers some solid perspective on this trend. It strikes me that Rice, like many others, is strangely hostile and judgmental towards people she condemns as ... judgmental. It's hard to get away from our human poverty!

Robert B said...

I enjoyed your article, Sister Anne. I wholeheartedly agree with what you say. The way I see it, there are two chief difficulties to which the solution is (I believe) to teach and pray.

A major problem is that many Catholics in our day are poorly catechized. As a result, Catholics have the mistaken notion that the Church belongs to them. (we are church?) The reality is far more wonderful - as you point out, it belongs to Christ! Thus her teachings are full of wisdom and her Sacraments give life. The Good News is that we are members of the Church and have the means of salvation at hand if we follow Jesus.

The second problem is related to the first. Our alienated brothers and sisters often were not taught the necessity of supernatural grace, gained through prayer and receiving the sacraments. In order to have a conversion to Christ, we must have the grace. We can learn about Christ, but we need supernatural help to understand supernatural truths. When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Savior and the Son of God, Our Lord told him "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."

We need the power of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. We, all of us, stubbornly cling to our favorite sins and shortcomings. Change is hard and we resist it. We need God's light to motivate us, illuminate us, and strengthen us to follow Jesus. This is true for all, for the road to holiness continues long after we have returned to Catholic truth.

Some of us were once where these disaffected Catholics are now. But for God's grace, we would still be there. We must treat these brothers and sisters with love and gentleness. We must be patient. At the same time, we must prepare for resistance, as Christ told us would happen.

So, I believe our part of the solution is to teach, or support those who teach the Catholic Faith to our brethren in season and out of season. It is also to pray for conversions. Prayer softens the heart. People must hear the message and receive the grace and light to respond.

I am sure you understand these things Sr. Anne, but hope these comments are helpful to your readers. I am new to your blog, and will come back to read it often.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insight, Robert B--I have just had one of those "light bulb moments," courtesy of your comment!

Anonymous said...

Our Saviour said to our first Pope "get behind me satan". Our first Pope denied Our Lord 3 times. And yet Jesus loved Peter.

St Paul had been a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians, involved i believe, in the persecution of our first martyr (St Stephen). And yet Jesus loved Paul.

Christ's first followers were: a prostitute (it's believed she was although not certain), a corrupt tax collector, a hot-head Zealot, a Centurion ... Then there were the disciples who boasted about being the greatest, the disciples who fell asleep when Our Lord asked them to stay awake, the disciples who didn't trust Our Lord in the boat with the storm. And so on ..

Inevitably, we Catholics are going to have problems .. But we're not the only community to have problems. All communities, Protestant and secular have them.

But with Christ - God as head of the Church - there's great hope for us all, sinners / flawed that we may be.

God Bless us all.

Robert B said...

Yes, all good points, Anon. Nice post. Jesus loves us while we are still sinners. What a great God we have! The Church has survived 2,000 years with this bunch. lol There is always good reason to hope both for our own salvation and for the well-being and triumph of Holy Mother Church.