Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Catholic Faith Is More Than Feelings

Today's D&C features a story on various Rochester-area mainline Protestant churches and some of their members. A part of the story profiles a young couple who were raised Catholic but are now members of the United Church of Christ, "drawn not by doctrine but by the sense of community." The story goes on to say that the wife "found it more and more difficult to recapture the feeling and experience of faith she had as a teenager," so she and her husband, "began to search for something that worked."

This brought me back to two days before Christmas 2004 when I opened up the D&C to find a photo of two fellow parishioners - a married couple that I'll call Dick and Jane - prominently displayed on the front page. The photo accompanied a story about folks searching for a church home and I quickly learned that Dick and Jane not only were no longer fellow parishioners, but they were also no longer fellow Catholics.

"Shocked" would probably have been the best description of my reaction. These were just about the last folks I would have expected to leave the Church. Both had been very active in our parish. They were at Mass every Sunday and during the week had both served on several committees and he on the parish council. Dick had also been a Eucharistic minister and Jane a religious ed catechist and the entire family had been active members of our parish's Families In Religious Education (F.I.R.E.) program. They were the stereotypical pillars of the parish. Or they had been.

What happened? Well, according to Jane, "the leadership changed and took the church in a different direction." Now she said she found herself making a grocery list in her head during the sermon while Dick fought sleep and the children twiddled their thumbs. “We knew there was more,” said Jane.

It is true that our parish had recently undergone a change in pastors and that the new guy, while a good and holy priest, was certainly less dynamic than his predecessor. Two well-liked staff members had also recently left, one to take up new responsibilities with her religious order and the other to travel the country with her husband in retirement. Their replacements were well-qualified people, but again perhaps a bit less dynamic than their predecessors.

In short, some of the non-essential, external trappings had changed, but it was still a Catholic parish. The Sunday homilies might have become a bit drier to some ears, but they were still the product of many hours of prayer and preparation and they still offered solid catechesis. The essential part, however, was still the same: The Eucharist was still the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So in looking for "more," Dick, Jane and their children have actually settled for less. In becoming members of the Lutheran church a couple of miles away they may have found something more exciting, more entertaining, but they have left the Real Presence behind. They traded Jesus in the Eucharist for warm, fuzzy feelings.

I haven't talked with Dick and Jane since they left the Church but it seems obvious that their Catholic faith had been a mile wide and an inch deep. It was a faith more predicated on feelings than religious convictions, a faith that needed interesting homilies more than it needed Jesus in the Eucharist. As Jane said in the article, "After a while you get a feeling of where you belong."

Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for catechesis these days is pretty empty stuff, heavy on emotional and/or "experiential" content, sprinkled with dubious "truths" and devoid of what really matters. And why shouldn't it be? People like Professor Richard Gaillardetz, who recently made his third trip to DOR in the last four years to address our "ministerium," have a disdain for "propositional" catechesis and most certainly pass that on to their audiences. People like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, who routinely sow the seeds of doubt if not those of dissent, make regular, well-attended appearances here. And the priests, pastoral staff and educators who comprise their audiences then go back to their parishes and schools to instruct the faithful.

As Eugene Michael says, "No wonder there are so many confused and non-practicing Catholics in the DOR." To which I can add: No wonder there are so many Catholics deserting the Church for other denominations.


Anonymous said...
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Mike said...

All good points, Dr. K.

What shocked/stunned me most was the realization that when Dick, in his role as Eucharistic minister, held up the consecrated host and said, "The Body of Christ," he could not possibly have meant it in any truly real sense. For if he had, he simply could not have walked away from it.

That, to my mind, is a stunning failure in catechesis.

HCmom said...

Before I sit in judgement of these people, I'll admit to my catholic faith being shaken this past year with the closure of all these catholic schools, and our treatment by our Catholic diocese. I can relate to feeling like all the effort I've put into living my faith has been for naught, when my own church has slammed the door in my face. I've even joked to our priest that "next year, when I'm a Lutheran...."

You're right that it's not about the "glitz and glamour." However, we are all members of the Body of Christ, and all those community activities that these people put their efforts into (i.e. coffee hour, etc) ARE important, because they support the community of believers. I really see the problem as not that their faith was "only an inch deep," but that our own church is not really concerned about the faith needs of its own community of believers as long as the money keeps coming in.
Bishop Clark and Fr. Hart know nothing about our Parish community aside from what our weekly collection brings in, yet they have no qualms about shutting down our school (one of our most important ministries) and I fear that the rest of the parish will come down like a house of cards. This is our own Church doing this to us!

Maybe that article will serve as a wake-up call for our Bishop to take care of his flock before they find another Church that will welcome them as Christ would.

Mike said...


I want to address two of your points.

First, "I'll admit to my catholic faith being shaken this past year with the closure of all these catholic schools."

You and all the other parents involved just got a close-up view of the human side of the Catholic Church. Sometimes it can be a very ugly picture, as you well know. For reasons known only to him, Jesus left the earthly management of his Church in the hands of human beings. Some of them act like Peter and betray him, only to repent and ultimately go on to much greater things. Some of them are simply Judases, with betrayal being all they know.

Ultimately I see this whole schools fiasco as one more manifestation of the problem of evil in the world. As one of my 7th graders asked last year, "Why does God let all this crap (she used a different word) happen?"

There's never a totally satisfactory answer to this question, at least on this side of heaven. The best I've ever heard came from Fr. John Corapi who was merely repeating dozens of saints when he said that God only allows evil because he can - and will - draw a greater good out of it. We may never see that greater good in our lifetimes but it will happen. We just have to keep remembering that God is ultimately in charge of his creation, not us. He didn't make junk and he's not about to let us turn good into evil, not in the long term, anyway.

Second, "I really see the problem as not that their faith was "only an inch deep," but that our own church is not really concerned about the faith needs of its own community of believers as long as the money keeps coming in."

In my experience general interest adult faith formation gets little attention at the diocesan level. True, there's lots of courses available at SBST&M but they, for the most part, are (1) aimed at professionals or professional wannabes and (2) expensive.

The diocese essentially leaves the general interest area to the parishes. Some are good at it, many are not. And some parishes believe that only their paid staff are capable of presenting programs; i.e., they ignore offers of help from their laity.

Case in point: Despite having taught junior high religious ed for 4 years and despite having presented a well-received 2 hour presentation on the New Testament to my fellow religious ed teachers, when I volunteered on my parish's most recent stewardship commitment form to spend up to 10 hours a week preparing and presenting any material they wanted, I never even got so much as an acknowledgment of my offer, let alone a response.

So yes, the diocese could be doing more, but the parishes could be doing more, too.

CathParent said...

I can certainly empathize with hcmom. While I cannot say that my faith has been tested during this school crisis, my faith in the diocese could not be lower. I can't tell you how tempting St. Josephat's looks now, to still be Catholic, yet not part of this diocese. If I only had to think of myself, I'd already be there. While never a member(my dad went along with my mother to a Roman parish after they were married), I have been many times while growing up. Usually my dad would take me along when my elderly grandfather was up to going. It would be a hard sell for my wife(who usually posts under this name) as Ukrainian culture is not her background at all. However, even she surprised me last week after going to a funeral there. She told me how wonderful it felt, like a weight had been lifted, to be worshiping free of the diocese. Really now the only thing holding us back is the feeling that it would be too much upheaval for our children after what they are dealing with as far as the school. That and we'd like to still be around to help if our next bishop is school friendly, even if it is too late for our children.

Anonymous said...
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Mike said...

(Mr.) CathParent wrote, "we'd like to still be around to help if our next bishop is school friendly, even if it is too late for our children."

We've got a tad over 4 years left before Bishop Clark turns 75 and perhaps another few months to a year before a new guy is in place. Given the history of the MCCS System, that's plenty of time for several more schools to become history. Also, there's no guarantee that our new bishop will make diocesan Catholic schools the priority many of us believe they should be.

I've decided I'm just not going to wait and see what happens but am going to get involved time-, talent -and treasure-wise with the St. John Bosco Schools effort to begin putting a viable alternative to the MCCS System in place NOW.

These folks are serious about opening at least one new school in September and possibly more if there is the demand.

If you haven't done so already, check out johnboscoschools.org.

CathParent said...

Yes, we are certainly interested in the St. John Bosco effort. We couldn't make the first meeting(and weren't sure the general public was really invited) but have heard promising things from others in our "group" who have spoken with Mr. Lyle . We've filled out the interest form and are looking forward to more information.

HCmom said...

Mike: why does this blog reject my password everytime I want to leave a comment? I have to resubscribe as a blogger everytime.

Anyway, there will be nothing left of our Diocesan school system when the Bishop retires. I give it about 2 more years before they have bankrupted the whole thing. The most hurtful thing is that they are standing in the way of people who are committed to catholic education, who want to start their own Catholic school. Bishop Clark should give his blessing to ANY effort to bring Catholic education to our community. Let's face it--the competition helps all the schools.

As for going to a different Catholic Church in the eastern rite, no thank you. Nothing wrong with the eastern rite, but I love my parish and wouldn't leave it because of anything the Bishop says or does (short of closing us down). As much as I'd love to be outside the diocese, I will not abandon my parish after the "sucker punch" the Bishop delivered to us. But you can be sure that he will not get a dime from us for his appeals--it will go straight to the parish, and they can decide what to do with it.

CathParent said...

I wasn't talking about a diocesan school in the future, that won't happen and I wouldn't want it to. I'm hoping a new bishop won't stand in the way of groups, similar to St. John Bosco schools, who want to use parish school buildings that will otherwise sit empty to start independent Catholic Schools. It would be a win-win situation for the parish and the school.

HCmom said...

To CathParent:

Mike said...

HCmom wrote, "Mike: why does this blog reject my password everytime I want to leave a comment? I have to resubscribe as a blogger everytime."

I'm afraid I'm not the right person to answer your question. Anyone with a Google ID or an OpenID should be able to post comments without any problem, at least according to the Blogger docs.

Mike said...

HCmom & CathParent,

The ideal situation would be for SJBS to open its schools in some of the parish school buildings that are about to become vacant. However, the bishop has made it clear that's not about to happen, as his "plan" cannot tolerate that level of competition.

Perhaps in "about 2 more years [when] they have bankrupted the whole thing" and thrown in the towel we'll be able to either re-establish true parish schools or at least have SJBS operate in parish school buildings. In the meantime setting up these new schools in non-parish settings seems to me to be the best insurance we have of preserving Catholic education against the day when the MCCS System implodes. At least there will be a second system in place and hopefully prepared to deal with the mess the MCCS System will leave in its wake.

CathParent said...


Anonymous said...
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Mike said...

Dr. K.,

At last report Dick and Jane are quite happy as Lutherans.

As something of an addendum, my older son used to know Dick and Jane quite well. He tells me that they believed in supporting the church and actually gave 10% of their income in the Sunday collection. It just strikes me as odd how they could practice something most Catholics see as an Old Testament discipline and no longer applicable to them (tithing), while being so weak on a New Testament teaching such as the Real Presence.

Also, a recent demand by at least one other pastor in the Eastern Greece/Charlotte Planning Group may have thrown a monkey wrench into Fr. Tyman's planned departure. Fr. Alex Bradshaw is said to have insisted that OLM drop one of its weekend Masses as a condition of his helping to cover the other two for the next year. That is totally against both the letter and the spirit of the group's Pastoral Plan and Fr. Tyman has threatened to stay right where he is if the diocese cannot get Fr. Bradshaw to honor the commitment he made when he agreed to that plan.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Mike said...

Dr. K.,

I forgot to add that both Fr. Tyman and Fr. Bradshaw are former lawyers. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when they each argue their case. It should be quite a spectacle.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Ummm...Lutherans actually believe in the Real Presence, DOR Catholic. OK, the RCC doesn't recognise our ministry, and we in turn don't subscribe to transubstantiantion (few did before 1215, btw) but we believe and teach the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ "in, with and under" the earthly elements of bread and wine in the holy sacrament. Just a friendly correction.