Friday, November 27, 2009

"10 Reasons" from Fr. Dwight

Fr. Dwight Longenecker over at Standing on my Head has taken a close look at modernist Christianity and concluded that its long term prospects are poor.

He offers 10 reasons for his opinion (see here), but I would like to focus on just two of them.

Reason #1:

Modernists deny supernaturalism and therefore they are not really religious. Now by 'religion' I mean a transaction with the supernatural. Religion (whether it is primitive people jumping around a campfire or a Solemn High Mass in a Catholic Cathedral) is about an interchange with the other world. It is about salvation of souls, redemption of sin, heaven, hell damnation, the afterlife, angels and demons and all that stuff.

Modernists don't deal in all that. For them religion is a matter of fighting for equal rights, making the world a better place, being kind to everyone and 'spirituality'. It doesn't take very long for people to realize that you don't have to go to church for all that. So people stop going, and that eventually means the death of modernist Christianity. The first generation of modernist Christians will attend church regularly. The second will attend church sometimes. The third almost never. The fourth and fifth will not see any need for worship. They will conclude that if religion is no more than good works, then the religious ritual is redundant.

Reason #6:

Modernism makes no great demands for its devotees to be religious. Ask any modernist, "Why should I come to Church?" What would he answer? "You don't have to come to church. It's there if you want it. If it does you good, and makes you feel better, we're here to serve you." Modernist Catholic priests wring their hands and wonder why no one comes to Mass anymore. It's because for forty years they've been saying, "It's not really a mortal sin to miss Mass. You should come because you love God, not because you fear him." While this sentiment may be laudable, they shouldn't therefore be surprised if no one comes to Mass.

While the remainder of Fr. Dwight's reasons are all sound, these two seem particularly relevant to the situation here in DOR.  In fact, they go a long way toward explaining how we have arrived at our present state.

About 4 years ago I made a presentation to my local PPNM Steering Committee.  At that time I had 6 years' worth of diocesan Mass attendance numbers along with 8 years' worth of our planning group's Mass attendance numbers at my disposal and I was very concerned with the sharp downward trend shown by both data sets.

I turned that data into graphs and projected them onto the wall for the 20 or so people present to see. The ensuing discussion quickly focused on reasons why people no longer attend Mass. Toward the end of the discussion I offered my opinion that most folks don't believe it's a sin to miss Mass without a good reason and that they feel that way because no one has told them any different.  Furthermore, I added, we seem to have stopped preaching about sin all together.

You would think I had 2 heads, the way those people just stared at me.

21 comments:

Tmac said...

"Toward the end of the discussion I offered my opinion that most folks don't believe it's a sin to miss Mass without a good reason and that they feel that way because no one has told them any different."

Hi Mike,

You're right. The majority of Roman Catholics, especially my age (49) and younger, do not believe it's a sin to miss Mass on Sundays.

However, I must respectfully disagree with you that, "no one has told them any different." My brothers and I grew up in a very conservative, orthodox Catholic parish. The parish priests and parochial school teachers all taught it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays unless you were sick or had a good reason. Also, my parents were very strict Catholics and reinforced the miss-Mass-on-Sundays-for-no-good-reason-and-you go-to-hell. My brothers stopped attending Mass after they graduated from Catholic school in the 70's and early 80's. Most of our neighborhood Catholic friends from that era (60's and 70's) have left the Church. We've attended several of their weddings at Protestant and non-denominational churches.

I don't know what the solution is. Do you? Anyway, I hope you had a blessed and happy Thanksgiving yesterday with your family.

Anonymous said...

"My brothers stopped attending Mass after they graduated from Catholic school in the 70's and early 80's"

Hmmm.. what possible connection is there to them leaving in the 1970s. It'a almost as if something happened around that time... some great change within the Church that made things worse and not better... hmmm... I wonder what that could be....

Mike said...

Tmac,

Perhaps I should have explicitly addded "recently" which is what everyone at the meeting knew I meant.

There is an unwritten policy in DOR that makes certain issues verbotten as homily topics (see here, for instance).

In the 15+ years since I returned to the Church I have attended Mass at many different parishes and I have yet to hear a single homily forcefully preached against any serious sin, including the sin of missing Mass without a good reason.

Mike said...

Gee, Anon. 5:45, I don't have a clue.

What do you think?

Matt said...

Mike--Come by OLV any week, and you'll hear excellent preaching from Fr. Antinarelli. Also, I hear Fr. Carpenter at Peace of Christ tends to give homilies that actually discuss sin...SHOCK! AWE!

Tmac--The majority of sub-50 Catholics have never been remotely catechized. Therefore, they don't acknowledge their sin. For 43+ years we have had absolutely awful leadership--simple as that. "You will know them by their fruits..." (Just Sayin)

Ink said...

I would bet you any amount of money in any currency (though lately I've been making bets in yen) that the better majority of students at the average Rochester "Catholic" high school don't understand the concept of "Missing mass is a sin. Sin breaks you away from God."

Several months ago at my lunch table, I suggested that we all attend the MoSfest that weekend--and why not meet at 5pm Mass that Saturday? I figured it would be a good rendezvous point. Most people looked at me like I was crazy. A couple told me that they don't go to church. Then again... one was Buddhist, one was self-declared atheist (but I think he's agnostic), and one was someone who BARELY qualifies as Catholic. Out of a table of at least seven very different people, only one person took me up on my suggestion.

Mike said...

Ink,

It's not just Catholic high schools - where the student body includes non-Catholics - but also our parishes - where everyone is presumably Catholic

A couple of years ago I had 9 kids in my HC junior high religious ed class - all baptized Catholics and most of them also in Confirmation class.

2 of those kids attended Mass regularly with their families, another attended only when it was her turn to serve, and the other 6 showed up on Christmas and Easter, if it wasn't too inconvenient.

BTW, I did ask and 1 of them remembered hearing somewhere that in was a sin to miss Mass without a good reason.

In the choir loft said...

Ink and Mike..The problem is Bishop Clark. He is the chief shepherd and teacher in the diocese.

Bp. Clark could have mandated the religion teachers, DREs, etc. that students MUST know that it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays/holdays. Then he could have explain the three condition under which a sin is mortal. I'm pretty sure most of these kids have no clue what constitutes a mortal sin, so in that sense the kids aren't culpable...but the Bishop sure is culpable.

Ink? The only thing you, or any of us can do, is preach the truth in charity to these kids.

Ink said...

Choir loft,

I'm trying. It's a bit difficult, though--the administration all support Bishop Clark, and they aren't too pleased with the fact that I like to argue. On my side, I'm very displeased with the fact that they let freshmen sit through months and months and months of working on the Ten Commandments (I have a decent amount of friends in each grade level and therefore hear many grievances) and don't explain the WHY behind anything.

In the choir loft said...

Ink,

Maybe God wants you to explain the "why".

God doesn't care if we are successful, He wants us to be faithful.

I will pray for your work among your peers.

Oremus pro invicem.

John F. Kennedy said...

Mike;

Sometimes having two heads is better.

It sounds like those people you were speaking to couldn't use the one they had.

Nerina said...

Darn, so late to this discussion.

Regarding missing Mass: we heard from Sr. Patricia Schoelles herself that "going to Mass can actually be an occasion of sin if we could be visiting a aged relative instead." Yes, she did.

When I talk to my kids about attending Mass, I put it this way: we go to Mass because we care about our relationship with God. God doesn't need us to be there to feed His ego, WE need to be there or our own spiritual benefit. I then ask them how good they think the marriage between their father and myself would be if we only saw each other 2 times a year or even once a month. That's when the lightbulb goes off. Kids get this stuff, it's just no one is telling them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

You're right. The majority of Roman Catholics, especially my age (49) and younger, do not believe it's a sin to miss Mass on Sundays.

However, I must respectfully disagree with you that, "no one has told them any different." My brothers and I grew up in a very conservative, orthodox Catholic parish. The parish priests and parochial school teachers all taught it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays unless you were sick or had a good reason. Also, my parents were very strict Catholics and reinforced the miss-Mass-on-Sundays-for-no-good-reason-and-you go-to-hell. My brothers stopped attending Mass after they graduated from Catholic school in the 70's and early 80's. Most of our neighborhood Catholic friends from that era (60's and 70's) have left the Church. We've attended several of their weddings at Protestant and non-denominational churches."

It's not the VII changes you traditionalists claim. It's Humanae Vitae. The vast majority of Catholics don't buy it and won't any time soon. Because they reject it they reject other teachings of the Church including the Sunday Obligation. The more recent reason Catholics have left the Church is the abuse scandal.

Nerina said...

@Anon (4:49)

"It's not the VII changes you traditionalists claim. It's Humanae Vitae. The vast majority of Catholics don't buy it and won't any time soon. Because they reject it they reject other teachings of the Church including the Sunday Obligation. The more recent reason Catholics have left the Church is the abuse scandal."

These may be the cited reasons that younger people don't go to Mass, but they are still not valid reasons to miss Mass. We either believe that the Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ himself and is charged with teaching the faithful, or we don't. But if we do believe that basic assertion, then we are obliged to follow her direction. I would argue that most people don't believe the fundamental truth that the Church speaks for Christ. That's the problem. If you don't have that foundation, then it is easy to strip away the Faith one layer at a time.

And please don't mishear me. Since the Church is made up of sinful people, I get that we don't always abide by her teaching. Regardless, what she teaches is Truth whether or not we practice it perfectly.

Anonymous said...

""It's not the VII changes you traditionalists claim. It's Humanae Vitae."

Sure, young people don't go to the church because of a document they probably never even heard of because the catechesis is so terrible in the Diocese of Rochester.

Mike said...

Anon. 4:49,

I am one of those people who received a very thorough - and very orthodox - Catholic education, whether in the class room during the week or or in the pew on Sunday, and I still fell away from the Church. For me it wasn't a case of dissenting from any particular doctrine; rather, just about everything I had learned stayed in my head and hardly any of it made it into my heart.

I have no idea of what was going on with homilies during my absence but, since my return in the mid-1990s, I have noticed them to be far less edgy than they had been before.

In the "good old days" we would occasionally hear of fire, brimstone and hell. Now it is pretty much variations on the "Jesus loves you; don't litter" theme.

Hell is a real place (that's dogma) and people do end up there (if the visions at Fatima and elsewhere are to be believed). By not occasionally reminding people of those realities our clerics any not doing them any favors.

I suspect you're onto something with the negative reaction to Humanae Vitae. From what I've read many (most?) priests and bishops expected artificial contraception to be approved by the pope and had been telling their people so. When HV came out they weren't prepared to handle the waves of dissent that came at them, both from their flocks and from a sizable group of theologians. Most of them decided to just keep their heads down rather than preach an inconvenient truth.

I think that many of our clergy have extrapolated from that experience, reaching the conclusion that ANY preaching on mortal sin will be met with similar scorn.

Whether they're right or wrong in this assessment is really irrelevant, however. Their calling is to preach the truth in season or out, not to be Mr. Nice Guy.

Nerina said...

Mike,

This quote is incredibly poignant:

"For me it wasn't a case of dissenting from any particular doctrine; rather, just about everything I had learned stayed in my head and hardly any of it made it into my heart."

Thank you for sharing that.

Have a good evening.

Mike said...

Thanks, Nerina.

I understand now why this happened. Perhaps someday I'll put up a post on it.

Nerina said...

I would love to read it, Mike.

gretchen said...

Even the concept of mortal sin is left out of homilies these days.

A few months ago, I was relaying to an acquaintance how the junior high kids I was teaching did not realize that not attending Mass was a mortal sin and that I would bet their parents also didn't realize it. This acquaintance, who is probably in her early 60s said, "Gosh, I didn't think we still believed in mortal sin. We never hear about it any more..."

Mike said...

Gretchen,

Yesterday evening was my last religious ed class for this calendar year. I was originally going to run a Christmas movie for my 8th graders but your comment triggered a change in plan.

Instead of the movie I spent maybe an hour in the afternoon putting together a Power Point presentation on the Precepts of the Church and we went through that last night. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well it went.

And, yes, I even mentioned mortal sin! We read 1 John 5:16-17 and saw how it both made it clear that there is such a thing as mortal sin and implied that forgiveness of mortal sin required the Sacrament of Reconciliation.