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griefThis has been a difficult couple of weeks.

 Anyone watching the cable news is probably aware of the recent disasters that seem to dominate the headlines – reports of ferry disasters, lost aircraft, wildfires all rotate through their respective slots at the top of the hour news.

 But one of the events in particular was more than news of a far away event in a far away place.

 A recent tragic accident at a festival event claimed three lives. The event took place only a few miles north of my current hometown in Richmond, VA. One of the victims of the accident was from my ‘home’ hometown in north Buffalo. The victim’s family hails from my old neighborhood, my previous parishes, my previous schools. It is an unfortunate reality that the stories of human tragedy somehow become more real when we survivors share some part of our lives with the victims. Knowing that we saw the same places, walked the same streets, and perhaps encountered the relatives of those affected by the loss all combined to tug at some unseen heartstring that would have otherwise gone untouched.

These incidents make me think of those who must deal with seeming random events that visit death, disease, and tragedy on people who didn’t deserve to be in that given place at that time.

We are told that all good things come from God and that God answers our prayers. People of strong faith often mention that everything happens for a reason, that life goes according to God’s plan, not our plan.

Reading the stories behind the victims’ lives, the now unkept promises of futures full of love and energy, losses caused by random, meaningless tragedy or fateful disease,  one would be justified to ask, ‘what kind of plan is this?’

What kind of plan takes of all those children in the South Korean ferry as it sank? What plans take the lives of the uncounted hundreds of thousands of people who annually die due to natural disasters or disease that seemed imposed by an unseen hand?  Not a day passes when we don’t read news of life lost by a person whose only crime was to wake up that day. Were they not good enough? Did their families not pray hard enough?

As people of faith, we share the joy when our friends and neighbors testify to God’s goodness through answered prayers that award triumph over serious disease, a repaired marriage, or a new job that helped preserve a stable family.

But for each testimony of an answered prayer, there are those who stand in the shadow of grief as they deal with some tragic reality that marched through their lives, seemingly unencumbered by any divine intervention. For each triumphant witness of miraculous healing and divine favor, there are those shedding tears of loss and apparent abandonment.

The occurrence of random tragedies and the nature of suffering force all of us to ask questions about God’s role in the world around us. How we answer shapes our own personal response during times of suffering, and how we approach those struggling with loss.

We are not the first to ask these questions.

The Book of Job is the quintessential text that expressed the same question about the nature of human suffering — some 4,000 years ago.

A quick review –

Job is a really faithful servant and he has been blessed with prosperity and a wonderful family. God asks Satan if he has noticed how good a servant Job is, to which Satan mentions that it is easy to be faithful when things are going well. God gives Satan permission to impose hardship on Job to see what happens.

Job loses all his fortunes, those he loves are taken, and he is infected with disease.

His friends at first try to console him, then suggest that his woes must be some form of punishment for Job’s wrongdoing. God does no harm to the faithful, they argue. Another passerby takes a different argument, suggesting that Job’s station is not so much a punishment as it is a test.

Job himself struggles to understand his fate. He stands by his past behavior and staunchly defends his fidelity to God. And while he never curses God, he does ask aloud why God does not answer his questions. He wonders if it would have been better had he never been born. He even wishes for death to end his suffering.

God’s response isn’t particularly comforting – He basically says He is God and Job isn’t – God has supreme reign over all of creation, and Man has little ability to understand the nature of God’s ways.

Job says he’s sorry. He repents and his good fortunes are eventually restored.

At a superficial level, the Book of Job helps little in our understanding of how to deal with suffering.  The climax of the narrative – ‘I’m God and you’re not’, may, in our view,  give Him a capricious nature when it comes to doling out random tragedy.

But Scripture is less about words and more about message. Job’s exchange has a deeper meaning that goes beyond a simple spiritual admonition for asking God why bad things happen.

  • The created universe is what it has to be. God’s speech to Job focuses on God’s dominion over a complex and wondrous creation – I wonder if this is God’s way of saying that we are part of a creation of unimaginable complexity. That includes the ongoing process of the constant creation and re-creation of the natural world. The essence of God’s answer is, simply put, a) we don’t fully understand the nature of God’s work and b) we don’t control our world.
  • The true nature of the test is to see if Job gives in to despair. His wife even tells him that his faith in God is misplaced, that he should surrender to despair – give in to death. That is, after all, what Satan wanted to accomplish, to prove that Job was a fair weather servant.
  • There is an important lesson in passages where God rebukes Job’s supposed friends for arguing that Job must have done wrong to deserve such treatment. God’s voice is clear on this – he doesn’t think his friends helped by trying to convince Job of some wrongdoing. God was very unhappy with those who contended that they spoke for God in condemning unseen wrongdoings that supposedly justified punishment.

I struggle with completely understanding why Job had to repent, why he had to be sorry for even asking God why he had to lose everything, including those he loved. But further reflection leads me to believe that Job apologizes not so much for asking God a question, as he does for his flirtation with despair – wondering if he should have even been born — wishing he were dead.  During the dark parts of his dialog with God, Job also argued that he understood God’s intentions, presuming that he was being wrongly punished.

There is an important phrase in Job’s apology, where Job laments the fact that he  ‘misrepresented’ God’s intentions. That makes me wonder if Job’s apology is less about the regret of asking a question, and more about his presumption that God causes unwarranted suffering.

Job’s story provides no clear explanation why suffering exists – and frankly, there appears little in its verses that can provide consolation to those in the here and now who have to deal with the pain of loss.

But there is a message that urges people of faith to not succumb to the temptation that blames God for misfortune. We are tenants in God’s creation, and its nature includes misfortune, disasters, and disease just as it includes the wonders and joy-filled experiences that make life worthwhile. Maybe we need the random fragility of life to understand its value. Would our days be so precious to us if  we thought their continuation to be unconditional and guaranteed?  Maybe the answers to those questions are part of a wisdom that still eludes us.

There is also guidance on how we are to respond to those around us who fall into difficulty.

There is no more need to explain tragedy as a punishment as there is to unconditionally assign the fortunes of this world to upright character. As witnesses to the suffering of those around us, we are called to comfort through presence, compassion, and prayer. No explanation, no contrived reasoning is needed.

We don’t really understand the reason behind human suffering. But the Book of Job warns that there are dark forces that will use suffering to make us believe either that there is no God, or (worse) believe that the nature of His creation is such that He doesn’t deserve our love.

Job persevered. He found himself ‘seeing’ the true nature of a God who is worth his devotion and fidelity. Job’s behavior was reflected some 2,000 years later, when Paul wrote to the Romans that no obstacle or trial can keep us from God’s love:

 “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God.”

I pray for those who have lost loved ones or whose future is at risk. I pray they find comfort in those around them who give support and compassion without judgement.

And I hope that should I find myself tested with misfortune, I will more interested in praying for help than in finding reasons which don’t exist.

 


References:

http://www.buffalonews.com/columns/jerry-sullivan/natalie-lewis-gifts-were-evident-beyond-the-swimming-pool-20140515

James 1:17

Matthew 21:22

http://www.catholic.org/bible/book.php?id=22

 

 

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yearoffaithPope Benedict XVI has declared the period from October, 2012 through November, 2013, as the Church’s “Year of Faith” – a period that would act “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.”

At first, I thought that this Year of Faith may be the springboard to new initiatives that would help those whose faith has faded.  Now, I’m not so certain.

In his pastoral letter describing the need for a “year of faith”, Cardinal William Levada wrote, “Pastors, consecrated persons and the lay faithful are invited to renew their efforts in effective and heartfelt adherence to the teaching of the Successor of Peter”. The introduction is heavy on emphasis of the Catechism as a tool to communicate the elements of faith (it is mentioned 30 times in the letter), urges pilgrimages to Rome and increased devotion to Mary.

Other members of the Church hierarchy also chime in, with Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation, stating that the year offers relief for those “who feel a nostalgia for God”.

Nostalgia for God? What is that supposed to mean?

These may be wonderful suggestions to deepen the faith of the already faithful – but to those whose hearts have been hardened by an often cruel world, such declarations are little more than fancy words. Our Church cannot take great comfort in a Year of Faith without seriously examining how our message fails to reach those whose faith has been tested – and succumbed.

I frequently mention recent studies that paint a particularly bleak picture for the Church as far as young adults are concerned – one fifth of the US population, and one out of every three Americans under the age of 30 profess no religious affiliation.

Our Church can ill-afford to dismiss those who drift away as some group not good enough to be part of our club – responding to the currents that carry people away from belief by emphasizing a reading of the Catechism is an inadequate, insufficient, and ill-chosen tactic.

Considering the recent horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, reflecting on the divisive sentiment that permeates our communities (and often our own Church), and recalling the very real trend among more young people to declare no formal religious affiliation, this member of flock wonders aloud how the upcoming year, as described by the Vatican, will make a difference for those whose faith has been shaken, if not discarded.

Those outside the home of the Church may, with some justification, ask ‘Faith in whom? Faith in what?.’

The message and initiatives to strengthen faith are not the same actions needed to restore and rebuild. To gain the attention of the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who choose to walk away – the message of faith must powerfully, in modern language, drive home the message that at least keeps them looking for answers that hopefully our Church provides.

Before the recovering faithful are ready for the Catechism (if anyone ever is), the Church must be able to proclaim some key points to those are just barely within earshot of the message.

Why Faith?
The site CatholicsComeHome argues that one of the reasons one should return to the Church is because it is the one true church, that it alone “is the one Church established by Christ 2,000 years ago”. Many other arguments take a salvational tone through the promise of eternal life and the ultimate triumph over death.

Let’s assume for a moment that the heathen among us don’t accept that only Rome owns the truth and struggle with concept of eternal life. I suggest a more down-to-earth reason for faith.

There will come a time in all our lives when the only thing we will have to fall back on for guidance, for moral direction, for hope, will be our faith.

There is no escaping the reality that all of us will eventually face a decision or crisis that no possession, no property, position, friend or family will be able to solve on our behalf. This junction may involve the loss of a loved one, loss of a career, illness, loneliness, or just the knowledge of our own mortality.

That moment in time, when all our earthly tools and resources are stripped away, we will find ourselves boiled down to the essence of what we believe in, our sense of right and wrong, and our source of hope in the fact that despite the challenges of the moment, our life still has meaning.

If one faces such moments without a sense of, as Thomas Aquinas wrote, “hope [in] things that are not at hand”, the results may be tragic. We can only wince at the thought of the consequences that may occur if we turn inward for guidance, only to find nothing.

Is Faith ‘just made up stuff?’
Faith is the belief that our lives mean more than what we can see, touch, taste, and smell.

People often argue against the case of religious faith based on the observation that scriptural readings and Church teachings fly in the face of what we know of the physical world.

The traditional Gospel readings of Jesus walking on water, raising the dead, and tales of the miracles of the saints hold little sway – especially given our understanding of the modern world.

But there is something wrong with this need to look at scripture as a flawed history book or the need to build our view of existence around what can be sensed and measured. Both views are centered on gathering facts and data; neither view gives them meaning.

Faith is first, and foremost an attitude – an attitude that drives us to ask what our lives mean.

Trying to find meaning in our lives by observing and measuring is much like trying to understand love by looking at a photograph of a wedding. It’s just not going to happen.

One can read scripture and come to the conclusion that walking on water, healing the sick and rising from the dead are scientific impossibilities. But to the followers of 2,000 ago,  the experiences meant something to them, meant enough to move many of them to give their lives so that the message of the experience of Christ would endure. Such commitment, such meaning cannot be dismissed.

To the critic of faith, the passage that describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” can be interpreted as an invitation to believe in fantasy. To the a person of faith, the same passage calls one to believe that despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite all the observed facts of the day, there is a reason to struggle against the odds of poverty, ignorance and greed, and that the struggle will lead us to a better place.

Why have faith in a God that allows so much suffering?
This is one of the most difficult questions I have struggled with – a question that tries to answer what role God plays in the day to day occurrences of our lives. Where does God stop and the freedom that morality requires begins?

We know what the faithful often say – the phrases are rote:

God is sovereign. God has a plan. God is good. God never gives you something you can’t handle.

But tsunamis and earthquakes often kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people. School-aged children are murdered. And many of us know persons who succumb to the darker powers of drugs and suicide. Thinking, feeling people can reasonably give pause before committing to a master who lets lots of bad stuff happen.

Fortunately, there are a number of authors who have written very compelling explanations about the role of God and the world – a couple of my favorites are Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” and “Why Faith Matters” by David Wolpe.

For me to say I have faith in God, and to really mean it, I have to have some type of personal understanding of God’s real role in the day to day happenings of being mortal. I may not be right in my understanding – this type of question, as they say, is beyond my pay grade. Theologians and cosmologists have been, and will continue to argue these points until the end of days. But their explanations are, well, theological and cosmological – too many ‘ogicals’ for a Polish kid from Buffalo. My answer has to work for me.

My personal belief is that God doesn’t spend eternity deciding who gets to sit on a beach and who gets struck by lightening. Say it is the deist in me, but the physical world is ours to play in, and it is not always safe.

As Kushner writes:

“…it may be that God finished His work of creating eons ago, and left the rest to us. Residual chaos, chance and mischance, things happening for no reason, will continue to be with us…. In that case, we will simply have to learn to live with it, sustained and comforted by the knowledge that the earthquake and the accident, like the murder and the robbery, are not the will of God, but represent that aspect of reality that stands independent of His will, and which angers and saddens God even as it angers and saddens us.”

But I also believe that God does show up in this world – when college students give their lives for the civil rights movement, when firefighters rush into towers of hell facing almost certain death, and when a teacher takes bullets for her students – that kind of unqualified commitment to truth and love – that is God. It can’t be anything else.

Where does all this leave me when I too, wonder where my faith is directed?

The scriptural critic in me says that God doesn’t send earthquakes or floods to ‘make a point’ about a world cursed with sin. The rational me argues that Man isn’t in control. The Catholic in me believes that truth, love and life endure forever. The three of us live together (though not always at ease with each other).

*********

This posting was written not so much to criticize the “Year of Faith” proclamation, but more to urge our Church to get down and dirty when it comes to arguing the basic case for faith to those who need the message most.

I, for one, am optimistic when the surveys I referred to mentioned that many young people do admit to being spiritual, if not religious. I interpret that to mean that despite differences and disagreements with stated dogma or conflicts with traditional religious institutions, there still is that interest in the ‘spiritual’, still a need to find the bigger meaning.

The audience remains in place. Our message of faith must not disappoint.

And to those on the edge of faith who may be reading this, I hope you will understand that despite your doubts and uncertainty, the search for faith, for the meaning of a life that goes beyond the things we own, touch, or taste is important enough that we must persevere to find answers to our questions, elusive as the answers may seem.

We are all being “called by name” by the Source of all things to continue the search.

Why else would you be reading this?

 


References:

http://www.annusfidei.va/content/novaevangelizatio/en.html (Year of Faith home page)
Hebrews: 11:1
Isaiah 43:7
“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, Harold Kushner, Avon Books
“Why Faith Matters”, David Wolpe, Harper Collins
http://www.CatholicsComeHome.org

Finally, the current election season is drawing to a close. Now that I have some time,  I’ve tried to return one of the 32 phone calls I received from Mitt Romney, but he is apparently busy.

We also have some time to consider another election that seems to be taking place – an election in which a growing number of Americans are casting a ballot to leave organized religion.

Of course, I am talking about the recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute. Its data closely follows the broader study conducted by the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2008.

By now, these statistics are old news to most of us:

  • 28% of all Americans have left the faith in which they were raised
  • While 31% of Americans were raised as Catholics, 24% currently describe themselves as Catholic
  • 19% of Americans describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated (even though only 36% of those unaffiliated describe themselves as atheists or agnostics).

It looks like a number of formerly religious folks are voting with their feet for ‘none of the above’ when it comes to their current slate of candidates.

These surveys outlined a number of reasons why so many have left the traditions of their upbringing, including rejection of teachings they received during childhood, negative personal experiences with organized religion, and perceptions that religious people are hypocritical, among other reasons.

There are truckloads of social scientists trying to explain why this is happening, so there are plenty of folks (much smarter than I am) who can shed insight on this trend.

But while I can’t speak for the millions of ex-faithful who have left the Church, I can speak for my personal sampling of 1 (myself), explaining why I too have sometimes struggled with my religious heritage.

Some may describe this attitude as ‘cognitive dissonance’, others call it conscience, and probably others call it heresy. Doesn’t matter, there are things the Church does and says that are contrary to my life’s experiences, and in some cases, my past education as a Catholic.

So, exploring the feelings of my sample of 1 from a population of persons who feel they are sometimes being pushed away from the Church, here are the current trends that make me want to vote with my feet during these politically and socially charged times.

On the topic of bishops telling me how to vote (which, for the record, they don’t do, even though it sure felt like it), I think results are more important that rhetoric.

In this election year, I reject the requirement that when it comes to abortion, the only Catholic vote is one for the candidate promising to make abortion illegal.

If we could remove a behavior by making something illegal, we’d have empty prisons and no drug problem. Countries with more liberal abortion restrictions have abortion rates lower than those of the US. Abortion is ‘caused’ by bad decisions carried out most often by the poor and uneducated (see David Frum’s commentary  for some insight). Solely focusing on making abortion illegal as the ONLY solution to to the problem is the easy way out – let the government deal with the problem by putting people in jail – then there’s nothing more we would have to do – problem solved (except for the uneducated poor who will still continue to make bad choices).

If a Catholic feels the best way to reduce abortions is to criminalize the act and prosecute the perpetrators, then they should act and vote accordingly. But there is no apparent justification for the Church hierarchy to criticize Catholics who choose to reduce the abortion rate by focusing on poverty reduction, increasing educational opportunities for women, delivering child-care services to teenage moms, and attacking patterns of sexual abuse.

Stop with the ‘Intrinsic Evil’

Church leaders and spokespersons are too liberal in attaching the ‘intrinsically evil’ label on most of the contrarian stands on the reproductive and sexual identity issues that face us. (For my non-Catholic friends, ‘intrinsic evil’ is to readers of the Catholic Catechism what ‘communism’ was to Americans in the 1950’s – it is the moniker attached to those behaviors that are to be avoided at all costs.)

There is a thoughtful explanation discussing intrinsic evil vs moral correctness at America Magazine  (I admit I smiled at the rhetorical question of whether the federal government should outlaw the ‘intrinsically evil’ act of masturbation).

Too often we use the ‘IE’ term as a label attached to specific acts regardless of the morality of the act —- and we spend too much time attaching that label onto people who don’t look and act as we do.

I often think that we would be able to move closer to the Kingdom if we taught and adhered to the true foundations of Church teaching, a foundation in which we are to avoid any behavior that demeans the sanctity and value of human life, our relationship with others, and any other act that (according to the Catechism) ‘authentically opposed to the good of persons’. Then, ‘intrinsically evil’ would be less likely to be hijacked as a tool of judgement, a tool which isn’t ours to use.

My Book of Kings beats your Deuteronomy…

I am really tired of people trying to ‘out-Bible’ each other – engaging in contests involving volleys of scriptural verses, excerpts of Canon Law, and most of all, uncontrolled demonizing of others. As the incessant arguments continue with quote after quote and verse after verse, you get the feeling that some folks would rather use Scripture for a legal opinion rather than spiritual enlightenment.

It is when these honest disagreements give way to unrelenting virulence — that some probably choose to leave the squabbling family behind and try to find a quieter place for the spiritual feast.

So, now what?

Those are a few of the points that have always challenged me as a ‘recovering’ Catholic. So what can we do about it?

In the perspective of the laity, we need to spend less time judging each other and more time reaching out to those who need to be reached. There is nothing new in disagreeing on which ‘moral teachings’ are more important than others – we all are shaped by our experiences, and we see the Church’s teaching through different lenses. But the essence of the Christian message is to help those in need, to proclaim that our lives can and do have meaning, regardless of past failings, and that our faith always has and always will call us to find God in each other.

What is more important, the signs we carry on the street, or the signs others see through the examples of our personal ministries?

Do young adults have a place at our table?

The ‘formal’ Church also needs to find a better way to connect with the young adults of ‘modern’ industrialized countries. This is not my opinion, this is a matter of numbers. The PEW foundation report indicates that of those age 18-29, one in four attest to no religious affiliation. Other reports indicate that more than 50% of the Catholics who leave the faith are under the age of 28. No business would accept a 50% dropout rate for its customers and neither should our Church.

Yet much of the outreach messaging from the the Church’s lay media representatives do little more than repeat Church dogma with a decidedly conservative slant (I sometimes watch EWTN, but when the host of a commentary show introduced Pat Buchanan as the ‘sage’ of American politics, I turned to ‘Laverne and Shirley’ reruns.)

The operations of Church machinery sometimes riles the sensibilities of those from the progressive / liberal side of the spectrum.

I don’t expect Hans Kung to be on Pope Benedict’s Christmas card list, but one has to ask why the Church shows endless patience with ultra-conservative bishops while showing Melinda Gates the door because she dares use the ‘C’ word (contraception) as part of her work in Africa. Some people argue that this approach is OK, that a smaller, conservative church of devout followers is better than a larger, noisier church that deals with the unseemly details of diversity. I doubt that is what is expected of us.

The Church’s message to young people is competing with a 24×7 media behemoth that stresses instant self-gratification and materialism and a social-media engine that seems to focus on little more than self-importance. This is what the Church is up against, and if it really wants to stop the bleeding of young followers, its message has to be delivered from spokespersons who can relate to young men and women in a way that speaks to the heart of their issues. (No, Pat Buchanan doesn’t count.)

Focusing on a messages and dogma that resonates only with today’s followers does little to draw the interest of those standing outside the door.

But, in the end….

But in the end, I have faith in my Church. She has endured much as a result of human shortcomings, mistakes, and poor judgments. If she can make it through the Inquisition and Galileo, she can make it through the Facebook era. And I, as well as other well-meaning members of the flock must always remember that there is something to be said for humility.

I may not like everything my candidate does or says – but I vote to stay.


References:

http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1705604,00.html

http://www.fathersforgood.org/ffg/en/month/archive/mar09/bert.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57470508-10391704/melinda-gates-promotes-birth-control-as-an-important-part-of-family-planning/

http://www.cathnewsusa.com/2012/07/vatican-newspaper-says-melinda-gates-misinformed/

http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/10/american-values-survey-2012/

I am a Cafeteria Catholic.

There.  I’ve  said it.

I selectively accept my Church’s teachings, accepting almost all of the 2,861 paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But there are a few points of doctrine that just don’t smell right, and as a result, I choose not to partake. Technically, that makes me a Cafeteria Catholic.

First – a more formal definition.

A Cafeteria Catholic is a generally dismissive term applied to folks who appear to ‘pick and choose’ the elements of Church teaching that apply to one’s personal situation – turning aside teachings and doctrine that are either disagreeable or inconvenient while accepting views that are consistent with one’s own world-view. It is generally accepted that the term Cafeteria Catholic came into widespread use after Vatican Council II in the mid 1960’s, when some interpretations of the Council’s writings led to reforms and changes that digressed from conventional views. As new ideas vied for the soul of the Church and some new views replaced the old perspectives, it became commonplace to infer that some folks were selecting only the parts of Catholicism that were easy to believe while turning aside the teachings that challenge us.

I admit, if the definition is valid, saying I’m a Cafeteria Catholic makes me feel a bit shallow. But it shouldn’t be a sin to ask questions, and the kitchen staff shouldn’t glare at me when I point to something and ask ‘what’s in this?’

And even a Cafeteria Catholic can speak when he fears for the health of his Church when something in the fridge starts to smell bad.

The 2008 Pew Forum Report on Religion in America identifies the Catholic Church as the Christian denomination that suffered the largest net loss due to changes in affiliation (people leaving the Church for another – or no tradition). Some 31% of Americans were raised Catholic but 24% of American adults identify themselves as Catholic, a net loss of 7.5%. The numbers regarding the raw size of the Church would be far worse if it weren’t for Her strong showing among immigrants.

While the number of candidates for priesthood is slightly rising (about 0.5%), the growth of the Church in absolute numbers (thanks again to immigration trends) is stressing the Church’s ability to shepherd Her flock.

And of course, I continue to cringe every time another charge of sexual abuse makes its way into the media, wondering who on earth was watching these men all these years?

For all the problems of the Church, I don’t see a recovering vibrant resurgence in (what I see) as the Church’s shift to the right – restatement of doctrines that dismiss the role of family conscience, policies that seem to substitute ruling for leading, recent trends to re-emphasize elements of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass and other efforts that lead the Church to look at the world as She did in the good old days – say 1570 or so. (Any other Catholics scratching their heads over that line ‘consubstantial with the Father’?)

I am concerned over hints at a revisionist view that the Vatican Council II was an unfortunate concession to modernity that caused the decline of the Church in Western nations, an accident that needs repairing.

I believed in VC-II’s message, I stayed, rather than strayed, because of how the Liturgy became something that connected with me. The Church’s ‘liberal’ views made me more aware and sensitive to the global house in which God works. The examples the Church set during the following years, particularly in confronting real evil in Central America and Eastern Europe, are true testaments to Christ’s work on this earth. And on a personal level, VC-II enlightened me to believe in a God that wasn’t as much interested in damning me as in loving and wanting me for who I am.

For some reason, a few folks on the kitchen staff want to pull this serving from the menu.

I have chosen to write this blog with one intention – to drive respectful dialog and lay the foundation for meaningful changes (or reinforcement of Christ-centered doctrines) that allow the Catholic Church to be the tradition of choice for all peoples, cultures, and backgrounds – including those from industrialized, highly democratized nations (the last category of which, for some reason, is a problem for the Church).

I am NOT an anti-church guy. The Pope’s clarity in calling attention to the evils of uncontrolled capitalism, his clear language on the morally doomed nature of the illegal drug industry, and the honestly good work done by millions of the faithful lay makes a real difference in this world.

And I also recognize that there are some who feel that everyone would be better off if I (and folks like me) just pack up and leave – go find some other tradition that ‘fits my needs.’

I don’t think I’ll do that.

I was born Catholic, raised in a Catholic family, attended Catholic elementary school and high school. I completed my graduate degree at a Catholic College. I was raised during the initial years following Vatican Council II and taught that Christ’s love was, and always will be the light for my life’s path, even while I sometimes wandered into darkness.

I was taught to question, to search, and to always seek the better answer to life’s important questions. That lesson was taught to me by Catholic educators and Catholic pastors who, through the grace of God, managed to keep me in the flock.

No, I deserve a place at the Catholic table as much as anyone else. I will not be one of the millions of Catholic-born faithful who choose to leave the Church. Leaving would be the easiest, ‘most convenient’ thing for me to do.  I choose not to do that.

I’m a Cafeteria Catholic. I embrace the main course of belief in the Creed (once I figure out what ‘consubstantial means’), the Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, and sanctity of the sacraments. I will even pick some things that I know are good for me, even if I may not ‘like’ donating to the poor and confessing my sins to a stranger.

But there is a reason why some selections along this serving line have been lying under the warming lamp way too long. In future writings, I’ll be chatting about those unwanted items that look like they’ve been around since the last Woolworth cafeteria closed. And when I see something being removed from the menu, something that made me a stronger, better Catholic, I insist on asking ‘where you going with that?’

The Church has nourished and sustained me all my life. It has made me what I am and I want desperately for Her to thrive. But the Church is made of humans who sometimes don’t do their best (anyone watching Food Network Challenge knows even the best chefs sometime screw up). Just because this cafeteria staff doesn’t really need to care about ‘market forces’ (it is a bit hierarchical), doesn’t mean it should dismiss leftovers solely as the result of choices by customers who aren’t good enough.

I’m a Cafeteria Catholic.

I’m not leaving the serving line.

And I want to talk to the management.

Next Month – Conscience  and Faith.


Sources and resources:

http://ncronline.org/news/catholics-america/what-core-american-catholics-2011#figure2

http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/14/world/americas/14pope.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.economist.com/node/16740795

http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-02-28-vatican-priests_N.htm

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