In the wake of the Catholic soul searching and hand wringing over the child sex abuse allegations and cover up, I’ve got some ideas on how the situation might be improved. It involves discipline, and lest this sounds too harsh for our delicate soft, selves, let’s remember that ‘discipline’ and ‘disciple’ are from the same root.
Here are some problems and solutions. I don’t propose this as infallible or as a complete (or even accurate) list. But see if it gets some discussion going.
1. We’re soft and decadent. We give ourselves too much of a break. We’re materialistic, self indulgent and too easy to let ourselves off the hook. What we need is some good old fashioned asceticism. Let’s look to the desert fathers who, repelled by the decadence of established Roman Christianity, fled to the desert to practice mortification. “These only come out by prayer and fasting…”
2. We’ve lost the idea that we’re involved in a spiritual battle and that the devil is like a roaring lion stalking about seeking whom he may devour. What we need is more prayer and a new alert and vigilant spirit that does not give the devil even one toe in the door. We need that vigilance first for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters. St Therese cries out, “Sanctity! It must be won at the point of a sword!” Call on the angels and saints.
3. We lack discipline and direction. People consider it essential to have a coach and strict self discipline for success in every other endeavor. Athletes, musicians, business men, academics all demand professional direction and discipline. We think we can get to heaven by sauntering along in some kind of spiritual feel good hippie trance. We need firm spiritual direction and self discipline.
4. We’re good at acknowledging that we’re good, but bad at admitting that we’re not perfect. We’ve gone too far in the “I’m OK. You’re OK” philosophy. God does love us just as we are, but he loves us far too much to leave us that way. He wants each one of us to be saints, and most of us are far from that goal just yet.
5. We’re too cowardly in dealing firmly with one another. All of us, but especially fathers, husbands and pastors need to speak out against sin and speak to family members, colleagues and Christian brothers and sisters who offend or who are in danger of offending. When a person is caught in sin proper forgiveness should be balanced with proper restitution and reparation.
6. We think we can be half a saint. We want enough sanctity to make us feel good and no more. St Therese cries out, “You must be a whole saint or no saint at all!”
7. We think that morality doesn’t matter. This is gnostic. It’s a false separation of the spiritual from the physical. What we do in our bedrooms, what we do in our boardrooms, what we do with our check books and what we do with our prayer books all affect our spiritual life.
8. We’ve replaced worship with good works. We’ve made the church into a social services organization, a fund raising agency, a school, a charity, a glorified soup kitchen, a babysitting service, a luncheon club, a dating agency, a social networking group, a group therapy session, a singalong and just about anything but the gathering together of the saints of God. Only when we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness will we begin to be transformed not by our good ideas and good works, but by contact with God’s awesome grace, and only when we are truly transformed can we hope to transform the world. Thomas a Kempis says, “Why do you wish to change the world when you cannot change yourself?”
9. We are too easy on our clergy. We love our priests. We love our deacons. We love our bishops. We support them. We honor the sacrifices they make. However, we should also hold them accountable. The fact is, money and power corrupt and priests and bishops often have more money and power than they know how to deal with. Together we should uphold the sanctity of their office and the laity should work together to confront and challenge clergy in a respectful and firm way when they go astray. We should not be surprised at corruption, and I think a bit of healthy suspicion of those in power is not a bad thing. Furthermore, wayward priests and religious should be disciplined by their superiors, lax bishops should be disciplined, not given plum jobs.
10. We have neglected catechesis and spiritual formation. Instead of teaching the fullness of the Catholic faith, liberals have dished out sentimental, feel good religion on the one hand while the conservatives have dished out dogma and apologetics and liturgical ‘correctness’ without enough spiritual formation and direction in dynamic life of the Spirit. Christian love is always tough and tender at the same time. Liberals give us tender without tough. Conservatives give us tough without tender. We need both.