Within conservative American Catholicism there seems to be a truckload of pessimism at this time. People don’t like Pope Francis. At best they think he’s incompetent and ambiguous. At worst they think he’s a dictator pope, a petty Jesuitical prelate and a maybe a heretic. They’re fed up to the back teeth with the sex abuse scandal, financial scandals, corruption in the priesthood and the gay mafia in the church.
Some are scooting off to traditionalist sects, traveling miles to attend their favorite liturgy, reading books and engaging in heated discussions about conspiracy theories, Freemasons, Communists and who knows what other kinds of vermin who have crawled onto the barque of Peter and are even now hunkering down in the engine room plotting their nefarious deeds.
I have tasted of this and it’s a bitter taste. It’s the bitter taste of pessimism and suspicion loaded with a good dollop of hearsay, gossip and rumor mongering. To be perfectly honest I’m not a particular fan of Pope Francis. I loved Pope John Paul II, but Benedict XVI was really my man. However, the more bitter criticism I hear of Pope Francis the more it puts me on his side. The fact of the matter is, he’s the pope and even if I don’t like him, he’s my pope and I’m going to try to listen and learn from him. If he is coming at Catholicism from a different angle, then so be it.
If he says stuff I don’t happen to like so what? He’s not infallible all the time, but I am sure not infallible myself.
I might disagree, but before I disagree I’m going to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But there is another underlying problem with the pessimism that is hanging around in some Catholic circles like a bad smell.
Yes, yes, I know they are sticking up for orthodoxy. Like a multitude of little Athanasius’ they are defending the faith. They are upholding the timeless liturgy, the unchanging faith and all that. Great. Wonderful. Terrific.
But if this is done with a sour attitude, a pessimistic spirit and a disgruntled, hyper critical mentality, it’s not of God. If the criticism is indulged in with a negative, suspicious and angry tone it is simply full of pride. If one is nit picking over fine points of liturgy, appearance at Mass, moral behavior or doctrines with a snooty, self righteous legalism then it’s not the Holy Spirit. It’s another Spirit.
One of the things which is helping me a lot at the moment is re-reading John Allen’s The Future Church in preparation for my current podcast series.
When you see the big picture that Allen presents, it is perfectly understandable that people are confused, bewildered and distressed at this time. The fact of the matter is, we are going through a huge transition in our human history and the history of the world. We are faced with an enormous and overwhelming burden of change. We get on with our day to day lives, but the changes in technology, mobility, medical science, demographics and thought are vast.
We are caught up in those changes and the Catholic Church is caught up in those changes.
The truth is that the Catholic Church is changing and changing fast.
The church of the twenty first century is already the church of the developing world. Even from the end of the last century Catholics in the global South began to be in the majority. The Church of our age is no longer Eurocentric and the election of a pope from the developing world is a sign of that change.
I am therefore not pessimistic. As I look at the big picture I see that the Second Vatican Council and the revisions of the liturgy were the necessary preparation for what is happening in this century. The new liturgy is uniform where it needs to be uniform in order to preserve unity in the church, but it allows for the diversity necessary for proper inculturation. The dogmas of the church are in place as the structure we need to move forward, but certain disciplines of the church may be altered according to different cultural demands.
Is this is a risk? Yes. A big risk. Is it safer to retreat to a self made sect where we re-create what we believe is the “unchanging church”. Sure. You go for that if it pleases you, but don’t pretend that it is anything other than a church of your own making….kind of like what Martin Luther and Henry VIII did.
Me? I’m not pessimistic at all. I believe and trust in God’s amazing providence. I think he’s in business to bring the good out of the bad. I see that this is his particular genius. We mess up. God fixes it. We do the very worst and out of it he brings the very best.
Was the Second Vatican Council infallible in all things? Of course not. The Fathers of the Council never claimed that. Has the church been infiltrated by gays, feminists, communists, Freemasons, and whatever else? Perhaps. So listen to my other podcast series Triumphs and Tragedies and realize that the church has always been infiltrated with spies, sinners and hypocrites.
God is in charge. His purpose is working out in our human history, but always in ways we cannot expect. He writes straight with crooked lines. While we’re busy fretting over some disaster over here he is over there doing something quite amazing that we do not have eyes to see. While we’re grumbling over some great loss we have experienced he has already prepared something greater for us that we need they eyes of faith to see. While we’re focussing on what we don’t have he is standing there calling us to that greater thing he has prepared for us. The danger is that we will miss his offer, miss the bus, miss what the Spirit is doing because we were so busy with our own pessimism…too busy licking our wounds.
We must remember that God’s purpose is the salvation of souls and the redemption of this world. Is he doing this in all fullness through the Catholic Church? I believe so. However, his grace is not limited by the sacraments. His work is not limited to the formal structures and sacraments of the Catholic Church. The fullness of his grace is found there, but the Holy Spirit’s flight is higher and further than that, and he is doing such great and wonderful things…so much greater than our eye can see or our minds can imagine.
By getting the big picture our narrow vision is widened and by trusting in his providence our pessimism is corrected.
Go here to listen to my analysis of John Allen’s The Future Church.
“a sour attitude, a pessimistic spirit and a disgruntled, hyper critical mentality”
Father – with the exception of a pessimistic spirit and possibly of being disgruntled, this pretty well describes St. Jerome, one of the Four Great Fathers of the Western Church, wouldn’t you say?
Perhaps things are a bit better in Carolina, but where I sit I see parishes rapidly decreasing in size, church property being sold, and a dramatic increase in the average parishioner age (I’m 71 for reference). I may be wrong in having a desire for returning to or at least connecting to our 2000 year roots, but somehow, someway, we’re losing our link to the Way, the Truth and the Life. Liturgical abuses, etc., simply attest to this fact, as does the fact that young persons simply don’t see the point of it all.
While I appreciate much of the tradition lost in the maelstrom following Vatican II, I’m more concerned with the loss of reverence for – even recognition of – the priceless, sacred gift we were handed by our ancestors in the faith. Sometimes, as Jerome knew over 1500 years ago, the Church, to be the True Church, just has to stand its ground against the heresies of the world, no matter how modern and attractive they appear. Would that more in the Church, whether bishops, priests, or laity, recognized this truth and acted on it.
Our friend, I can certainly empathize. but recently I came across news from the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois. perhaps the most scandal ridden Diocese in the Country. The Diocese which has suffered greatly from every trial you describe but is now conducting a survey to consider reopening a Catholic High School (closed in the 70’s)to serve it’s Central and Western Parishes. The area being considered has lost thousands of well paying manufacturing jobs, seen a huge increase in drug addiction and related crime. watched property values fall and taxes increase. There’s not much money for tuition, the State of Illinois is in financial woes facing certain tax increases, the lost jobs will never return, but maybe people are turning back to the Church.
I know you’ve promoted Dr. Taylor Marshall and I’ve watched Dr. Marshall’s talks with Timothy Gordon. Dr. Marshall has proposed going to another parish if the one that you are local to is not reverently celebrating Mass. Sounds like you are not in agreement with him on this one. Makes me wonder where you stand on Dr. Marshall’s book “Infiltration”. Are we not supposed to try and protect Holy Mother Church? Do we just let the wolves take as many sheep with them? Yes, the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, but do we just sit back and do nothing?
I’ve read Fr. Hardon, God rest his soul, referenced on the Bellarmine Forum. His biggest beef was communion on the hand.
I have to deal with lousy music at my local Parish. The music director played “Shine, Jesus, Shine” before Mass. That song is now stuck in my head. I guess that’s my teeny tiny cross to carry. It pains me to see the Mass being used. And that’s what it is. The Mass is being USED. And this saddens my heart.
I looked up who wrote that song. Some Protestant Minister. Why are we singing “My Little Pony” songs written by Protestants at a Catholic Mass? My enquiring mind wants to know. Let’s hear “Oh God of Earth and Altar” by G.K. Chesterton rather than this homogenous mess of modern day songs. And they are songs that say, “look at me”. I’ve been listening to “The Imitation of Christ” on Podcast. This is the last thing we want to do states Fr. Thomas a Kempis.
As G.K. Chesterton said, ““That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.”
We can do all the “community” outreach but as if I remember correctly, you’ve mentioned that this can be done by anyone and it has. What has the Church to offer? The Church offers Salvation through Jesus Christ in Union with all the Sacrifices of the Mass. If my analysis is correct, from reading the book “The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Present Life”, it sounds like Christ will come back to the World when the mass is no longer celebrated. This is the only thing appeasing the Wrath of God. It is Jesus’ sacrifice, once for all and yet we celebrate it at every mass.
Until our Bishops, with authority, get rid of “alter girls”, communion on the tongue, horrendously bad music, what is there to attract people? Where are the Processions especially during Christ the King. St. John Paul II defied Communist rule by having processions albeit the picture was removed but the INTENT was there. There is no intent here in the States.
If I didn’t 100% firmly believe that the Catholic Church was the one founded by Jesus Christ, the way the Mass is celebrated at most churches would of caused me to leave a long time ago. In fact, I was away from the Church for awhile, because of this very fact. I’m not at Mass to get all “happy clappy” or do politically correct garbage. I’m there to commune with God. Or at least I try to. God hates noise. And playing “Shine, Jesus, Shine” before Mass is nothing but noise.
I’m only human. I do get angry, is this “justified” anger? I would hope so. Sometimes, yes, it is not so. My heart is saddened most of the time when I go to mass nowadays. It’s only in receiving Jesus that my soul is somewhat at peace.
The Bishops need to re-access as to what does the Catholic Church offer the World? It’s not Modernism which the Popes have denounced yet it seems that what the Bishops offer.
I often wonder to the fact as to the statement that the “greatest of saints” are yet to come. Yes, the Catholic Church is going through birthing pains right now but that doesn’t mean we let the birthing come without help.
I try to follow the mind of the Church and not my mind. I’ve read much of the Vatican II documents. It may not be “infallible” but it seems the “spirit” of Vatican II has become infallible.
If Vatican II were truly implemented, there would be a new Golden Age of the Church. Too bad we are too prideful to actually implement what has already been given us. No, we have to be like Sauron or even Thanos and we want to reshape the Mass to OUR IMAGE and not to the image that the Fathers of the Church has given us. Oh, no, did I say Fathers. Who cares about them? Must be a patristicaphobia thing again. Maybe it’s “toxic masculinity”.
I’m going to listen to your talk regarding John Allen Jr’s book with an “open-mind” but I’ve read too much from John Allen that speaks of inconsistent thinking and Father Longenecker, you know where G.K. Chesterton stands on this. “Having an open-mind is also to shut it on something solid”. And so far, what I’ve read from Mr. Allen, a lot of it isn’t solid.
There’s my “pessimism” for the day. I’m going to go back to “The Imitation of Christ”. In the end, it is only Jesus Christ that matters and the Church that He established. Relying on any one person, especially oneself, is building on sand and not on rock.
St. Joseph, protector of the Catholic Church, pray for us.
If you have read my blog consistently you will see my advice in these matters: 1. Choose a parish where you are most able to appreciate the worship, support the priest and get involved 2. Be loyal to that parish and work to make it better as much as you can. 3. If the worship is junky it might be necessary to simply fulfill your obligation at an early, quiet Mass with no music if you can find one and build up your spiritual life through your own devotions and works of mercy. As to the John Allen book – he is an objective journalist-not a preacher. I’m simply using his facts to help us to get a big picture of the church of the 21st century–whether we like it or not.
Thank you for your response. I listened to the Introduction and am comforted by it. Ironic that I said I would listen to it with an open mind and you mentioned the same thing.
Looking forward to the Podcasts.
One thing your talk reminds me of:
“Be still and know that I am God”