Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to hear an increasing amount of grumbling from about the state of the church.
Some folks complain about the new generation of priests, “All these guys seem to care about is lace and china tea cups! Are they all pansies? What’s going on? Why do they have to return to all this fancy folderol? Why the obsession with ornate liturgy? I thought we were over that.” Other Catholics grumble because they think members of the hierarchy aren’t doing enough to stand up against the gays or immigrants. Another Catholic complains about the wild eyed conspiracy theory anti-semitism of radical traditionalists while other folks grumble about Catholic journalists who endorse same sex marriage, women priests and co-habitation. Maybe they’re grumbling about the liturgy being too happy clappy or perhaps they’re fed up because it’s too fancy.
Do you fall into the trap of grumbling about the state of the church? Do you get worked up over clericalism or the laxity of the clergy, the apostasy of the theologians, the fanaticism of the Pharisees and the immorality of the masses?
So what’s an ordinary Catholic to do?
Here are ten things to remember when you’re fed up.
1. Remember History – Every Catholic should read some church history. An excellent, readable summary is Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners which is a history of the papacy. The history of the church reads like the Old Testament. In other words, it is full of saints and sinners, triumphs and tragedies, horror and holiness, weakness and wickedness, strength and sanctity. It’s all there, and that’s why it is authentic and human and divine and real. The church has always been afflicted with persecution from without and corruption from within. That’s because it’s made up of human beings like you and me who are a work in progress. Take a deep breath. It’s not much different now than it always has been.
2. Remember that Catholic means “Universal” – The Catholic Church is not a sect. It is not a nationalistic church or an ethnic church. It is not a single minded, mono vision institution. It’s universal. It transcends time. It transcends particular cultures. It transcends particular cultural obsessions. It takes the big view and the wide perspective. This means it includes people who are not like you. They may disagree with you completely. They may be wrong….very wrong, and guess what? You might just be wrong about some stuff too. Get over it.
3. Remember that we’re family – Those people you disagree with? They’re family. You are convinced that the Bible and the magisterium support your views. Guess what, they think the Bible and the magisterium support their views. You think they’re wrong? They think you’re wrong. However, they’re still your brothers and sisters. Brothers and sister fight sometimes. That’s okay, in fact it’s healthy. The Church is not some sort of religious Ozzie and Harriet where everything is hunky dory all the time. So you disagree and fight? Big deal. Just make sure you kiss and make up before you turn off the lights.
4. Don’t Forget the Church’s Teachings – Mother Church is there to teach us. Her teaching corrects us and directs us. The church’s teachings are the bedrock on which our views are founded. None of us should be spouting our own opinions. We should simply put forward the Catholic faith. However–we should also remember that the same teaching that we espouse is viewed from a different perspective by different Catholics. Depending on their personality type, their education and their background they will emphasize different aspects of the church’s teachings. They may stress family life, sexual morality and the anti abortion cause. You may stress peace and justice issues, radical discipleship and the preferential option for the poor. That’s okay. Learn to value the other perspective.
5. Allow People to Mess Up – Did a bishop or priest make a call that displeases you? Take a deep breath. You don’t have to play Savonarola. Maybe he made a mistake and maybe you don’t know how complicated his decision making process was. It’s easy to be an armchair bishop, but if you’re not a priest or bishop you have not a clue how difficult the job is. You don’t have any idea the complexities of relationships, the real life dilemmas, the pastoral decisions and impossible situations that have to be dealt with. Instead of yelling about this priest’s apostasy or that bishop’s “inflexibility” this priest being “too rigid” or that bishop being too lax, why not cut them a break? These guys have a tough job. Why not back off and pray for them a bit more?