Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4, NRSV)
My more careful readers know that I put little trust in princes, be they ecclesiastical or political. I know, I know: hand-wringing that I’ve lost the virtue of obedience. Forget about faith, hope, and love; I’m a heretic.
Oh well, I don’t worry about that. I have a wife, a daughter, a pastor, professional colleagues, and parishioners. I have plenty of people in my life to whom I willingly give my obedience. My commitment of responsibility (the larger sense of obedience), if you will. If the purpose of obedience is to allow the believer to experience sacrifice, a loss of will, a state of humility, a movement away from narcissism, then I’d say my life, and the lives of many lay people are quite satisfactorily covered, even before we get to the bishops and Rome. This is likely true in religious life. Obedience to a rule is not the extent of a religiously committed life. There is also the spirit of adhering to a community charism. There is also the freely offered love and devotion given to one’s brothers and/or sisters. Obeying commands: that’s easy, and easy to get around. Living day-to-day when people are bitter, sick, troubled, discouraged, mentally ill, or dying: that’s when it gets bed pan-tough, when you want to strangle the person. But you have to feed them dinner instead, then clean their dishes. Wash their feet, too.
I recognize that sentiment may well be self-serving, but that’s for me and my spiritual director, and my best spiritual friend (my wife) to determine. not another blogger. Not a bishop. It’s not that obedience ends with the people I directly know. It’s just that the bishops and the pope, in their ordinary pronouncements, have nothing to add to the spiritual value of obedience for the faithful. And in these days of scandal and pastoral apathy, many of them are chasing away many believers.
That exodus is what I’ve termed the antigospel. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that many otherwise fine churchmen have been leading proponents of the antigospel in the past decade or more. The recent bitterness toward liberal and progressive Catholics also has a self-serving element. It’s fine enough for others to suggest we should find other shores. But I don’t agree with that bit of antigospel either. The believer’s mission is evangelization, not usurping the Lord’s role in the Last Judgment.
Let me repeat that, a little louder:
A good Catholic has no business telling or hinting that it would be better for a person to be outside of the Church.
That brings me to the title topic of discouragement.
For myself, I’d probably would have left already for another church.
Deb’s comment stung, not because I felt personally indicted, but because I’m always sad when people I’ve grown accustomed to seeing every Sunday stop coming to Mass.
I think it’s very difficult to be a Catholic these days. But I’m also a proponent of the sardine theory of religion: safety in numbers. Or strength in numbers. A secular, materialist, rational person would say that a smaller, more uniform Church is stronger, better, and purer. But that’s not how God works. One only need reflect on the lives of the saints, especially the Scriptures, to note how God confounds expectations and turns everything on its ear. Death becomes life. Sacrifice becomes glory. Losing one’s life means saving it. Ninety-nine are left behind to save the one. The poor and the lowly outshine the princes on thrones. The woman doesn’t run from the snake; she crushes its head. God doesn’t remain in heaven; he comes to Earth in human form. And he doesn’t institute worldwide rule; instead he dies, rises, ascends into heaven, and leaves fishermen, tax collectors, and women to change the world.
I was raised in a post-conciliar Church where lay people were responsible for their own spiritual lives, and could exercise significant self-determination. We associate more with religious orders instead of joining them because we don’t need to live a religious commitment in the world in a traditional order. If an apostolic order is satisfied to fade because others have shouldered the apostolate, what is that to Rome? Or if another order is satisfied with a smaller number of vowed members and many more associates, why is that a concern to anyone else?
I’m shocked by the CDF crackdown on the LCWR, but I’m never surprised at adolescent behavior. Boys will be boys; shrug, and move on.
Rome labels leak journalism immoral, and does it darn quick. But they waver on cardinals covering up sex crimes. I’m shocked, but I’m not surprised.
It would be enough for me to state I’m a Catholic, and I’m not leaving, and nobody outside the Trinity can make me leave. But I’m also going to stay because other discouraged Catholics need to know that another lay person who is close and deep enough to see a lot of discouraging adolescent $%&# isn’t going to get bumped out. If anybody out there wants to stay Catholic, but the way seems too dark, I’m glad if you want to hang around with me. The ocean may be dark, and it’s hard to see, but there’s a lot of us swimming around out here.
I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time for me to offer a little more encouragement to the discouraged. It’s easy enough for me and others to pound away on the bad news. I’m not going to deny it’s out there. At the risk of being a spiritual pollyanna, I have to tell you there’s unbounded opportunity in the current situation. Even though it seems dark, cold, oceanic, and the sharks are lurking.
I think we can recall the witness of saints to show us the way–why I and others will focus on something other than politics during the so-called Fortnight of Freedom. I think we can band together and buck the current. And I don’t think we need virtuous bishops, or holy shepherds in the Vatican. Sure, they would help a lot. But there are plenty of witnesses, and much guidance to be found elsewhere. If prelates want to swim with the currents of narcissism and chum with the powers of the world, all I can say is that when they change their minds, the Church is waiting for them and their leadership.
And that’s all I’ve got for tonight. Light blogging the next few days, probably. No new initiatives. Otherwise, keep the faith, people. Keep in mind the conclusion of Psalm 146:
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!