The Future

I see the Anchoress has assembled a symposium on the question of the Future of Catholicism. I read Sherry Weddell’s contribution, because I think she has a bead on the biggest need, worldwide, on the future of Catholicism. I also read Peter Nixon’s essay, because he’s long been one of the most thoughtful and best writers among the many Catholic bloggers. Then I read Ms Scalia’s entry and I stopped there. The first two told me enough about the topic, and the third revealed a bit too much, and not about the topic:

I’m frankly just tired of feeling scolded.

That lady needs to consider a serious upgrade in the consortium of writers she has herded into her pen. Too much of the same.

Ms Weddell offers a cautious confidence:

Making disciples of millions of baptized Catholics is very much like raising a really large family of children. You have to be in it for the long haul because at year five, you are still in the early stages! But if “core” Catholics at all levels commit together to do all they can to call the baptized in their community to follow Jesus as his disciple in the midst of his Church, dramatic, positive changes with enormous long term implications are possible.

Mr Nixon thinks many might miss the boat:

To use his own metaphor, the pope may have dragged the church into a “field hospital” and stopped the bleeding. But whether the patient returns to vigorous health has more to do with the patient than the doctor. Pope Francis has given the church an opportunity. The question is whether we will seize it.

I think many of the Catholics I know are waiting for someone else to do something. Perhaps people are tired of waiting. Tired of waiting for the cavalry to rescue them from their suffering, faint (liturgical, usually) or just (real life crisis).

I remember a lot of finger-wagging in 2005, that we finally had a pope who was going to clean up this Western town, and put things right. Thing is, Benedict XVI was no gunslinger and the world is a pretty big “town,” and the pope realized it wasn’t his job to do what other people might be doing for themselves.

I don’t know why some Catholics are tired. I know I get tired when I don’t get enough rest. And beyond that, when I don’t take leisure time. Maybe I’m too old or stubborn to feel scolded. In ministry, I operate the same way I did under the last two popes. Only I feel a lot more hope these days. I think preaching the Gospel and evangelizing across the board beats apologetics hands down. I’m relieved some of my brothers and sisters are re-thinking the longshot that they can argue someone into Catholicism. Or consign them to hell.

Let’s get back to spectator Catholicism. A hundred years ago, we could watch Katherine Drexel and admire. Two to three generations ago, it was Fulton Sheen or Dorothy Day. Maybe they weren’t explicitly lassoing thousands of people into serving the poor or preaching the Gospel on tv, but they wouldn’t object to people finding productive apostolates. And what they would classify as an apostolate, we might just call an expression of discipleship.

Maybe it was a generation ago people were talking about ministry. And I remember many conservative Catholics ridiculing the idea that everybody was a minister. To a good extent they were wrong. And the proper term perhaps isn’t ministry, but discipleship. But a Catholic couldn’t go too far wrong in the service of others and doing it with an intentionality weaving through their prayer, their communities, and a sense of sharing their authentic gifts.

Where I think internet Catholics went astray in the years 2001-2013, is that many got well-settled in a new form of spectator Catholicism. People like Rod Dreher still don’t get it. They want to head for the hills, but keep an electronic eye on the culture at large to point out the many errors of the times.

As usual, Peter Nixon has the thought of the day for me. Pope Francis is handing us a giant opportunity. I plan to make full use of it. The pope is expecting us to do things. People in the US are waiting for September to see what he will preach, what he will say to diplomats and politicians. It’s the wrong approach. We don’t need to wait. We don’t even need to go on pilgrimage to see the man.

Jesus Christ beckons each believer in various ways and attempts of encounter. We can find him in the sacraments, in the Bible, in assisting the needy. He is there every day, every hour. If we are tired, we go to sleep and rest, knowing he will be there upon waking. If we feel scolded, perhaps we resolve to change our behaviors and priorities. If we feel hopeful, perhaps there is new energy for new adventures.

The future of Catholicism? I usually focus on the present. I can’t remember a better time to be a Catholic. And I feel honored to serve the Lord in significant ways in his Church, despite the scandals, the gossip and detraction, and all the fuss about identity. The Catholics I know want encouragement and good news. They don’t want to be hounded and scolded by elder siblings. When I serve in ministry, I note that people easily accept small steps, consistent leadership that accompanies–that doesn’t point fingers. Too many Catholic voices before 2013 would either wag their first finger at people or stick up the one next to it with the back of their hand. Or tell the rest of us we were obviously stupid and ignorant–that kind of mythology was always popular on the Right.

I’m hopeful that Catholics of the next decade or so will find the encouragement to be disciples. No spirituality I know is as effective as that of Saint Ignatius to propel people on that path. We are fortunate to have a pope who exemplifies that. Now, if people will only stop watching him, and get out and do something.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to The Future

  1. Liam says:

    Elizabeth Scalia’s column read like the Jan Brady of the group. Scolding is a temptation across the spectrum, of course, having spent many years in the trenches with fellow progressive scolds. I seem more commonalities than differences.

    Again, though, desolations and spiritual dryness get short shrift.

  2. charlesincenca says:

    I never watched an episode of “The Brady Bunch.” Don’t know if Jan was mom or daughter. Don’t care. However, I have to ponder if the discussion thus far here will account for a gender-based perspective? I have to credit Elizabeth Scalia’s POV for admitting a sort of spiritual exhaustion because elements of her complaints have resonance in the realities and dynamics of moms and dads and kids in the “modern family.” Just last night, one of our chorister friends, a brilliant former SSPX seminarian who saw the light decades ago popped over at the same time as Wendy’s best female friend showed up. After a little time, just like lunch in the school cafeteria, the two women went into the den and chatted (presumably) about stuff that is their reality. And it probably sounded a lot like Scalia’s litany of woes. Me and the other ersatz theologian spent a hour and half talking about the Francis thing, the future of the Church, basically as Bruce Cockburn once sung, “wondering where the lions are.” Both perspectives, Nixon’s and Scalia’s, are worthy to consider as valid. But I tend to think that there is definite gender bias affecting how we think, what we think and what we say and do. I’m happy to have the impression that you, Liam, Nixon, Scalia and our wives and friends are seemingly in agreement that it is a great era to “be” a catholic. And great doesn’t always mean pleasant or, ahem, happy.

  3. Todd says:

    I hesitate to comment too deeply on another’s misfortune or ill feeling. Speaking for my own times of fatigue, I have found that the “blame,” if you will, is most often on me. My expectations. Hopes. Misguided directions. And even sinfulness. In other words, I look to myself rather than blame others, even faintly.

    I don’t recall Ms Scalia was tired in the years prior to 2013. It seemed the conservative blogosphere had quite a lot of energy, perhaps as much as progressive circles in the 70’s. She chose to add a heft of like-minded bloggers in her outfit, and many of them seem snappish, skeptical, and somnambulant to me.

    And again, speaking for myself–the only one I can speak for–I don’t hitch my star to Francis or my puddleglum to Benedict. In return, I don’t feel as buffeted by the highs and lows. Before 2013, I had a lot to do. It hasn’t changed since. I just try to get out of the way when I notice I’m in it. Maybe that happens a little more often these days. Hope so.

    • Liam says:

      My continued presence in the Catholic church is a testament to my having learned through my years of historical study that it’s not normal for Catholics to spend much attention on what a given pope particularly says or does or not, and only a bit more on one’s own bishop (unless he was your landlord or employer). Popes and bishops are not oracles. And we shouldn’t expect them to be heroic, but hope for them to be in spite of the low likelihood of that.

      And I think that’s the point of the manner of Pope Francis’s doing: he is deliberately trying to scramble the historically anomalous expectation (pretty much an invention of the post-Napoleonic church) that the pope is an oracle and that he should significantly direct the operations of dioceses.* That people who formerly treated the papacy as oracular are no longer doing so is a demonstration that he’s succeeding.

      * Ultimately, btw, this will factor hugely into how high up liability goes in the church, an issue most notably posed by the abuse coverups by prelates. Supervisory control and liability are closely correlated. If you want a Rome that exercises strong supervisory control, you’ll also – eventually – get a Rome that can be held liabie for failure to supervise appropriately. Rome doesn’t mention this, but I cannot imagine that the Curia is not deeply concerned about this potential. (The silence on this point is of a deeply pregnant Roman variety.)

  4. Melody says:

    Patheos Catholic channel seems pretty much like an echo chamber. Not saying I am in major disagreement with some of it; it’s just that a lot of it is pretty negative, and it’s boring to read the same stuff all the time. So I have gotten out of the habit of reading more than a couple of contributors. Can’t say I have felt scolded by either Pope Frances or Pope Benedict. But I sure have felt scolded by some fellow Catholics and Christians online.

  5. Sherry Weddell says:

    Just FYI, the Catholic online symposium is just part of the big Patheos machine. It wasn’t Elizabeth Scalia’s idea. That came from on-high. It was her job to help line up prospective authors for the Catholic symposium. Every “channel” has one week in which selected authors from their tradition hold forth on the future of their faith community. The week before was Judaism. Next week in evangelicalism. etc. We were given 600 – 800 words to work with. I appreciate your focus on discipleship, Todd. Like you, I’m not nearly so focused on the Popes. But then I’m much more in touch with the many thousands of local leaders who are really making it happen on the ground. And the kind of change we need has to happen at the local level.

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