Sunday, January 19, 2014

Believe it, or not?

This past week I was made aware of articles posted on the internet, which were a part of journals around the country, concerning believing by Catholics in America. One article, written by Damon Linker who would be presented as a liberal in the Church, reflected upon an article he had written earlier about Pope Francis and the change the author hoped would come into the Church under the new pope. He could not understand the gushing over Pope Francis that was still taking place among many of his fellow liberals.  He had hoped Pope Francis would be working to change Church teaching on issues such as contraception, gay relationships, married clergy and the role of women in the Church.

Mr. Linker, in an article this past week entitled “What do liberal Catholics want?”, reflected back upon an interview he had on NPR where he was discussing his original article. A caller by the name of Trish, who styled herself a progressive Catholic, could not understand the concern of Mr. Linker for the need to change Church doctrine. As she put it, "Doctrine for a Catholic, now, is not even an issue. Catholics do not care about doctrine," she said, adding, "It's irrelevant. It's a non-issue for Catholics."

Mr. Linker went on to write in his recent article,

For all I know, many or even most liberal Catholics hope and pray for doctrinal reform. But what if Trish is right? If so, the question I'd want to ask these liberals is: Why do you continue to attend church and think of yourself as a Catholic?
If you attend for the beauty of the liturgy, why not just become an Episcopalian? If it's the sense of community you crave, why not join the Unitarian church? Either way, you could certainly continue to be spiritually moved by the pope's public utterances, in the same way you might be stirred by an inspiring presidential speech.

Sadly, this is not limited to liberals or conservatives in the Church.  There are many who have fallen into this trap of not caring about the teachings of the Church.

Matthew Schmitz wrote a blog in response to Mr. Linker’s article which he entitled “Why Catholics Don’t Care”.  Mr. Schmitz put some of the fault on dissent within the Church, but directed more of it toward those responsible for sharing the correct teachings of the faith. After the release of Pope Paul VI encyclical Humane Vitae, many Church leaders made confusing statements about contraception. Mr. Schmitz makes the observation, “The hem-hawing of Church leaders led to confusion in the pulpit and pews. Unwilling to deny Church teaching directly, disoriented by conflicting signals, homilists and confessors fell silent.”

The same can be said about divorce, abortion, and the other issues that Mr. Linker would like to change in the Church. Not hearing about it from the pulpits, many of these issues have slipped from the consciences of many Catholics. Over the course of time they seem to have taken on the status of  “non-issues”. As Mr. Schmitz says near the end of his post, “Modern man, in this view, is twice fallen. Bishops ceased to believe the faithful were capable of following Church teaching, and so they ceased to teach it by discipline and word. In light of this, the reaction of the faithful is more than understandable. Why would they take seriously a teaching their pastors refuse to?”

What we are beginning to see in America is a change in attitude. Steve Skojec, a blogger for CatholicVote.org, wrote an article, “Millennials Are Seeking Tradition, Sacramentality, and Liturgy”.

He states:
But what about the younger generations? In a world that grows increasingly secular, that seems more rabidly anti-Christian than it has been since the bad old days before Constantine’s conversion, what does faith mean to them? Today, at The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead brings to light an interesting development in the religious inclinations of Millennials:

America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.
The trend isn’t entirely new. It’s also the subject of Colleen Carrol’s 2002 book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. But if Olmstead (and the polling she cites) is correct, it’s a shift that is continuing to gain momentum.
Unlike Trish who called Mr. Linker, young people today seem to either embrace all the that Church offers, or, as Mr. Linker had commented, they leave the Church to which they have only a nominal connection. We for our part, must present the faith in the fulness for our young people to experience. It may mean there is some challenge for each of us as we look at our lives in relation to the life expected of us as faithful Catholics.

As a priest, I need to continually remind myself not to water down the faith to make it palatable for those who are listening. My task as the pastor is to help you grow to be Catholics in fact, as well as in name. It does not matter if it is in relation to conservative issues such as marriage and abortion, or liberal issues such as caring for those around us. I want us all to care about our great faith and to live it to the fullest.

That being said, I have one other issue I’d like to bring up today. Wednesday is the 41st anniversary of the Roe vs Wade decision.  Next Saturday it will be a chance for us to put some of our faith into action.  In Bozeman, at 10 am, in front of the courthouse, across from Holy Rosary Church, the fifth annual March 4 Life will take place. Please take some time to come and stand with the unborn and witness to the value of life. Despite the silence of some priests, and even bishops, the sanctity of life from the very moment of conception has been held by the Church. Despite the desire of some Catholics, Pope Francis is not going to change this teaching. He alluded to this on Monday, as he addressed members of the Vatican Diplomatic Corps:
“Peace is also threatened by every denial of human dignity, firstly the lack of access to adequate nutrition. We cannot be indifferent to those suffering from hunger, especially children, when we think of how much food is wasted every day in many parts of the world immersed in what I have often termed the 'throwaway culture'. Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as 'unnecessary'. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.”
Let us become Catholics who care about doctrine. Let us listen to the words of our Holy Father and find ways to make positive changes in our lives and in our societies.
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