Saturday, January 17, 2015

Life in the church, realistically

It's not just youth groups pushing people away. I was a hardcore Catholic from the dawn of my human awareness until to age 32. I was an altar boy, a youth leader, and even in the K of C. But I quit the church for ten years because of the way the church handled the sex scandals. The death of my grandmother inspired me to come back 2 years ago. But I felt like wasn't welcomed to come back; in fact, I felt like I was being pushed back out. I returned to St. Y's in Z where Father A. is the pastor. He made it a point to let me know how much my family being there upset him. He used to make hateful faces at us while he sat up on the altar during Mass. He would regularly talk in my presence about how in the ancient church those who left couldn't receive Communion for ten years as a punishment. He always seemed to come across as someone who hates us. Fortunately, I decided to stay in the church but to leave that parish, but even in my new parish where my 12 y/o daughter was baptized, received 1st Communion, and was confirmed (yes, confirmed at age 12) it's still a struggle to feel welcomed.
Reply: These aren't unusual stories. I almost left the Church a number of times because of the truly abysmal approach that many priests take to their ministry. And the overt evil of things like the abuse scandals don't help. At the end of the day, though, Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, so I go, to render unto the Lord the worship that is his due.
The Orthodox have the true Eucharist too, but that's another story. I went away for 16 years. Back for three; socially my expectations are realistically low. "Just the facts, ma'am." I go to the traditional Mass on Sundays, the Novus Ordo on holy days of obligation, say my prayers during the week, and that's about it.
Sadly, John, that kind of minimal approach is what is likely to lead to continuing involvement in and with the Church. In my experience, get too close and things don't end all that well. The current structures and culture within Catholicism do not lend themselves to laity being too involved. Best to keep distance -- go to Mass, pray the rosary, read the Bible, help out at the K of C pancake breakfast, that's about it. Personally, I would love, love, love it if the hierarchy would rework the Mass attendance rules so laity could attend once a month or so without pain of sin -- my ideal liturgical life would be Mass once a month, Communion two to four times a year, confession as needed. Alas, I doubt the bishops will be inclined to give up their captive audiences anytime soon.

Another voice: I'm loath to sound cynical but how much of that weekly attendance requirement is motivated by getting the money in?

Reply: Like much of the bishops' activism regarding immigration reform, an inordinate amount.
I'm fine with the Sunday and holy-day Mass obligation; makes sense if you really believe. But I agree with the rest.


  1. Lol, I and my family have been in parishes like that before. It's not a pleasant experience.

    1. I never experienced that. In the '80s there was no conservative "reform of the reform" and the Tridentine Mass was still mostly banned, so liturgically the parishes were a step down from Episcopal, ironic for the church that created high ceremonial. (Thomas Day has explained that: the Irish are actually low-church.) The conservatives were telling you to accept the Novus Ordo out of humility or at least obedience (be a good Catholic by giving up being Catholic!), or turn charismatic (but I didn't become Catholic to imitate evangelical Protestantism).

      I had run-ins with liberal priests, one at college who baited me in the confessional, another, my pastor, who literally yelled at me that I wanted a church that no longer exists. (That thinking from church people is literally dying out; both priests have passed away. The confessional bully was a traditional vocation ruined by Catholic graduate school in the late '60s.) Besides "our doctrine didn't change, because it can't, so that's nonsense" (but he really meant liturgy and ceremonial), a comeback would have been "Then this can't be the true church. Makes more sense to convert to Orthodoxy or, if Jesus was a fraud, to Judaism." A variation on Huckleberry Finn's "All right, I'll go to hell."

      The American church in the '80s and '90s stunk; no wonder Orthodoxy looked good in comparison. Their tribalism, vs. the wimpy universalism of the mainstream, seemed like a feature, not a bug, and as long as you don't deny the church's universality, it can be; it's natural.

      Or, if you wanted charming Catholic-like liturgy and clerical culture, there were the Episcopalians again, who thanks to their semi-congregationalism even had conservative parishes, more Catholic than the putative Catholics, but of course that doesn't work for several reasons, from the Protestant Articles of Religion, part of the reason for Apostolicae Curae (and claiming a line of apostolic succession from schismatic Dutchmen doesn't cut it), to the modern mainline belief you can change the matter of holy orders and matrimony. Both my local Anglo-Catholic refuge parish churches, from the '80s and '00s, are, of late, mostly Catholic; factions that have converted.


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