Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Tradition is desperately needed

"I have something to give you!" my next-door neighbor's wife said excitedly as she went out to her car yesterday evening. I had come over to the neighbor's house for the rather dull purpose of borrowing a very specific type of screw driver (the very dinky kind  that you can work on a circuit board with). It was while he rummaged around looking for the screw driver that his wife said she had something for me and went out to her car. She returned momentarily with a small postcard sized flier for her church. "I wanted to invite you guys to our Easter service - it's phenomenal," she said with obvious and sincere excitement.

I recognized this church; it was a non-denominational "seeker friendly" church, the kind that are now popping up all over the place where the pastor where's blue jeans, there are multi-media productions involving dance and drama, and the service (or "Weekend Experience" as this church refers to their service) is highly emotional. I told her politely that we always went to the Catholic Vigil Mass for Easter at our own parish with our family and probably would not attend (I threw in the "probably" just to be polite). She pressed me, however, pointing out on the card that there were five different service times for the weekend and day care so we could dump off our kids. 

Then she said something that made my heart ache. She told me, "It's going to be phenomenal. We went to their Christmas program and it was amazing; I can only imagine how great the Easter program will be!" I asked her how long she had been at this church and she said, "Only a year. We were going to St. Mary Magdalen before [a nearby Catholic parish], but we got absolutely nothing out of it." Here she made a sour face, as if the bad experience at the Catholic parish at left a palpable bad flavor in her mouth. "This church is totally different; it's life-changing!" Well, I was devastated. Another casualty of the Catholic identity wars standing before me. The parish she mentioned being disappointed with is known as the most progressive in town, with a resurrected Jesus instead of a crucifix (or a "Resurrectifix"), no kneelers whatsoever, Protestantized rock music, and, according to their parish "vision statement", reaching out "to other faiths, cultures and traditions.  Through shared friendship and service we hope to foster understanding and peace."  I knew that the reason she had been so let down by this parish was because it offered her absolutely nothing of substance. She had been attending this parish for years without deriving any spiritual benefit from it. Apparently, hearing that I was going to the Catholic Mass for Easter, she simply assumed that my own Catholic experience was as unrewarding as her own.

I should have gave her some response. I should have talked about the Mass, or why we are Catholic, or that I had fooled around in these churches before when I was a young adult and found them completely empty. Unfortunately I made no such response. I was too taken off guard; I was in the middle of repairing something and came over to borrow a screw driver and was absolutely not prepared to talk about the subject, so in the end I simply thanked her for thinking of us, told her we "most likely" would not come and parted company. 

I should have really gotten into a discussion or counter-invited her to our parish for Easter. Heck, perhaps if I had really fulfilled the Gospel and invited them at least a year prior they might not have winded up as non-practicing Catholics in this "seeker sensitive" church. Well, I have only myself to blame for that. We had talked about faith-related things before with them, like homeschooling and the blessings of children and whatnot, but neither my wife nor I had taken the next step to actually invite them to Mass. From the sound of it, an invitation to Mass might have not gone over well anyway, since their experience of Mass at their progressive parish was do putrid. But, who knows. I shall try, by God's grace, to rectify this omission and not make the same mistake again.

I do lay part of the blame on the progressive parish they went to. After all, ideally, if they were already attending a Catholic parish and were practicing their faith, I wouldn't have to be concerned enough about them to have to invite them to my own parish. But, as it is, they received nothing whatsoever from their Catholic parish. Now, while there is never a valid excuse for a Catholic to actually leave the Church, I think the Church definitely bears some of the responsibility. After all, if people come looking for a transcendent experience of God and the liturgy as celebrated gives them nothing, who's fault is it? They came looking for God and were given a man-made sham; they came asking for bread and were given scorpions. They asked for an egg and were given a stone.

Some popular Catholic apologists put all the blame squarely on the persons who finally get sucked into other churches. In a talk called I'm Not Being Fed, for example, speaker and author Jeff Cavins makes the case that in scenarios like the one described above, my neighbors would be entirely to blame because they failed to take ownership of their faith and educate themselves about why they were Catholic and what Catholics believe. This is partially true, as in the end, everybody ultimately has responsibility for the state of their own soul. But we cannot simply ignore the other side of the equation; we cannot just shrug at heterodox priests, lame liturgies, banal homilies, non-existent catechesis, defective, man-centered spiritualities, worship experiences totally devoid of any transcendent element, near heretical preaching and then blame the parishioners for being ignorant and wanting something more. Sure, learning about your faith is an uphill struggle; but the incline can become so steep that we start to wonder if something is wrong with the hill. We have a situation in which uneducated Catholics are thrown into the worst possible spiritual and intellectual climate imaginable and then blame them for not growing.

As I said, there is no excuse for leaving the Church, but I wonder if the parish that led them to this act "has the greater sin" in the words of our Lord. "Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" (Matt. 18:7)

This is why a restoration of Catholic Tradition is so vitally important. The Catholic Faith, as it has been understood and practiced throughout the centuries, can bring people into transcendent contact with the Lord of Lords. It the words of sales jargon, it has a "proven track record" of creating saints, transforming lives and even transfiguring whole civilizations. I'm sure my neighbors had other things going in their personal lives that contributed to their decision to abandon the Catholic Faith for a "seeker sensitive" media-production that makes them feel good and lifts them up; but, who knows, if the parish they had been clinging to had been more vigilant about preserving the Faith as handed down throughout the ages and less concerned with propping up a lame man-centered approach to spirituality, my neighbors might be worshiping the Risen Christ at the sacred Easter Vigil rather than watching a "weekend experience" at this other place, like the man our Lord warns us about who left the fold when someone said, "Lo, he is out in the desert!" (Matt. 24:26)


peet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seán said...

Certainly the person sins, but God knows how gravely, and not as grave as those who created the crisis. This is sort of the "original sin" of the Novus Ordo, and all that goes with it. I have the same stance with Protestants and other people who call themselves Christians. In a sense they sin, but they usually do not have the gravity or knowledge that the originators had (Luther, Calvin, etc etc). I think the event gives you knowledge with which to proceed in drawing them to the Faith. Sometimes conversions/reversions take time, and even years. Since they are on a real base level, I would start with simple discussions, and give them materials which are sensually stimulating. I would emphasize the Bible (for I am sure it is a "Bible" church), and the hard hitting contradictions between Bible and their church reality. Ex. Jn 6. I was brought to the Church through a very strong willed woman (who didn't mind telling me I'd go to hell) and Fulton Sheen's audio series Ye Shall Know the Faith. Every person is different. I would, of course, keep them in your intentions, and be as spotless as freshly fallen snow. Fundamentally, though, the work of evangelization is a bazillion times harder because of this crisis. Not only can you (usually) not recommend people to their local parish, but you have to explain the awkward situation in the Church right now. But I emphasize that, as sad as it is, this is the Church, full of sinners and bad clerics. In fact our Lord seeks them out to keep them close to Him! That's why being a saint is so significant and needed. And as Gandalf said to Frodo, our time are not for us to decide, but only what to do with the time that is given to us.