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Friday, 7 November 2008

Reducing Catholicism to Good Deed Doing

".... and they are known as phithan... um, thilan... uh, pilanth.... they are known as 'Good Deed Doers'!"
A piece well worth reading, The Sadness of Liberal Catholicism , though I could have wished for a different title.

Kerry Kennedy... has written a book ... called Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning. ...I would like to draw attention to two themes that come up with great, and I must say, disturbing regularity in this book. The first is the favoring of “the faith” or “spirituality” over the institutional church, and the second is the reduction of Catholicism to the works of social justice.
... Now, I know all about priests and bishops who sometimes say stupid things, and worse, sometimes do harmful things. ...
But this acknowledgment should never lead one to conclude that the faith is divorceable from the hierarchical structure of the church, as though the Catholic faith could float free of the pesky interference of priests and bishops. The church is neither a philosophical debating society nor a political party, but rather a mystical body, hierarchically ordered in such a way that authentic teaching and sacraments come through the ministrations of the ordained.
... In the fourth century, St. Augustine battled the Donatist heresy which held that only morally praiseworthy priests could legitimately administer the sacraments and preach. The great saint insisted that the power of word and sacrament does not come (thank God) from the personal worthiness of the minister but from Christ who works through them. So even today, the “faith” cannot be severed from the “institution,” even when that institution is represented, as it always is, by deeply flawed people.
The second theme that disturbed me could be found in almost every essay in the book. In reflection after reflection, we hear that Catholicism amounts to a passion for service to the poor and the marginalized. Again and again, the contributors said that what they prized the most in their Catholic formation was the inculcation of the principles of inclusivity, equality, and social justice. The Church’s social teaching comes in for a great deal of praise throughout the book.
But in the vast majority of the pieces, no mention is made of distinctively Catholic doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, redemption, original sin, creation, or grace. For the most part, it would be very difficult to distinguish the social commitments of the contributors from those of a dedicated humanist of any or no religious affiliation. The problem here is that the social teaching of the church flows necessarily from and is subordinated to the doctrinal convictions of classical Christianity.
We care for the poor precisely because we are all connected to one another through the acts of creation and redemption. More to it, we worry about the marginalized precisely because all of us are cells, molecules, and organs in a mystical body whose head is Christ risen from the dead. And our work on behalf of social justice is nourished by the [E]ucharist which fully realizes and expresses the living dynamics of the mystical communion.
The great Catholic advocates of social justice in the twentieth century—Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Romano Guardini, Reynold Hillenbrand, Thomas Merton—were all deeply immersed in the doctrinal and liturgical traditions. No one would have mistaken any of them for a blandly secular humanist. My fear is that a Catholicism reduced to social justice will, in short order, perhaps a generation or two, wither away....
Rev. Robert Barron is a professor of theology at Mundelein University. His website is Word on Fire.
As I said, I regret the title, because I think I qualify as a bleeding heart, as do many I know, and we know that the Mystical Body of Christ's being drawn by the Holy Spirit to worship the Father and to receive the Real Body of Christ is the Source and Summit of the Faith that sends us in mission. The SOURCE.
So I don't think those whose thinking he regrets ARE examples of Liberal Catholicism. The liberalism they inaccurately describe as Catholicism in themselves is, to use his word, divorced from actual Catholicism, it is independent of it.
Oddly, real Catholicism, or at least the remnants of it is precisely where the liberal impulses come from, it is the fuel that drives the engine. But if they don't recognize that, they're gonna run out of gas.
They'll still be doers of good deeds. But it's harder to push a Buick than it is to drive it...
There is an artificial separation of faith and works that has been promoted, often by a false spirit of ecumenism, (it's all the same God, just different roofs, right? naturally leads to, I don't think you have to go to church to be a good person.)
What difference does any of it make, as long as you're nice to other people?
Maybe none.
Maybe you are a saint.
Maybe you can be perfectly good while ignoring or ignrant of the truths of the Faith.
We all know atheists who are really good people.
But when God provided humanity with a mechanism to accomplish our goals, and you were lucky enough to know what that mechanism was --- why are you trying to climb that incline without using the railing?
The organizer of a recent conference on Benedict's Liturgical Theology in England had this to say: the most urgent need of all is for mystagogical catechesis. Young people as well as old need to become aware of the cosmic nature and theological depth of the Mass."

4 comments:

Sir Monocle said...

I think everyone would agree that our God is relational. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." During a brief life among us, He taught us how to be in right relationship with God and with each other. As an sfo, I like to quote Francis who once taught to “preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary”. When we feed the poor or care for the sick, we care for Him.

Personally while the liberal Church I believe has gotten some things wrong (ie.. the current liturgy crisis), I do think they got plenty right when it comes to social justice issues, and to be quite blunt, the true meaning of our faith. Obviously, we have fundamental beliefs as Roman Catholics that we recite in the Creed. But when the “hierarchy” and politics of the Church take precedence over the basic teachings of love, our Church leaders become no different than the Pharisees Christ himself castigated. Fr. Barron worries me. Maybe he should get his head out of the books and spend some time at a soup kitchen.

Sir Monocle said...

I think everyone would agree that our God is relational. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." During a brief life among us, He taught us how to be in right relationship with God and with each other. As an sfo, I like to quote Francis who once taught to “preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary”. When we feed the poor or care for the sick, we care for Him.

Personally while the liberal Church I believe has gotten some things wrong (ie.. the current liturgy crisis), I do think they got plenty right when it comes to social justice issues, and to be quite blunt, the true meaning of our faith. Obviously, we have fundamental beliefs as Roman Catholics that we recite in the Creed. But when the “hierarchy” and politics of the Church take precedence over the basic teachings of love, our Church leaders become no different than the Pharisees Christ himself castigated. Fr. Barron worries me. Maybe he should get his head out of the books and spend some time at a soup kitchen.

Scelata said...

Sir Monocle, do you know this Fr Barron?
I don't, but unless you do know him, why would you think he doesn't spend any time in soup kitchen?
I only ask that, because I heard a snarky speaker recently complaining about what she called "the Adoration and Rosaries Crowd," suggesting they too needed to spend more time on social justice issues.
The trouble is, at our parish it is the old ladies who get down on their arthritic knees to say the rosary every morning who also knit the clothes for the crack babies at the home, and bake the cookies to distribute at the homeless shelter.
It's the guy who spends all day sometimes kneeling in front of the tabernacle who mans the phone for the Help-With-Your-Heating-Bill charity, and drives for the St Vincent DePaul Society.
When I look around, the people who do the most for other people, with the least fanfare are also, consistently, the most devout, most orthodox, most faithful, most attached to the Church.
I just can't help but think there's a connection.

Sir Monocle said...

You're totally right on this one. Prayer AND good deeds are both neccesary for the well balanced Christian. I've worked in the chapel of a religious retirement home (Mayslake Village). And, I know many of the arthritic people you're talking about. :-)

However, my comment was more about where diocesan priests are coming from these days. I see the trend in these seminaries as turning away from the Church of the 60's and 70's - and back to a more "idyllic" period of the church. I'd agree that good liturgy is something we should always strive for, but I don't think Catholics will sheepishly accept a supposedly perfect and "hierarchically ordered" Church they way they used to. As you well know, recent history has been very damaging to this structure, which I think is in real need of change. I'll be honest. I've worked with a number of these diocesan priests (who seem to have been ordained with more power than the Queen of England) and I can't say that it's brought me any closer to the Church. Yes, I'm still raising my kids Catholic, and I love my Catholic Faith, but, until I find a diocesan pastor who is capable of treating me like a real human being, I'll continue playing at a more "democratic" Episcopal church.

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