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Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Grieving Church?

Poor Fr McBrien.
The sad thing is, I think he believes what he has written.

The e-mail came from a large suburban parish in which the pastor has apparently done everything that he can to remove most traces of the reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council.

The pastor has done away with all contemporary music at Mass, and has restored pre-conciliar devotions along with auricular confession. How are the first two incidentals and the last named necessity "reforms initiated by the Council?"]

...Under the pastor’s control, the parish has no youth ministry, [this is not necessarily a bad thing, if in some previous incarnation in the parish, "Youth Ministry" was a liturgical balkanization of young people.] no parish council, nor any other consultative body. [A legitimate complaint -- does he mean the pastro did away with the finance council?] According to my correspondent, “consultative is not in his vocabulary.” He also gave vocal support to the minority of U.S. Catholic bishops who proclaimed in effect that “Catholics could burn in hell” if they voted Democratic in the recent presidential election. ["In effect." In other words, that's not what he said, but the interpretation someone put on it. So his sermon could have been nunaced and the parishioner's understand a bit blunt.]

My correspondent reported that other members of the parish staff are hurting “terribly.” Indeed, they share the feelings of the woman who darted out of church recently during the homily – in tears.

She informed the pastoral associate that she could no longer handle the situation, and that she had to leave the parish. She said that all that she ever hears from the pulpit is what sinners the parishioners are, and why it is so necessary for them to “go to Confession.” ["All she ever hears," but is that all that's ever said? It is quite possible that the only thing that sticks in her memory is that which pricks her conscience. I know I, sinner that I am, am that way.]

That particular Sunday, with the old-fashioned church music, all the statues covered in purple as they were before Vatican II, [oh, the horror!] and the usual severe words in the homily, the pressure was simply too much for her to bear.

The woman poured out her frustrations, saying that the pastor had taken the parish back to a church that she knows nothing about [why does she know nothing about it/ and if she knows nothing about it, how can she object?] and in a manner that showed no understanding of others’ feelings. [This man may have behaved very un-pastorally, and seems to have done so. That is a legitimate complaint. But is important not to fetishize ones "feelings" which really are, or should be, among the least of our concerns. Others' spiritual health, on the other hand....

At the end of his first e-mail, my correspondent asked, “Are we expected just to get used to it?”

In my reply, I wrote: “No, you are not simply to ‘get used to it’. Parishioners need to go elsewhere, like the woman who left Mass in tears.”

I continued: “If there are no parishes or other worshipping communities in the vicinity where the pastoral leadership is healthy rather than driven by a narrow ideology, then one simply has to ‘take a vacation’ from the church until the skies finally clear and we are bathed in sunlight once again.” [Does he, did he, offer the same advice to those who fled parishes where the priest who heretically denied authoritative teaching of the magisterium; or were grieving when they closed up and abandoned the choir loft, tore out the altar rail and put a praise band in the sanctuary; or were traumatized when a priest refused to give them communion if they knelt; or who objected to illicit general absolutions or mass foot washing rituals? did he say, "That's okay, just don't go to Mass, there's no obligation?" I'm just askin'...]

In response, the pastoral associate noted that “the number of our parish families who are already on vacation from the church is amazing. It hurts to see it.” [As it should. But can he or she really be unaware that unless this "new" pastor has been there for several decades, a full 3/4 of American Catholics are "on vacation from the church" since before he arrived?

“It’s new territory, dealing with people grieving for their church,” he wrote. [Now this is ludicrous. How can it be new territory? People have been grieving for their Church since before I or he were born. And specifically, to pretend that there wasn't a great deal of well-documented grieving following the council and precipitated by liturgical changes erroneously said to be mandated by the council is absurd.]

The lead article in America magazine’s 100th anniversary issue (4/13/09) is by a Dominican who is justly admired the world over. It is Timothy Radcliffe’s “The Shape of the Church to Come.”

What follows here is a continued commentary on the problem of the “grieving church” and not meant as a criticism of Timothy Radcliffe’s fine article in which he deplores the polarization that is “deeply wounding and inhibits the flourishing of the church.”

However, he does identify this polarization as consisting of self-defined “traditionalist” Catholics in open conflict with self-defined “progressive” Catholics.

My experience with the worldwide Catholic church is surely much more limited than Timothy Radcliffe’s, and I would defer to his experience if indeed he has come across a significant number of Catholics who actually identify themselves as “progressive.” [I find this literally incredible. I do not believe that Fr McBrien does not know many, many Catholics, indeed, most of his circle who so self-identify. He must simply be unaware that they do so. ] On the other hand, I know of countless numbers of Catholics who proudly call themselves “traditional” or “orthodox.”

The pastor in the true story above surely would regard himself as “orthodox,” but the woman who left the church in tears would never have defined herself as a “progressive” Catholic. [That is fortunate, because she isn't. She feels that changes instituted by her pastor take her back to a pre-Vatican II Church, but it is a Church she does not know, she has been mislead that there are two, or perhaps numerous Churches and she and her "church that SHOULD be" are somehow, and happily, cut off from the nearly 2 millenia of it that preceded 1963.] That adjective would mean nothing to her.

She and other Catholics like her grieve simply for the loss of their church, a church renewed and reformed by Vatican II. ["c"hurch"? Church, Fr McBrien, church is just a building. If she is only grieving for her church, that may be a good thing because she may be led into taking her rightful place as a member of the Church. You know... the ONCH one?]

It is not polarization but the pastor of the story and many like him who are responsible for the grieving church.


Aristotle A. Esguerra said...

Matthew 5:4.

If, of course, Matthew's testimony is to be trusted. The Church thinks so.

Kudos to you, btw, for having the patience to sort through it all. It's a patience I don't have...nor wish to develop.

Jane said...

This column was printed in my diocesan paper. A little group of us were chatting after Mass on Saturday evening, and one person asked if we had seen the article. There was scoffing all around.

I am lucky to be part of a parish where McBrien's writings are considered bizarre and a bit disgusting, but even in our little West Hollywood haven there are oddballs. There is one particular person that I can think of who would probably behave exactly like the lady in the story if his "job" at Mass were taken away from him. And McBrien is right insofar as not everyone who feels threatened by traditional liturgy would consider themselves "progressive." The person I know certainly wouldn't. But the progressive elements have become so embedded in the culture in some places that progressivism is "normal" and traditionalism is considered strange. It is very unfortunate.

I very much look forward to the day when McBrien retires from writing. He has done much damage.

Scelata said...

Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Jane.
It sounds as if you are very fortunate (or very foresighted?) in you parish.
I do not understand the ephemerist (I refuse to cede the word "progressive" to them,) mindset that objects to devotions, confessions -- who is forcing them to participate?
God bless.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)