21 March 2017

The Revolving Door and the Faith that is in Us


Recently there has been some discussion about the fact that people of ethnic European origin regardless of where they live in the world are abandoning Churches and religious communities in droves.  The response of the Churches has been mixed at best. Often those leaving are faulted for one reason of another. Rarely does anyone in the leadership of these Churches and Christian faith communities ever accept responsibility.  I have heard only the rare voice say with great humility, "We the Church have failed to commend the faith that is within us."

Every year many people come into the Catholic Church through the Sacraments. Absolutely nothing is done to continue the education and formation of these people after RCIA. No one knows the numbers because no one wants to look at them, but the picture is not that of the Church's open door welcoming in more and more members... it is rather a revolving door where some come and in and others go out.

If you and I do not possess a sound theology of the Body of Christ, it is easy to look on this with despair.  Without Latin Catholic immigration into the USA, the Roman Catholic Church would be in the same shape as many European nations. So it may appear that the Church locally is vibrant and alive. But it does not tell the story of what is happening.

If ex-Roman Catholics were counted as a group and compared to the membership statistics of the Catholic Church and the other churches and sects, those ex-Roman Catholics would be the 2nd largest body in the USA.

I have watched in the last 15 years as some people have found the Catholic Church to be home, to be the dispenser of what is True. I have also watched others who found those things promised about the Church were in fact not true. Some endured painful conflicts with clergy and officials in the diocesan curia. Some simply found Mass too tawdry, the music and ceremonies void of depth and life. The list goes on. Some of them head right out the door to the Eastern Orthodox Churches. A tiny number find a haven in one of the Apostolic non-Chalcedonian churches. Most simply decide to stay home and keep the domestic church as their connexion with God. Others also stay home and give up on organised religion completely.

I understand deeply why people leave, why people return to a denomination from which they came, why some stay home and close the shutters and draw the curtains. We expect to find among those who claim to be the faithful followers of Christ a foretaste of the Kingdom within the society of those Churches. A happy few find that. Far more find nothing of the sort. They do not encounter a hospital for the soul-sick; they encounter people who have no intention or interest in becoming better people, holier people.  They find that once they become members of the Church those people and clergy who essentially "courted" them now have no interest in continuing any sort of personal meaningful relationship in community. Again, I can go on at length with all of the unhappy stories that come both from written narrative and from anecdotes.

One thing I have learned is that unless one is in the episcopate there is very little one can do to change Church behaviours or practises. The same is true in the other churches and their leadership teams.  If you aren't on the inside, it is pretty likely you have absolutely no say in what is done and no one cares what you think or feel. Of course, the very wealthy contributors are treated as an entirely different class of human being and treated with deference and all of the elements of courtship, as courtship intending they part with their money and give it to the Church or an ecclesiastical association.

All of this can leave a very bitter taste in one's mouth, dear Reader. To know of these things, to experience them is to participate with Jesus in tasting vinegar upon the Cross. 

As for me, I am more aware than ever how little I know, how vast are my many personal flaws, and how painful are those matters that have to do with defects in my physical body over which I have no control. As a stroke survivor I never know when rage at an injustice will explode from within me or when the Lord in great mercy places an angel to keep my mouth shut and to pacify my heart and spirit. Borrowing and expanding from a statement by the Philosopher, we are all fighting a hard battle and it is essential that we are kind to each other and forgive each other: It is also essential that we recognise we have need of each other.   

I believe that if you are looking to the Church, the Pope, a bishop, or a priest as the centre or anchor of your life, then you will likely join the crowds marching out.  But if you turn away from the temptation to place the Church authorities in the centre place of your faith and if you resist the temptation to put the Bible as the centre place of your faith (as the Muslims place their Koran), and instead you turn to Christ Jesus Himself, our Living Lord and Saviour, as the centre and very heart of your faith, then your faith in Christ can weather anything. No slight, no injury has any power in the light of one's active and living faith in Jesus Christ.  

Anchored in Christ, this is the only way to have hope and carry on. Seeking his face above all else is what gives life and saves us from despair. And judging by much of the preaching I have heard in the ordinary Roman Catholic parishes, there is very little preaching directing us to the heart, life, and source of our faith who is the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, God-made-man. For myself I must undertake to renew my faith in Him who understands us in ways that no one else can. He has power to help us because he has been tempted as we are and has overcome every temptation.

This Lent I refuse to be overcome by worry or concern about human beings and their actions. I am focusing my mind and heart on Jesus the Lord and those who have faithfully followed him in the past and present.  From the Scripture one can derive the touchstone "Do not let anyone steal your joy."  This is undoubtedly one of the wisest watchwords one can utter. But even more than this, by force of one's will, intentionally uniting one's will with God's will, one must choose joy and not irritation or anger, distress or despair.  Yes, we may need to act in a situation, get into the trenches and fight as the mud flies as part of the work we must do, but regardless of what our work or family or friends or enemies bring to us, choosing joy as one's emotional outlook and frame of reference for life is both lifeboat and lifeline for those storm-tossed by life, for to choose Joy is to choose the very Heart of Jesus. And in choosing Jesus everything can be overcome. 

Note: The quote I attribute to the Philosopher is deliberately vague. Part of the world believes that Plato is responsible for the quotation. Another group believe Philo of Alexandria is the author. Another believe that an unknown "Rev John Watson" is author.  There is a rather considerable line of evidence that points to the very wise Scottish author Ian MacLaren.  In each case a claim can be made that they are indeed philosophers, but when one encounters Philosopher with the capital "P" it usually denotes Plato.  As I grew up with the quote attributed to Plato engraved on stone and hanging from a wall, I am inclined to stick with the attribution as one does, but it seems more likely to me that Ian MacLaren is the author although it is possible that he was creating a precis from Plato.