This essay is respectfully dedicated to all teachers, academic administrators, school staff and volunteers as the academic year resumes. Oh, yeah……. and also the students.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Most people may have heard by now that one of our local celebrity church members (she lives in Rancho Mirage), popular author Anne Rice, has renounced her membership in Christianity, though she maintains she is still in relationship with Christ. In great post-modern style, she posted this decision on her blog. Her public renunciation is consistent with her earlier public renewal of faith and return to active practice as a Roman Catholic. She chronicled that journey in a wonderful book, “Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession.” From both her commentary about the decision and the many blogs and commentaries I have read, I doubt a book is in the works regarding this latest turn in her faith journey.
Unfortunately, Anne is not alone is this action. According to recent poll figures, in the United States there are over 30 million “former” Catholics. As National Catholic Reporter contributor Tom Gallagher put it “if the … 30 Million… were their own denomination, their church would be larger than the Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians - combined." I have heard this referred to another way, as well. Former Catholics make up one of the largest denominations in the United States. Amazing.
As an active member and minister in the church that baptized Anne and the other 30 million “formers” I can not help wonder, “what went wrong?” What do we, who maintain our faith within the Church, need to hear in these decisions to leave?
Sometimes I think our own beliefs and ideals can mislead us, causing many, like Anne and others to expect the Church, its leaders and members, to be something they were never meant to be: perfect examples of the faith we profess. Our belief in indelible marks and celebrations of public vows can give the false impression that once baptized, vowed or ordained, people somehow give up being human. A priest friend of mine likes to joke that he would be a great priest “if it weren’t for all those #@*% parishioners.” I think many of us who are active members would love to just believe in Christ, in the ideals of faith, hope and charity, in the great commandment of loving God with all your soul, strength and might and loving your neighbor as yourself, but we realize the real trick is putting into practice the beliefs and ideals we profess. The first place, outside of our families, we need to do this is inside the gathering of folks we call Church. God seems to have entrusted this whole faith enterprise to a very imperfect band of brothers (and sisters), namely us!
I am not sure one can truly be in relationship with Christ without being a member of His body the church. I know a lot of people claim they are doing just that. Still, I think this well documented exodus of so many means we have to rethink some things. How do we communicate who we are to each other in a way that is both authentic and human? What does it mean that some of us are “set apart” for leadership and service? How do baptized members whose views and experiences differ from Catholic orthodoxy fit into the larger whole? Anne claims her decision to leave is rooted in some of these concerns, especially from her perspective, how we seem to exclude those whose views and practices differ. Other denominations have courted her but so far she seems resistant to join them. I do not have a ready plan on how we should change, but I do believe 30 million people can’t simply be ignored. At the very least we need to ask them, “Why did you leave?” as we ask ourselves “Why do I stay?” Both answers will help us figure out what to do.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside
“What is a sacrament?”
That was the question from the 1963 Baltimore Catechism (BC) that our catechism teacher posed when she wanted the response, “an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace.”
While I can still repeat the answer today, I doubt that, at the time, I fully realized the magnitude of the answer or, for that matter, what this thing we call ‘grace’ was really all about.
I just knew that by memorizing all the answers to the questions and not asking too many questions I wouldn’t get in trouble with the pastor.
Looking back, that was the wrong approach. At least it was for me. And I would assume for others, as there would soon be a change in emphasis from strict memorization (‘head knowledge’) to a more gradual experiential (‘heart knowledge’) that came out of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
After all, having all the answers just didn’t prepare us for the onslaught of the evangelical Christians and later, the Jehovah Witnesses and Latter Day Saints, who ‘farmed’ the same soil and converted many Catholics to their way of thinking.
And they did this by using ‘used to be’ Catholics. When they spoke about God with such conviction, we knew they were somehow different. They seemed happier, too!
As a result, I spent a year attending church with classmates from a ‘non-denominational’ tradition. I learned a lot of scripture. And, in time, that they really were a denomination, in sheep’s clothing. However, like a chameleon, they kept changing traditions whenever they hired or fired a pastor. I left when the church overnight ‘turned’ Calvinist, complete with a pastor who preached predestinational theology and ‘turn or burn’ guilt.
I had learned enough about Jesus to know that this wasn’t the God I had come to know and love. My God was a God of love. A God who is forgiving and merciful. A God who gives himself to us in the consecrated bread and the wine and asks us to do and be the same for others.
I went where they taught and believed this. I went to the Roman Catholic Church, who, by then, was moving away from strict obedience to everything ‘Father says’ to a personal responsibility to form your own conscience. No longer were we to be spoon fed. We were expected to mature and stand on our own feet.
And as we struggled with the changes (and implementation) of the Second Vatican Council, the way we catechized also changed. Faith formation became the norm and the process was enhanced by the reinstitution of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), which encouraged the participants to ask the questions that we, as Pre-Vat Kids, were not allowed to ask.
Of course, the process can only do so much. De-Evangelizers will still ferret out some of the sheep but we can become stronger in our faith if we accept the responsibility for our own faith formation.
When we do that, our relationship with Jesus will improve, we will become more active in ministry and we will receive the grace – God’s power – to be an outward sign for our brothers and sisters.
We will become sacrament.