Sunday, December 11, 2016

The problem between ideal and reality. . .

Msgr Charles Pope on the problems of Roman Catholicism in the pew  (my comments are in red in the brackets):

. . . any cursory look into the typical Catholic parish would reveal little to indicate an awareness of this.

A. Bored and disengaged – The assembled people, including the clergy, often look bored, distracted, and mildly irritated at having to endure the event. Where is the alert joy that one sees at sporting events or at the appearances of celebrities? If people believe that Jesus is alive and ministering in this moment, why do so many of them look as if they’re waiting for a root canal? It’s as though they wish the whole thing would be over as quickly and painlessly as possible. [Wish this were true only of Roman Catholics; the same can be said of Lutheran congregations as well.]

Some argue that many people are just reserved by nature, but most of these same people are animated enough at football games or in political discussions. The answer seems to be more due to a lack of vivid faith and a failure to understand that the Liturgy and Sacraments are encounters with the Risen Lord Jesus. [We look for immediacy in all the wrong places and are blind to the real presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament.]

B. Perfunctory – Further, in terms of the spiritual life of many of the faithful, it seems that even where there is observance of norms (e.g., attendance at Sunday Mass, or confession on at least an annual basis), it is done more out of a sense of duty than with eager love. The bare minimum is all that is done, only enough to “check off the God box.” It is almost as though they are placating the deity rather than worshipping and praising the God to whom they are grateful and whom they love. The upshot is that the sacraments are considered tedious rituals rather than transformative realities or true encounters with Jesus. [Luther was disappointed that having cast off the constraints of Rome, the people were little different in their perception of God and of His presence in the Divine Service. It would seem that "eager love" is missing more than in Rome.]

C. Low Expectations – Many people place more trust in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. When they take Tylenol they expect something to happen; they expect there to be healing, for the pain to go away or the swelling to go down. But do these same people have any real expectations about the Eucharist or the other sacraments? Almost never.  [Missouri has won the battle for the Bible.  We have an inerrant Scripture.  But we have forgotten that the Scriptures, like the Sacraments, are efficacious -- they deliver what they say, do what they promise, and convey what they sign.]

Much of the blame for these low expectations lies with priests and catechists who have never really taught the faithful to expect much. At best there are vague bromides about “being fed.” Little is taught about radical transformation and healing.[Do I hear third use of the Law anyone?  We Lutherans are really good at preaching justification but struggle to encourage people to holiness (sanctification); it is almost as if we believe that it is God's job to forgive sins and our job to give Him something to forgive.  We do not strive for that which is good, holy, true, lovely, righteous, and eterntal -- at least not as we should.]

D. Unevangelized – The general result is that many in the pews have received the sacraments, but have not been evangelized. Many have gone through Catholic rites of passage but have never really met Jesus. They have gone through the motions for years but are not really getting anywhere when it comes to being in a life-changing, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. To a large degree, the Lord is a stranger to them. They are far from the normal Christian life of being in personal, living, and conscious contact with the Lord.  [I hesitate with this one; if we believe the Lord is working through the means of grace and the Spirit is present in the preaching and sacraments, then perhaps we ought to leave this judgment up to God.  However, it is true that for many who say they are Christian, the Lord camps on the outside of their lives more than informs the heart, mind, and soul.  We need to live from the source of the Divine Service and it will lead us back to the summit of God's grace found there in the Word and Sacraments and this means a vocation or calling in life as the baptized, a shape of our life lived in response to God's grace.  This is something we need to preach as well.]
According to Fr. Pope,  the answer lies in clarity about the real goal of the Church to make disciples through the means of grace.  Who can deny this?  Yet we treat the Church as if she existed for our comfort when we feel so moved.  We have little urgency about those beyond our pale.  Conviction in preaching is also one of the answers.  Truly this is a problem.  I hear all the time from folks who visit other churches that it often seems as if the pastor is speaking about things of which he has little real experience.  No one is suggesting that the pastor is THE model of holiness and conviction but people ought to be able to look to the pastor as AN example of faith and conviction.  Of course another answer is catechetical renewal.  We talk about this all the time.  Not knowledge for knowledge sake but knowing to believe more deeply and live more faithfully!  Not fuller knowledge as much as deeper -- we already have Christians who are like the Platte River in my home state of Nebraska -- a mile wide and an inch deep.  This is surely true for the Church as well -- numbers count for nothing unless the people are well catechized into the faith.  Everyone from Pope Benedict XVI to Lutherans have been saying that in order for us to be more faithful in a world growing ever more hostile to the faith, we may have to grow smaller.

The answer Msgr Pope ticked off that really resonates with me is cultivate expectations.  We do not have people who come to Church expecting too much and leaving disappointed (except those who think that Sunday morning is a band-aid for everything wrong and every disappointment in their lives).  We have people expecting too little -- satisfied with a pithy saying to take home instead of meeting Christ in His Word, happy to hear a good choir anthem or sing a favorite hymn instead of praising the eternal God who has come into their midst with grace, and content to have found a little inspiration and enjoyed some time with friends instead of meeting Christ in the means of grace and feasting upon His flesh and blood for the forgiveness of their sins.

Finally, in addition to "come and see" we are also to "go and tell."  The sad truth is that we cannot go and tell unless we come and see and know who we are seeing and what our Lord imparts.  We have little to tell others in some measure because we are not sure what we are there for and what will happen.  God does not keep us guessing.  His promises are sure, His steadfast love endures forever, and the Word of the Lord endures forever.

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