Friday, August 26, 2011

Article In Criterion Only Muddies the Water

I typically love the Criterion and it is a highlight of my Friday. I can't say I always read every article, but I read the whole thing every week and it is a great way to get a glimpse of what is going on in the Archdiocese.

Unfortunately, last Friday's Criterion featured an article from Fr. John Catoir (a priest from Catholic News Service - a person who writes nationally syndicated stuff for diocesan papers, much as a member of the AP would write stories for a local paper). Fr. Catoir's article is titled "Continuously Reforming the Church so We Remain One in Christ"

This article was troubling on two fronts.

1) If the Church is what we as Catholics believe it is (the Body of Christ) then John Knox is NOT an "outstanding Protestant reformer" as Fr. Catoir claims. John Knox is only a "reformer of the Church" if Bin Laden can be credited as a "reformer of the United States." One could certainly posit that there have been some positive fruits that have come out of 9/11, but those gains can not now be applied to Bin Laden's record to somehow lessen his offense, and the same goes for Knox. We can't now say "well, the Church reformed itself for the better in the wake of the Protestants (which is true) therefore it was a great thing that the Protestants did what they did (which is not true)." John Knox (and Luther, and Calvin, etc.) ripped a gaping wound in the Body of Christ by founding his own ecclesial community. Reforming is done from within; once you leave the Church you are no longer a reformer you are an inventor of something "new" ("new" not in the sense that no one else ever founded their own "church"). A "reformer" works within the system to fix the system no matter how broke the system might be. You can't simultaneously claim to have reformed something while maintaining said thing is the whore of Babylon.

Instead of doing the tough work of helping people to see this distinction, Fr. Catoir plays right into the Monty Python-esque over-simplification of history, specifically "In one corner we have every bishop from the middle ages, every single one of them being a rich, evil, power-hoarding, and concubine-owning brute. In the other corner - the little guys motivated by nothing but the purest and sweetest motives at every turn of the process."

2.) More significantly I'd like to address the following passage which is the 5th and 6th sentence of the article - "Did you know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches clearly that all of those who adhere to Jesus Christ as Lord are considered members of the mystical body of Christ? That means that all Protestants are our true brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what the specific differences of our belief systems."

As a person coming from the generation that I come from please allow me this rant of a response. "No kidding? We've heard this our entire lives. We know this. For some Catholics my age this is maybe the ONLY message they've heard from the pulpit of any substance their entire lives. We KNOW Protestants are our brothers and sisters in Christ, we get that, we really do, and we believe it. Now - as a priest Fr. Catoir - answer the question that is then begged by the Catechism's statement you have just cited - WHY BE CATHOLIC?"

One potential response to the question "WHY BE CATHOLIC" is simply theological relativism - "Just be a part of whatever faith tradition works for you." However, the youth and young adults of today are finding that more and more lacking, and they see that mindset being a very short distance from "do whatever the heck you want" - which is of course the mindset that most of us have seen played out in members of the preceding generation or two, and have found its results SEVERELY lacking.

The first thing I always find stunning about statements like Fr. Catoir's is that the statement is made with such a sense of surprise, as if he were the first to stumble across this insight and thought "wow, that's new; I've never heard this before!" Fr. Catoir - there are no Catholic Branch Davidian Compounds of Catholic orthodoxy where someone could have been living the past twenty years such that they never would have heard the idea that you wrote - it's been in the water at parish Churches since the Council and we get that half of the puzzle.

The other half of the puzzle (the half no one ever seems to talk about for fear of being labeled intolerant) comes from the same Catechism Fr. Catoir and many others love to reference (seemingly only when convenient). The Catechism and Church teaching is crystal clear - we ultimately believe that while it is possible to encounter Christ outside the Church, EVERY PERSON WOULD BE MOST AT HOME AND WOULD ENCOUNTER CHRIST MOST FULLY IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH!

The kids I have taught over the years and all the young adults I talk with get the fact that the Church doesn't condemn non-Catholics to Hell; the question they ask persistently: "Why be Catholic??" And shame on those who don't think to answer that question, and on those too afraid to stand up and answer that question.

It's often "pastoral" priests who present to their people the half-message that Fr. Catoir laid out in last week's Criterion. But wouldn't a pastoral priest not want his people walking out of Church (or walking away from reading an Archdiocesan paper) more confused about such an important topic as how we approach people from a different faith tradition?

Unkowingly (I hope) priests like Fr. Catoir are causing further division and damage to the Catholic Church. I gave a homily last year citing BOTH the teaching that those outside the Church can still be brothers and sisters in Christ AND that a person will always become the best version of themselves in the Catholic Church. Most were thankful for the homily, but of course some people got mad, and someone actually put in my mailbox a homily from another Archindy priest who only quoted the part of the Catechism that Fr. Catoir quoted. "Hey, we're all brothers and sisters and Christ, and Muslims are people of the book, and so forth - Yeah." Because of stuff like this, other priests who hear the question from people ALL THE TIME - why be Catholic - and answer that question for their people are labeled as intolerant. If the message were coming from ALL priests, then it would carry more weight, and confusion would quickly evaporate. Marriages often fail when one parent is always the fun parent while the other is forced to do the hard work of correcting misunderstandings. Fr. Catoir et. al.: while continuing to celebrate points of unity with Protestants and others faiths, please be pastoral and start answering the question that always accompanies such a discussion - "Why be Catholic?"