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?"


  1. You make a very good point. When I have to defend being Catholic, I say that it is the first Christian Church, begun by Jesus. This used to be a good enough answer, but it seems that lately the Church has been under attack from all angles and that answer doesn't suffice as much anymore.

    Many protestant churches (I am not putting them down, my husband is a Methodist and my dad was a Methodist minister before converting) have a Burger King approach-"Have it your way." You can't ultimately pick and choose what you want to believe and follow and what you don't. It's there. It's Biblical. We can not decide to pick up our red markers and edit the Bible. I would NEVER presume to know more than the Saints and Apostles. Period.

    It seems that now more than ever we are asked "Why are you Catholic" from our peers-If our leaders don't answer the question and give us the reasons to back it up, I'm afraid more people will answer with an "I don't know."

  2. That came out kind of wrong, but by now you know that my brain can sometimes forget that at one time I was considered a gifted child and that I wish I could remove and edit the stranger-sounding things after posting.

    My point was that those answers are the only ones that I can come up with because I think many of our leaders are so afraid to be politically incorrect in our own Masses that we are not clearly taught what makes our faith special and in a class of its own. I am not a conspiracy theorist or anything, but we have been under attack lately not only by our peers, but also by the media-Kind of like the Spanish Inquisition in reverse. If we aren't taught why it's good to be Catholic, how can we come up with an proper, evidence-based answer when we are asked?


    PS_Pretty soon I'll be caught up and not blowing up your inbox with comments on your old posts! Hee!

  3. I know that having been reared a cradle Catholic in the 7Os and 80s, I had no conception of there being any difference between the Church and Protestant sects. In fact, I remember at age 22, asking my nonCatholic fiance, which church he'd like to attend because I didn't know there was any difference. Fortunately, he didn't have any ties to his faith tradition, so we went with the Catholic Church.

    When I refer to the Protestant Revolt to my children, I call it the Deformation rather than the Reformation. I also call the "Protestant reformers," heretics and deformers, while explaining many were merely misguided and confused.

  4. A previous comment stated that the Roman Catholic Church is the first church. This is quite misleading. The early form of the Roman Catholic Church didn't really start till 313 with the Edict of Milan that Constantine and Licinius gave greater freedom to the Christians. Before that time Christians were fairly organized but in some ways but also a very loose bunch. Think back to the diversity of Christian sects at that time, Arianism, Ebonites, Gnostic groups, Montanism. Christianity did not have one set of theology. So to say that the Roman Catholic Church is the first church is really not the truth.

  5. I disagree quite strongly with that last statement. First of all, you have to look at the evidence of the Church Fathers - see my homily from Holy Thursday last year. Hippolytus, St. Timothy, St. John, St. Paul, etc.

    The Arians are famous for rebelling against something. The Monophysites are famous for rebelling against something - There has seemed to be, from the beginning, something that is constant from which others rebelled. You can't have rebellion and heresy without having something there for people to rebel against.

    Here I'd like to bring in an author I'm really big on right now - Thomas Howard.

    "The Christian believers who were under the authority of the apostles and then under the bishops appointed by them understood this epicscopal entity to be the Church. All the writings we have from the first and second century attest to this. If we will read the letters, sermons, and tracts of Ignatius and Clement and Justin and Irenaeus, we will find a church that, if she is not the Church, is certainly the only one anyone had any knowledge of. If we wish to forego any connection with this lineage, then we find ourselves obliged either to link ourselves with the Montanists, the Marcionites, or the Nicolatians or to postulate some fugitive network of assemblies of which there is no record." (On Being Catholic)

  6. Saying that the "heretical" groups were just famous for rebelling against "something" is quite an over-simplification. They simply interpreted the words of the Apostles in a different way than others did. Take this passage from the Gospel of John: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (verse 14:28). The Arian's take this to mean that Jesus as the Son is not as great as God the Father. Also this quote from Colossians 1:15: "Firstborn of all creation." Which could be interpreted that there was a time before Christ.

    I particularly find this quote by a scholar's who name I can't remember meaningful: "orthodoxy" was depicted and projected into the past as the authentic lineage of tradition.

    Constantine, who called the First Council of Nicaea wanted a unified Christianity and so brokered compromises.

  7. I would like to respectfully disagree here.

    "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."
    — Gospel of St. Matthew 16:18

    My father was a Methodist minister and after obtaining a bachelor's degree in Theology and attending Seminary in Chicago, he came to the conclusion, on his own, that the Catholic faith was, indeed, the first Christian faith without being taught that as we were in CCD.

    Yes, it may be true that it didn't have a name or was organized until years later, but if different groups of people are preaching the same things, wouldn't you say that they believed the same things, even though they didn't have an organization for it yet? "Catholic" means "universal." It brought these people together under one heading; it didn't teach them something new.

    I am a Virginian who lives in Indiana. I am an American. A rose by any other name?

  8. As a westerner, we are at a disadvantage to understand Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and the rest. These men, like Moses and the prophets, came from cultures much more like what exists today in Iran, Turkey, Palestine, or Iraq than in the USA

    Of course, understanding the Old Testament helps somewhat. My suspicion is, however, that most American or European Christians have understood the Hebrew culture revealed in the Old Testament with a severe western slant. Honestly, when I mentioned Moses, didn't you picture Charleton Heston?

    Christianity is Eastern, and we need to take heed to that. I believe part of the necessary reformation of at least the American Church is the infusion of elements of eastern thought into the understanding and practice of the Bible. Please reserve judgment here. I am zealously opposed to goofiness. That is not what I mean.

    I will give you one example, The Jews did not study the scriptures in the analytical way we do. That is a western idea. The Jews memorized the scriptures, meditated on them, and did them. To them, that was study--to hide it in their hearts so that it would become reality in their lives.

    Our methods of study are so analytical as to become critical. In other words, we tend to study to decide whether we believe what the scriptures say, or worse, to try and dismiss what they say. In our analytical approach, we also miss the precious intimacy of scripture, and the fact that primarily they reveal a person, rather than merely the answers to our questions.

    What other western tendencies cloud our experience of Jesus?

  9. "Constantine, who called the First Council of Nicaea wanted a unified Christianity and so brokered compromises."

    Nice statement but a complete over-simplification of history. The First Council of Nicaea was called upon the recommendation of a holy synod lead by Hosius of Corduba to settle the Arian controvesy. As a result of the Council, Arianism was declared a heresy and the Nicaean Creed was created. Other matters were also taken up and decided at this Council. Constantine may have called the Council in order further unity in his Empire, but to claim that he "brokered compromises" is highly inaccurate and misleading.

    As is your statement about the "diversity of Christian sects" prior to 313. In fact, St. Irenaeus wrote in the late Second Century against many of these so-called "Christian sects" and called them out as heresies. In fact St. Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal authority—episcopal councils in union with the bishop of Rome. Orthodoxy was not "projected into the past" but was upheld in the Early Church.

  10. Saint Lucian of Antioch pray for us!
    Pope Liberius pray for us!

  11. Actually Anonymous, it appears that your statements are full of broad stereotypes and generalizations. I wonder if you have ever been to the Middle-East or even know people from those cultures. Jesus complained of the Pharisees's focus on the letter of the Law while ingnoring the spirit of the Law. Obviously, the focus on analysis is not just a recent and Western phenomenon.

    I would say that the problem today (atleast in Catholic America) is that Protestantism is too analytical. I believe that the problem for most Catholics today in America is that over the past 40 years we have absorbed too much of the Protestant culture around us. We have ignored (at our own peril) the treasure trove of over 2000 years of philosophy, theology and other writings for more recent books (ususally written by Protestants) on how to get more out of the Bible and our relationship with God. Catholicism on the other hand is rich in writings on meditative prayer. Numerous saints wrote about the advantages and techniques of meditative prayer. Catholicism has an ancient tradition of meditative prayer. We cannot blame our ignorance of the Church's traditions on being Western.

  12. I never delete comments on here, but I don't want this turning into a Protestant-Catholic thing. The original post is a family matter to be handled in house - "Why don't priests teach their flocks the ENTIRE doctrine of what the Church believes about our relationship with other faith traditions?"

    Any comments that get into protestant v. Catholic will be deleted from now on.

  13. My apologies Father. My intent was not to disparage or criticize Protestants or their beliefs and I apologize to anyone I may have offended.

    I just believe that in America, non-Catholic books and information on religion and spirituality are much more readily available. That and the poor state of catechesis in America post-Vatican II, mean that most Catholics have very little exposure or knowledge of the vast authentically Catholic resources available to them.

    Again, I apologize if I offended any non-Catholics who read this blog; that was not my intent. I also apologize to you Father if anyone interprets my comments as a direct relection upon you. It is clear from your comments and videos that your number one priority is saving souls. If I have interfered with that, I am truly sorry.

  14. Father,
    I hope that in no way people misconstrued what I was saying and that they think I wanted to make it Protestant vs. Catholic-Even though I made a disclaimer, I can see where my thoughts came out wrong.
    My point was that these are all the things that I tried to come up with because I wasn't given a good reason why from the Priests I had growing up. I sincerely apologize to anyone who took it as I think their religion is "Burger King." My husband is a Protestant and believe me, I think he got the idea that I kinda' liked him when I said "I do," lol! Nor would I ever put down my paternal grandparents, aunts and uncles.

  15. no problems - I'm not upset with any of the comments, and I think the Protestant-Catholic discussion is a great one to have - but I just want to keep the focus on the idea that there are a lot of people and priests not saying, for some reason, why a person should be a part of the Church.

  16. Another interesting thing about this discussion - when I've taught this at Ritter (what the Church says about its relationship to other faith traditions) about 30% of my students were non-Catholic, and they all are interested, they respect the teaching, it makes sense to them, and they have said they appreciate hearing it because, like their Catholic classmates, they had always wondered about the question, but had never heard an explanation.

    It reminds me as well when the CDF came out a few years ago and said that non Catholic faiths are not "churches" in the strict sense of the word but ecclesial communities - because we believe that there is only one "Church" in the strict sense of the word. Many Catholics were horrified - "how dare the Vatican say that" but many Protestant theologians appreciated a clarification of where the Church stands on the issue. You can't have an honest dialogue if the person you are trying to engage never says where they really stand on anything.

  17. Why be Catholic? I can’t honestly attest as to why one rarely hears answers to that question during homilies on any given Sunday. I have my theories about it; but then they are my theories. It would be better to ask the priest at the local parish. I can only, in all honesty, answer that question as it pertains to me. Why I am Catholic? I believe that is best answered by telling my experience and I guess relationship with God.

    I’m a cradle Catholic born in 1963. I attended Parochial School during my first and second grades. My main memory of those is of the whole school reciting the Rosary every morning with Mother Superior leading over the P.A. system. Attended Mass with my family every Sunday growing up. First Communion at 10; Confirmation at 14. During my high school (attended a boarding school) and college years, my attendance at Mass became very sporadic. Especially during college, attending Mass on Sunday mornings was out of the question; usually due to my Saturday night merriment. By the time I graduated, I only attended Mass on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Easter and when there was some crisis in my life. To me God was very much like Monty Hall on Let’s Make a Deal.

    When I was 29 I realized that I had a serious problem and got sober through a 12-Step program. I then embarked on a journey to rekindle my relationship with God. With the abuse scandals within the Church just coming to light and the “Higher Power” concepts I had in my head, I started exploring different churches and religions. I attended non-denominational services. I attended “traditional” Christian services. I attended “non-traditional” Christian services. I attended Unitarian services (Poems about trees? Really?). I even attended services of Eastern religions. None of these really impressed or stuck with me. I always compared them to the Catholic Church. If I liked a certain Sunday service it was always due to it similarity to the Mass. And then after a few times of attending, I would come to the obvious conclusion that they were a poor imitation of the real thing. They may have a “Communion Service” but I knew in my heart that Eucharist was not present. No sacrifice was being offered; only a re-enactment of the Last Supper.

  18. I stopped searching, but wasn’t totally convinced that I should return to Mass. The abuse scandals had reached Dallas and were in the headlines daily. Especially during the Bishops conference in Dallas in 2002. There were daily protests and constant headlines about how widespread the abuse was. I just couldn’t see how I was to receive any guidance from the Catholic Church if it allowed and hid the abuse.

    Then on August 15, 2002 a co-worker of mine who was Catholic, asked if I wanted to attend Mass with her at the Cathedral at lunch. I said “yes”. The Mass that day was in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I heard a voice say “Welcome home my son.” Tears came to my eyes. I knew deep in my heart this is where I belonged. This is where the Blessed Virgin Mary is. This is where Jesus is. This is where the Holy Spirit is. This is where God is. The Catholic Church isn’t about abusive priests or Bishops who failed in their duties. It is about God. It is about an intimate relationship with Christ. It is about the Blessed Virgin Mary helping lost souls find their way to Jesus. I had come home.

    Why be Catholic? I’m Catholic because the real presence of Christ can be found in every tabernacle in Catholic churches around the world. I’m Catholic because Mass is not just a re-enactment of the Last Supper. The Sacrifice of the Mass is real. The Eucharist is real. Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist and it is been carried out daily by the Catholic Church for over 2,000 years. Why would I deny myself a gift from God? I’m also Catholic because of the Traditions of the Catholic Church. God gives us free will to believe in Him. He does not force us. But God loves us so much that He sacrificed His Only Begotten Son for us. He instituted the Sacraments to help us to stay close to Him and offer a way to Heaven. He gave us the Saints and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary to help us to find Him when we are lost. I am Catholic because the Catholic Church is the only church instituted by Christ and therefore is the only certain path I know of for salvation. God may have other paths available for salvation but I’m rather simple and need rather explicit instruction. Over 2,000 year of Tradition is that explicit instruction.

  19. Sorry about the length of my post - but it was the only way that I could properly answer the question.

  20. What other western tendencies cloud our experience of Jesus?

    Jeffersonian conception of Natural Law. That is, the modern mish-mash of democracy and egalitarianism. You'll know how insane it is when you hear someone say (and I've actually heard someone say it), "MY holy book is the U.S. Constitution!" And as a bonus, here's a perfect illustration of the problem: Ahhh! My eyes!

  21. Thank you, DFWSHOOK. I will be able to take a lot from your post.

    When I was in High School, we lived in an itty-bitty town in Southeast Virginia. While I still love the place and call it home, my welcome to 10th grade English was from a student: "What religion are you?" "Catholic." "Oh, I'm supposed to hate you because you worship Mary." I thought that was because I was in the South, but sadly, I believe it's because of the times we live in. Even after I moved, I still get asked, "Why are you Catholic?"

    Thank you for your insight and I shall keep it in mind! :)


  22. Tears filled my eye as I read DFW/Shook testimony God is so very good,welcome back!

  23. Fr. Hollowell,

    Just wanted to say thank you for this blog post and your blog in general. I went to it to find the clip of George Weigel talking about bad popes ("not having a bad leader in any institution for 500 years is a good thing," gotta love it), and came across this blog. I read it and today in a high school classroom where I teach, a young man asked exactly that question. He said, "if Protestants and people of other religions can get to Heaven, why does it matter what we are?" The class then proceeded to have a great conversation on relativism and Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one." Jesus desires unity in the Church which means there should only be one true Church. Catholics acknowledge this and make a claim that it is the Catholic Church. Just wanted to let you know that this blog is bearing fruit.
    Scott Lutgring

  24. Scott - thanks! I'm glad it is helping you and your students. Your work as a teacher is SO NEEDED! Teach those kids the Truth, and they will love you for it! Let me know if I can help at all!

    Fr. John H.