Saturday, March 03, 2007

In a confused mood...

The past few days I've been in a confused mood. When I am feeling disgruntled with events in the local church, I go seeking reassurance elsewhere. I don't mean I try a bit of hinduism or wicca or even other churches; I seek to find solace in the greater Catholic church. That is possibly the worst thing you can do in these situations. In 2007 it should be easier than ever to sample the great expanse of Catholic wisdom with the plethora of bloggers out there. So, I'm like, looking for a Catholic blogger who might speak words of comfort to me. Believe me, I have trawled through tons of them in the past few days and it has, at best, been boring and, at worst, an alarming experience. I am sure these people cannot be reflective of the whole church. Where are all the reasonable Catholics? Catholicism may have more rules and regulations than all the other churches put together but we also have conscience. The trouble is that the reasonable Catholics have problems exercising that conscience for fear of the the fascists out there. We have a crisis in vocations at the moment so it is good to see, via the blog medium, that there are a number of young men who are willing to take up the baton and if they are not already in seminary, they are actively engaged in the discernment process. What is scary is the extremist nature in which they choose to express their faith through their blogs. Actually a lot of the more mature priest bloggers are no better. I shudder to think of the damage, actual and potential, which is being done to congregations in the western world. Is this the latest ploy to adjust the priest/lay person ratio? We are having no luck in the vocations department so let's decimate the church-going public. I feel very little of God's extravagent grace once it has been filtered through the medium of these men in black and the church's answer to the Hitler youth.

If you want to avoid fascist Catholic blogs (or find them, if you are a fascist Catholic!) a fairly good rule of thumb is to avoid anything with a Latin name. Other warning signs are ones which have cheesy representations of the Virgin Mary - you know the type. What is it about Roman Catholics? We have always championed art and creativity as a suitable way to glorify God and have a tremendous wealth of Christian art but we still prefer mass produced kitsch. The latest to take up residence in the Catholic psyche is the appalling 'Divine Mercy" image shown above. There are a few variations on this theme doing the rounds but this seems to be the VHS to the others' Betamax and Philips 2000, to use a technological analogy. It follows a basic specification revealed by God to St Faustina. Personally I can't stand the thing. There is something in the almond shaped eyes that reminds me of those grotesque Japanese animé characters.
I blame Mel Gibson for popularising a nostalgic image of the pre-Vatican 2 church. He should stick to acting.
The good thing is that I come out feeling the better the "devil" you know than the "devil" you don't. I'm quite lucky really - at least I don't encounter many fascists in my congregation.


Brother James Hayes f.i.c. said...

I can sympathise. I sometimes wonder myself about the tone of many Catholic blogs out there (and you haven't mentioned MySpace... don't look there otherwise you really will get upset!!). I think the problem you flag up stems from the broader issue of what many younger adult Catholics (especially young seminarians, priests, religious...) seem to find attractive about being Catholic, eg. the strong sense of identity that comes from following traditional teachings to the letter and the adherence to traditional codes of behaviour. This can get reflected in many ways, such as in a desire for traditional clerical dress, in old-school devotions, in liturgical choices, etc...

Perhaps, the blame for this should be laid upon elements of the modern world we live in that many people find threatening, eg. the "moral relativism" that Pope Benedict has frequently attacked. Certainties and traditions can thus be seen as a refuge for many people.

This is not to say that such rigid traditionalism is necessarily healthy, just that it is perhaps understanadable given the world we live in.

Treading a more open-minded path leaves one more vulnerable to doubt and uncertainty, though I believe it is the more healthy and rewarding path, for those who feel strong enough to cope. It's the path I believe Jesus took and it's the path that allows us to reach out to people beyond the boundaries of Church in a way that allows for greater openness and sharing.

Maybe many of the more "reasonable" Catholics out there just aren't as fired up about their faith and wanting to share it with others as they could/should be.

I'm glad that people like yourself are, however. The worst thing would be if you were to raise the white flag and beat a retreat. There's room in the Church for all of us, but we certainly need more solid frontiersfolk prepared to reach out in an unthreatening (though still gently challenging) way to our fellow brothers and sisters.

God bless.

Bro. James

holyfamoley said...

Brother James, many thanks for your input. I am currently reading 'What is the Point of Being a Christian?' by Timothy Radcliffe and have just read a chapter dealing with just this issue. This, combined with your comment is helping me to gain some valuable insight into the matter. You are so right, treading a path which, so clearly, flies in the face of everything that the tradtionalists hold dear is not easy. But over the years I have come to think that, uncomfortable though it may be at times, this is the place God wants me to be (I have numerous 'Protestant' friends who love me and would welcome me into their communites with open arms - at times that feels very attractive). But I also know that anything worth having is worth fighting for. I just get very weary at times. Thankfully my parish priest is a rock and puts up with my angst whilst providing excellent spiritual direction!

Brother James Hayes f.i.c. said...

You are undoubtedly right that God is calling you to be just where you are. Having reflected some more on the question, I think that one of our toughest challenges will be to not only stretch out a hand beyond the boundaries of Church to those on the fringes, but to also stretch out the other way, in love, to those who have a deep and sincere love of the more formal traditions within the Church and who find in them their strength. Myself as a Chaplain, I have to very aware of this and not allow my own instinctive attractions to particular types of faith expression not come between me and my ministry to teenagers and young adults.

I have to accept in humility that these people have a great deal that they can teach me through the depth of their faith, its simplicity and directness which in itself is so admirable.

I've found a book that you may find interesting/enlightening. I've ordered a copy for myself. You can read some of it from the Amazon web page. Try the first few pages.

God bless.

Bro. James