Another excellent blog post from Fr Longenecker, “The Collapse Of Cultural Catholicism”..
Fr Longenecker explains the roots of the problem in very clear terms:
“[…]for the last forty years Catholics themselves have not taught Catholicism to their children. They’ve taught ‘American Catholicism’ which is a watered down blend of sentimentalism, political correctness, community activism and utilitarianism. In other words, “Catholicism is about feeling good about yourself, being just to others and trying to change the world.”
As a result of this,
The next generation has drawn the obvious conclusion that you don’t need to go to Mass to do all that. You can feel good about yourself much more effectively with a good book from the self-help shelf, or by attending a personal development seminar. You can be involved in making the world a better place without going to church.
According to the author,
The solution is simple: we must return to the supernatural realities of the historic faith and evangelize like the Apostles of old.
This implies the overcoming of a major difficulty of our times (expressed here in terms so crude as to be, well, Mundaborian): nowadays there are a lot of people who, to all intents and purposes, are pagans believing themselves Christians and this makes the evangelisation work more difficult.
To these excellent observations I allow myself to add my own as in my eyes Fr Longenecker is absolutely right in his analysis of what happens within Catholic families, but in doing so addresses not the first, but second cause of the mess we are in.
In my eyes, cultural Catholicism is the result of assertive Catholic propaganda from the Church hierarchy and the clergy. In countries like Italy and France, cultural Catholicism is (albeit now clearly under attack) still an important part of the thinking of the common man, because it has been aggressively hammered into people’s head for generations.
Or allow me to put it in different terms: the more the Catholic hierarchy is assertively Catholic, the more Her teaching will filter through those strata of the Catholic population who may not be so observant, but still know very well where the Truth lies. Again, traditionally Catholic countries are the best example, with a diffuse Catholic thinking going far beyond the number of the practising Catholics. Still, when the Church limits herself to platitudes, easy slogans and easy-to-digest social issues the devout churchgoers will still continue to attend mass, but in time the message will be utterly lost in the outer circles.
You can see this as an onion, with the core formed by the churchgoers and successive layers formed by less and less aware Catholics. If the Catholic Truth is not assertively propagated, the onion will start to go off from the outer layers. This is exactly what has happened since Vatican II: the onion has lost its flavour because it was considered too pungent and whilst the core is still there and is reasonably healthy, the rest of the onion is decomposing rapidly.
In my eyes, the biggest problem of our time is not the (undeniable) inaction of the parents, but their neglect from the Clergy at all levels from the Popes down. The parents who neglect to properly instruct their children do so because they are left without proper guidance themselves whilst those who had been properly instructed have been, during the Sixties, cowed by the Church herself into thinking that their knowledge had been somewhat badly presented or poorly interpreted and was in dire need of a new, fresh approach.
Il pesce puzza dalla testa, “the fish stinks from the head down”. When the Popes appoint cowardly or heretical bishops, these will sabotage the activity of their priests; when bad priests are allowed to confuse the faithful, confusion will trickle through the next generation and become worse.
At the root of the loss of cultural Catholicism is the Church’s loss of a clear vision of Her identity and purpose, the abandoning of hard truths for easy-to-listen platitudes, the quest for popularity instead of the quest for souls, the abandonment of reverent liturgy for a mediocre, shallow, emasculated attempt at entertainment.
One day we will look in shame at a time where the Church was filling airports and holding mega-masses whilst Catholic identity was going lost. It is not difficult to fill an airport if people come to be told how good they are, nor it is difficult to be a popular Pope if you give people the “peace’n’love” platitudes they so desperately need as an ego fix.
At the root of the loss of Catholic identity is the massive failure of the Church, at all levels and starting from the very top, to properly do Her job. This failure started with Vatican II and was allowed to worsen in the following decades. The attempts at repair that followed have been – in striking contrast with the devastating Sturm und Drang of the Sixties – excessively prudent within the Vatican and almost non-existent at the local level, where sad travesties of bishops a’ la Nichols, Mahony and Nourrichard have been appointed for too long and continue to be appointed. Look no further than Southwark to have the last example, though luckily we are getting beautiful exceptions here and there.
The renewal of Catholic identity must start from the renewal of the Church, from the full recovery of the consciousness of her mission and identity. The rest will follow as the message trickles through increasingly wider strata of society.
Il pesce puzza dalla testa.
Beautiful blog post from Father Longenecker about the attitude of Catholics (or those who call themselves so) regarding the problem they encounter in understanding or accepting Catholic teaching on various issues.
Father Longenecker puts is very well when he writes that:
[…] a difficulty is the attitude which says, “How can that be so?” whereas a doubt is the attitude that says, “That can’t be so.” The first is open, engaged, intelligent and searching the tradition in order to understand the teaching. The second puts on above the tradition and the teaching by insisting that one knows better than Holy Church.
Catholicism is not easy. Some of the truths therein contained can be disconcerting, seem to fly in the face of common sense and sometimes are, in fact, a challenge to our ability to accept the Truth. It is only normal that, put in front of them, the Catholic be at first (and before being properly instructed and guided) somewhat at a loss to understand and perhaps a bit lost altogether. What is not normal (for a Catholic) is that he reacts to his difficulties by appointing himself as judge of the validity of Catholic Truth.
A Catholic knows that he has to accept Catholic Truth. Every bit of it. If he has a problem with it, it is a clear sign that he must work in humility to overcome his difficulty. But he must realise from the start that the problem is not about who is right, but about how long will it take for him to understand why he is wrong.
The attitude cannot be: “I disagree with this, so the Church must be wrong”. This is as Catholic as Mohammed, or David Cameron. The attitude can and must be: “I must be wrong on this and I now want to understand why“. Without this fundamental humility (and fundamental wisdom) no spiritual progress is possible; on the contrary, our ego will give us countless excuses to indulge in our little power games. Just notice the smug undertones of all who say “I disagree with the Church on (put here a doctrinal matter)….” to clearly realise the speaker’s barely hidden satisfaction at feeling so important or rebellious or – funny, this – clever.
Credo ut intelligam, non intelligo ut credam. “I believe that I may understand, I do not understand that I may believe”. The acceptance of Truth comes before the full understanding of the Truth and it is what makes this understanding possible in the first place. It is through my humble acceptance of Truth that the instruments to understand it are given to me. My intellect, left to himself, will never lead me to the Truth, but will invariably become the useful idiot of my ever-expanding ego.
Before the open dissent comes a sin of pride; the extraordinary idea that Christ came on Earth and died for us, but somehow neglected to foresee that the Church would betray his teaching until we, oh so clever, come to its rescue; the idea that God is not able to found a Church which keeps His teaching intact, and needs us to cure Her from several centuries of misogyny, or homophobia, or inability to understand modern times.
As I have said, this attitude doesn’t sound very clever. Perhaps you can make this clear to the next wannabe church-founder expanding on how he wants to improve on Christ’s work.
Anglicanorum Coetibus is in the meantime more than eight months old. I would have expected that this historical step toward the Anglican cultural tradition would have been welcomed with a great sigh of relief from many near converts, now free from shallow liturgy and liberal Bishops. Anglicanorum Coetibus also made clear that the door is open in liturgical, but not in doctrinal matters; in other words, that the Catholic Sunday Roast must be eaten with all the trimmings.
Eight months later, I do not feel encouraged. What I notice is as follows:
1) Inability to decide. I know that Anglicans have this down to a fine art, but conversion is a matter of absolutes, not of nuances and subtle distinguos. You either believe that there is Only One Church and the Anglicans are not part of it because the Only Church says so, or you don’t. In the first case there is no alternative to conversion; in the second, no need.
2) Inability of the laity to understand what conversion entails. Conversion means to believe everything which the Church believes, and to profess everything which the Church professes. This means to accept that they were wrong; that their ancestors were wrong; that they themselves were heretics who have now decided to come back to the Only Church. This seems to be a huge obstacle for many of them who seem to think that they can get in as Anglicans. They can’t. If you’re Catholic, Anglicans are heretics to you, full stop.
3) Inability of the clergy to do the same. For the clergy this implies in particular the obvious recognition that their supposed orders are and ever have been null and void. You can’t become Catholic without accepting Apostolicae Curae and the clergy are called to accept this clearly and to explain it (with due delicacy, but telling the whole truth) to their sheep.
4) Strong propensity to use Anglicanorum Coetibus as a negotiating tool with the hierarchy of the so-called church of England (which doesn’t listen to them anyway).
There will be, of course, laudable exceptions. At least, I hope so. But if you look around on the blogosphere what you’ll notice is the repeated complaint that the Anglican Synod is not helping them to stay, that compromises proposed by them have not been accepted, and the like.
Please, let us not kid ourselves. This is the language of one who is not preparing to go, but trying to stay.
I cannot avoid wondering: what would I do if I were an Anglican vicar persuaded that conversion is the way? I would prepare my sheep to the event. I would explain to them everything which such a conversion entails, including the difficult bits. I would tell them that in the end wrong is wrong, and right is right and that the truth will set them free. Most importantly, I would tell them that if conversion is right, the synod’s decisions are irrelevant.
In the several news from them I have read since October – the last one from Fr. Longenecker – I have never found one willing to explain these simple concepts. Not one. Whilst some people have certainly understood the implications, their way was rather the individual conversion. Conversely, my experience is that where the conversion of entire parishes/communities is concerned, the implications of the conversion are simply ignored and the conversion presented as the unavoidable alternative to the Synod not doing what they want.
Dissatisfaction with the Anglican hierarchy can’t even begin to be a reason for conversion. To say so is to threaten the synod to become Catholics whilst thinking, speaking and acting like Anglicans.
Still, the blogosphere is vast. I might be wrong on this.
Please inform me of any Anglican blog pointing out to the ugly truths of 2) and 3) above and making clear that conversion cannot depend on a synod’s decision. It would be so beautiful to see that Anglicanorum Coetibus does pave the way for sincere conversions rather than for Anglican poker games.