One of the most common takeaways from Synod 2015 is that it revealed deep “divisions” within the Catholic Church. While I will suggest that “divisions” is too strong a word, no one can deny that Synod 2015 demonstrated the existence of strong theological tensions within the body of Catholic bishops, and that this in turn points to disturbingly pronounced and conflicting conceptions within the Catholic faithful of what Catholic belief and practice is or ought to be. What did the evident tensions at Synod 2015 mean for the Church? What does the reality of ever more diverse and conflictive creedal alignments among the baptized mean, particularly for the Church in the US? Herewith, I offer some thoughts on both questions. . . .
[W]e can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This has happened in the minds and hearts of many individual believers, and, it also appears, within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions. The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear… to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.
Now, replace “Christianity” with “Catholicism” and “Christian” with “Catholic” in that paragraph, and I would suggest this describes the essential creed of thousands of American Catholics.
Such then is the complexity of our Church in the United States. As members of that Body, particularly as ministers, catechists, pastors and evangelists, we simply must understand—with serenity and faith—that this complexity generates tensions, and those tensions will likely continue to characterize the Church in the US for decades to come.
One might be tempted to ask whether we as a Church are not on the cusp of going the way of Judaism—as recently suggested by Daniel McGuire—a religion with “branches”—orthodox, conservative and reform. Do we today have “branches of Catholicism” in the Church? I think not. But tensions we do have, because Catholics embrace conflicting and even incompatible creedal commitments.
What to make of all this? Shall we despair? Shall orthodox Catholics allow themselves to be overcome by a bunker mentality—all the rest be damned? If we have taken it to heart that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,” then most assuredly, no. Rather, beyond the synods and beyond the tensions, let’s keep our focus on living a robust, orthodox and joyful Catholic faith—extending to our Catholic brothers and sisters who have yet to experience it, the means and opportunities for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Let’s do that with trust in the transforming power of his grace, the inscrutable depths of his Divine Mercy, and the sanctifying action of his Holy Spirit.
One of the most troubling things about American Catholics is their tendency to go off the deep end.
Conservative Catholics who are upset about the condition of the church and think Pope Francis is evil incarnate seem to be proliferating. . . .
I would therefore recommend to any Catholics who are in turmoil because the present pope isn’t to their liking or their church is not what they want or their bishop unsatisfactory to read some church history. Eamonn Duffy’s history of the papacy Saints and Sinners is a good one. When you read history of the church you’ll realize that turmoil and trouble have been with us since the time of the apostles. Might as well get used to it.
Does that mean you shouldn’t be upset or worried? No. Does that mean one should be complacent about heresy, corruption within and persecution from without? No. Be worried. That’s okay if it leads you to pray more.
What is troublesome is how much time people spend biting their nails and grumbling and posting angry blog articles or getting all worked up into a tizzy about stuff they can’t really do much about anyway.
This is one of the reasons I’ve started my new blog The Suburban Hermit –to get people to spend some time away from the church politics headlines, away from the head banging and nail biting and to try to build their life with Christ and deepen their life of prayer.
More time in work, prayer and reading (the Benedictine formula) will bring stability to your life. You’ll come to realize again, but at a heart level, that God is in charge. He loves his church. Everything will be all right in the end, and you can breathe easy.
You are worried about phantoms. The Church cannot alter the sacraments. The most that may happen is that the Church will face the fact that Caesar has decided to pretend that there is such a thing as gay marriage and that people involved in such arrangements require some form of pastoral care. Would you rather the Church simply reject them and their children? Christ comes to call not the righteous, but sinners. So that’s not an option. The desire of some Catholics to cut people off from the very opportunity of grace is as old as Donatism. The Church as a fortress and an engine of vengeance is not the gospel. She is bound to seek the lost.
Part of the problem is that people have no idea what this Synod is about. It is, like all conciliar actions, a time when the Church “holds herself in suspense” as Bp. Robert Barron puts it, and makes up her mind about things. It is supposed to hear from all sides so that it can sift wheat from chaff. The pope did something similar when drafting Humanae Vitae, consulting theologians who urged him to ditch the Church’s ancient tradition about artificial contraception. He declined to do so.
What this come down to is a test of your trust, not in Francis, but in Jesus Christ’s promise that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church into all truth. It is He, not Francis, who is the soul of the Church.
With that kind of resolve, faith, and hope, you’d have thought these folks could have overlooked all of Protestantism’s woes. But Protestantism is not the New York Yankees of Western Christianity.