On my blog readers had been grumbling about the state of the Catholic Church and one of them asked me what they could do about it. The first thing to do is to develop an attitude shift. Instead of blaming everybody else I should blame myself. Accepting the blame has the wonderful double effect of confounding one's enemies, and helping one to nurture that most elusive of virtues: humility.
GREENVILLE, SC (Catholic Online) -You know the old story about G.K.Chesterton: There was a series of articles and letters in the paper about what was wrong with the world. So he wrote to the editor,
What is wrong with the world?
The same might be answered about 'What's wrong with the Church?" On my blog readers had been grumbling about the state of the Catholic Church and one of them asked me what they could do about it. The first thing to do is to develop an attitude shift.
Instead of blaming everybody else I should blame myself. Accepting the blame has the wonderful double effect of confounding one's enemies, and helping one to nurture that most elusive of virtues: humility.
There seems to be an awful lot of grumbling about the Church from both liberal and conservative Catholics. The conservatives don't like liturgical abuses. They grumble about folk masses and brutal modern American Catholic architecture. If you're a grumbling conservative have you ever stopped to consider that the progressives grumble just about as much as you do?
The progressives complain about "this conservative, reactionary papal regime and the misogynistic, corrupt hierarchy and the medieval anti democratic bishops." The conservatives think the progressives are wrong and the progressives are just as convinced the conservatives are killing the church. No matter what side you're on, what are you going to do about it? The first thing we can do about it is stop complaining so much and be a bit more philosophical.
When you read church history you come to realize that the church has always been troubled with corruption from within and persecution from without. In different ages the corruption from within has taken different forms. There has been sexual scandal, financial corruption, heterodoxy, complacency, worldliness, liturgical abuse, bad music and all sorts of other troubles in just about every age.
You only have to read the New Testament to find the apostles criticizing the various churches for their inconsistency, false teaching, immorality and unfaithfulness. I shouldn't worry about it too much. It's all part of being Catholic because it's all part of being human.
The most ordinary source of disappointment in life is having the wrong expectations to start with. If you thought it was going to be all marvelous and to your liking in the Catholic Church you had the wrong expectation in the first place. If you thought all the bishops and priests were going to be perfectly moral, upstanding, totally orthodox saints you were suffering from a major delusion. If you thought every parish would be straight down the line and have wonderful liturgy, saintly pastors, fine music, exemplary architecture and all the rest, you misunderstood. Correct your expectations and you won't be so disappointed.
My advice is, "Stop whining and get on with it." Be positive. There's far more that's good in the modern Catholic Church than bad. There may be some priests who celebrate the Mass irreverently, but I haven't met too many. Sometimes the music, the servers, the reverence of the people or the architecture is lacking, but it's often made up for by a real sense of love and community service.
In addition to all the good work in most parishes, there are also many, many other wonderful things in the Catholic Church. Consider all the apostolates, the good religious orders, the missionary work. Sure they're not all perfect, but look to the heart. See people where they really are. Understand their longings and aspirations. Know that they want to love and serve God. They can't help it if they have been poorly catechized and are victims of the culture they live in. See what's positive about the people and customs you don't like. Cut people a break, and remember the golden rule.
That being said, there are also many practical things people can do within their own parishes and dioceses to make things better. First, support your parish priest. Be his right hand. Help him out. Be his friend. Pray for him. Love him. When he knows your love and support is genuine, then he'll take you seriously when you offer constructive criticism. If he's doing something you don't like, instead of criticizing him negatively, go and ask him why he does this or that. If it is a minor matter let it slide. If he's consciously deviating from the teaching of the church or the rubrics, then do your homework, ask him about it with respect-- gently and with tact. Do you like to be criticized for something you're supposedly good at? I don't think so. Neither does he. Don't write a letter to the bishop. Do you know how many letters like that he must get every week?
If you want something changed in the parish, get involved and work for change. You can do so positively and creatively. If you want something to be different why not offer to pay for it. Don't like the candlesticks or statues or vestments? Buy Father new ones. Get a group together to develop new devotions. Start prayer groups and study groups. Always support the parish and work with positive joy with your parish priest. You think it's hard working with him? Maybe he finds it hard working with you. That's life. Keep working on it.
What about reverence at Mass? Make sure you and your family dress decently and respectfully. Make sure you kneel in silent prayer before Mass and that you receive the sacrament reverently. Is the music in your parish awful? Don't just complain. Learn more about sacred music and request particular hymns and music that you like. Offer to buy new hymnbooks when they're needed.
Are things irreverent or complacent in your parish? Do something about it. First of all, know your faith the best you can. Get some people together locally and organize a parish mission. Invite a dynamic, orthodox speaker. (Pick Me! Pick Me!) Organize a diocesan conference and promote it. Start a local Catholic radio station. Get EWTN in your area if you don't have it. Offer to help with RCIA. Be a catechist.
Get involved with work for the poor. It's amazing how working with the poor helps put things in perspective. When you work with the poor you minister to Jesus and you immediately start to experience him more perfectly at the Eucharist. It also helps you to see everything else more clearly. Working with the poor helps you see that maybe all the stuff you thought was so awful about the church isn't the worst thing in the world and you will begin to see yourself, your world, your church and your Lord from a fresh and more wonderful perspective.
Finally, ask for the spirit of joy. The biggest fault of conservative Catholics is that we often come across as cranky old complainers. Life's too short. Be happy in Jesus.
Fr Dwight Longenecker is parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his blog and website at www.dwightlongenecker.com
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