Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W Hudson

9/23/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As the poet T.S Eliot put it - Between the idea and the act falls the shadow.

Our faith is a gift, not a threat. Our faith does not teach us to follow the rules and we "will be just fine." Our faith does not teach us to view the good life as a road burdened by the weight of dreary obligations. Our faith does not teach us to just get by, to be there, follow the rules, and keep the obligations. Our faith is not that of a tribe, into which we happen to be born. Our faith is not a list of minimum requirements that get us into heaven. That kind of faith will never be Evangelical, will never appear attractive to the newcomer, and, most importantly, will never come close to representing the living tradition. Pope Francis I, I believe, is trying to remind us of this too and being misunderstood in the process.

California Catholic Mission San Juan Bautista.

California Catholic Mission San Juan Bautista.

Highlights

By Deal W Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

9/23/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Deal W Hudson, Catholic, Catholic convert, evangelical Catholic, Pope Francis, Catholic renewal, Catholic Liturgy, Catholic joy, Catholic witness, Catholic evangelization, New Evangelization


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Everything I am about to say could be wrong. I may be basing what I say on too personal and too restricted a sample of parish life and Catholic experience. I may also still be carrying the expectations of a Catholic convert still fond of his Evangelical roots.

That is where I first discovered Jesus Christ, answered an altar call, worshipped Him loudly in song, relished the warmth of the church community, and embraced the expectation that every Christian should evangelize. There, too, I learned the faith we shared was something not to be held privately but to be shared in a way that might win converts or reinvigorate those who had fallen away.

When I entered this Body over 25 years ago, I did so for many reasons. But my foremost reason was the teaching that at Mass I would encounter the Real Presence of Christ.

As a lifelong Protestant, and as a young Southern Baptist minister, this article of belief hit me like a bombshell. No longer would worship be an act of remembering, a celebration of absence, as it were. I regarded this as the true destination of my evangelical journey that began with an altar call and a full immersion baptism.

I did not believe at the time that I was leaving anything behind, but rather I was blessed with the opportunity to appropriate the fulness of  the Christian faith as found in the Roman Catholic Church.

The mystical and mysterious transformation of bread and wine was something even more than the body and blood of the redeeming Christ; it brought us the living, resurrected Christ. Catholic worship promised to be more than a tragic remembering mediated by symbols. Rather, it offered a joyful celebration of the Divine Comedy of Christ's body becoming His Church.

In the figure of John Paul the Great, I saw this promise made manifest. His witness confirmed to me the truth I had encountered in my reading of the Patristic, Medieval, and Modern Fathers of the Church -- Augustine, Aquinas, Newman -- and in the work of Her artists, poets, novelists, composers, philosophers, and film makers. And of course Her saints.

After my conversion, I was warned against the post-Vatican II Church. But when I read those documents, I saw in them the same majestic intelligence and beauty I had glimpsed again and again as I approached and entered Her doors. I was encouraged by their pastoral mission, that is, to revive the felt sense of connection with and understanding of Her tradition.

Over the past 25 years I've studied, observed, and participated in the ongoing struggle to fulfill that mission, from the "message hijacking" of the media, to restatements of John Paul II and Benedict XVI quelling the last gasps of liberal dissent. That narrative has been retold many times and held aloft as the primary cause of the Church's problems with catechesis, education, leadership, and liturgy.

There was a time when this was true and needed to be told. But the Church in America has come to a place where we need to let go of this narrative as the source of Her problems, its complaints and condemnations, to free ourselves to see and start addressing what stands before us.

Or, to put it succinctly, the problem is no longer guitars and hasn't been for a long time. The problem, as I see it, is that Catholics don't know how, and probably don't really want to be Evangelical, that is, live their faith evangelically. They don't want to proclaim the Good News.

Look at it this way: If you were a potential convert, or merely curious about those Catholic Christians, who unlike everyone else claim that Jesus Christ is really, not symbolically, present during the celebration of the Mass, how would you feel after visiting and observing a typical liturgy in an American parish?

I say typical because I know there are numerous exceptions -- but not numerous enough to be described as typical.

The typical can be described in various ways: lukewarm, obligatory, humdrum, mechanical, lifeless, tepid, tired, flat. The newcomer, the visitor, might be prompted to wonder if these Catholics really believe Christ is present, or perhaps they've grown so used to His presence that they no longer feel the need to dress for the occasion, or to smile, to sing, to pray, to praise, to wonder, to gaze, or to be moved.

At least the guitars and the liturgical dancing were an attempt to quicken the pulse of those attending Mass and stem the tide of youth lost to the Church.

As far as I can tell, the higher pulse rate of most Catholics is being saved for other activities, which explains how quickly the sidewalks and parking lots clear after Mass. Those who carefully backed into their parking spaces being the first to escape, of course.

The truth is that if you followed them home and sat at their table, you would find out they are not zombies after all!

But the visitor, whether merely curious or pondering conversion, would have left Mass anonymously.  No one would have taken special notice of his or her presence. No welcome would have been given. The visitor would have sat in the parking lot after Mass having not met a soul, having witnessed a listless liturgy, blank-faced congregants, and left wondering whether ever to return.

"Is it just this parish?" he will wonder. "Perhaps I was here on a bad day."

In short, our visitor did not feel the evangelical welcome or the evangelical pull of a faith community interested in his life or the ultimate disposition of his eternal soul. In fact, our visitor left the parish still respecting the Catholic faith for its doctrinal majesty but wondering why there was so much slippage between the cup and lip, as it were.

Or as the poet T.S Eliot put it, "Between the idea and the act falls the shadow."

The idea of being Catholic appealed greatly to our visitor who left wondering if there was a parish, a Catholic community, of deeper belief and greater vitality, one that would extend the hand of welcome, even friendship to a stranger.

What makes so many parishes like this?  Why is the sense of just "going through the motions" good enough? Perhaps it's all we know, or expect. But I can tell you that others expect more, and it's merely that they come from Evangelical backgrounds, like myself. We were made to want more, in fact, we were made to want God Himself.

My fictional visitor, by the way, is a composite of people I know, whose conversion to the Catholic faith I have either been an agent in or who I observed closely -- there is not a single convert I know who is not disappointed in the lived reality of parish life.

For example, one close friend, a woman who entered the Church at middle age in spite of the disapproval of her husband and three children wrote me, "At first I was somewhat amused that parishioners backed their cars into the parking spaces in order to make a quick 'get away.'"

Then she realized that was a symptom of a deeper problem, a lack of a felt community. When she realized that no one was welcoming members and visitors at the front doors, and the priest didn't ask if there were any visitors present, she volunteered to be a greeter, which she has done ever since, at a suburban parish outside of Atlanta, GA.

Her conversation with friends and acquaintances who are "fallen away" Catholics replicates my own: When asked why they left, they always site the sense of Christian community they now feel having joined a Protestant denomination -- "this is without exception."

She concludes, "We, as Catholics, are doing something wrong and should follow the example of our Protestant sisters and brothers. They honor Christ by dressing appropriately for church services, meet and greet all who enter to worship, make certain to follow up with visitors, and linger after services to enjoy fellowship with others....We can do better -- we 'need' to do better."

Another convert I know puts it more bluntly, "Catholics make it very hard to be Catholic."  Her disappointment, like mine and that of my friend, is felt most sharply at the great feast days of Easter and Christmas when the pews will be full, but the combined voices offer no more volume to "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" or even a Christmas carol. I remember one Christmas when I realized I was the only one singing "Away in a Manger" in a Mass of over two hundred.

There are many reasons why Catholics don't sing -- Rev. Thomas Daly wrote an excellent book on the subject over twenty years ago -- but it was the late Cardinal Avery Dulles who gave me the most satisfying explanation over lunch many years ago.

"Catholics in the US, many of them European immigrants," Dulles told me, "viewed the Mass as something mysteriously set beyond them. Catholics attended Mass to witness a ritual being enacted in front of them on the altar -- they did not participate, they observed.  There was nothing required of them except to be there, follow the rules, and fulfill their holy obligations."

Catholics, unlike Protestant Evangelicals, he explained, were at Mass because it was part of their ethnic and family identity, not because they had had life-changing experiences. Thus, it was natural for them not to view their faith as something to be shared. You were a Catholic by matter of birth, and your life as a Catholic was one part loyalty to your "tribe" and another part the sense of holy obligation instilled in you "by the nuns."

Perhaps this is why I have often gotten the question: "Why would you, or anyone, choose to be Catholic?"  As if being Catholic was a burden to be shed, a burden that no rational person would voluntarily take upon himself.

I have heard this question, often asked in a tone of genuine consternation, even anger, and have wondered how it is possible the Christian faith could be imparted entirely in terms of obligation, not of a personal desire born of charity. For me, Cardinal Dulles had nailed it that day: "be there, follow the rules, and fulfill their holy obligations." That's far from the Church I had discovered, far from the Church Herself.

It's impossible, I believe, to practice your faith evangelically if your only message is obligation. Why? That's not Good News and it's not what Christ himself proclaimed.

Read once again Matthew 11:28-30:

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

This is the Christ who calls us to His Church, the One who reached down to us in our sin and guilt and lifts us up in His forgiveness, the One who draws us to Him by His love, by His sacrifice. This is the Christ whose Real Presence we celebrate.

Good News is what Jesus said (John 8:2-12) to the scribes and Pharisees when they brought him the woman caught in adultery whom they intended to stone: to the Pharisees he said, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.  And to the woman he said, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

Imagine this woman's exultation, her joy in Christ's forgiveness, her relief at being saved from the wrath of the righteous.  Also imagine how much more likely it is that she would have started to love Christ, and because of this she was more likely to "sin no more."

Jesus had told her to start following the rules, but in the larger context of His love, His forgiveness, His acceptance. Jesus did not tell her to obey, He told her to follow Him, to seek Him, to love Him, and live in a way that flowed from all of that.

Our faith is a gift, not a threat. Our faith does not teach us to follow the rules and we "will be just fine." Our faith does not teach us to view the good life as a road burdened by the weight of dreary obligations. Our faith does not teach us to just get by, to be there, follow the rules, and keep the obligations. Our faith is not that of a tribe, into which we happen to be born. Our faith is not a list of minimum requirements that get us into heaven.

That kind of faith will never be Evangelical, will never appear attractive to the newcomer, and, most importantly, will never come close to representing the living tradition.

Pope Francis I, I believe, is trying to remind us of this too and being misunderstood in the process. Take his comment about being "obsessive" on the topics of abortion, marriage, and contraception.  All he means is this: It's not the first thing you have to say to those outside the Church, or disagree with within the Church.

The reaction of "conservative Catholics" proved he was right -- too many good Catholics have become so "on the lookout" for signs of dissent on those issues that everything has become a smoke signal.

The same goes for Pope Francis' comments on atheism -- the Church has long recognized the possibility of baptism by the Holy Spirit. As for his comments on homosexuality, we should not be building walls between ourselves and those who we want to reach.

As Pope Francis puts it, the Church should see itself as a "field hospital after a battle." Why? Because people are broken, and our ministrations, not our condemnations will help to heal them. The Holy Father explains it further when he says, "The Church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently..."

First we have to build a foundation of faith that reveals the unity and consistency of our teaching on abortion, marriage, and contraception. This is what Pope Francis I means when he warns that we are "losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."

Remember his example of humility after the conclave. Pope Francis bowed to the people in St. Peter's Square and asked for our prayers. He knew what was waiting for him.....the suffering.  It wasn't long in coming. It came when he called upon Catholics to have greater mercy for those who sin and those who lack belief.

(This text is taken from a speech delivered on September 21, 2013 at the Ave Maria Communications and Baraga Broadcasting Conference, "A Papal Challenge: Build the Church. Bless the Nation.")
-----
Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D, is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine. He is the Senior Correspondent for Church and Culture and a contributing writer for Catholic Online. 

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people:
That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.



Comments


More U.S.

Following Ferguson shooting, police departments rush to adopt body cameras Watch

Image of The purchasing of body cameras by police departments nationwide has increased dramatically following the shooting of Michael Brown.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Whether you believe the story told by Ferguson police officer Daren Wilson, or by the family of Michael Brown, it is certain that the case has changed the face of law enforcement in America. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The use of body cameras by police ... continue reading


Catholic Shopping .com is about to have its biggest sale ever for Black Friday weekend!

Image of Sign up so you don't miss any deals during this special Black Friday weekend sale!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

This weekend, Catholic Shopping .com is having an amazing sale with up to 70% off of selected items. These deep discounts will help you finish your shopping early, but be prepared, many of these sales will last just an hour or two and then the specials will be gone! ... continue reading


A Boston man has something new to be thankful for after he received a double arm transplant Watch

Image of Will Lautzenheiser, a professor of film production and screenwriting at Boston University had to undergo surgery to remove his arms and legs in 2011 after he came down with a life-threatening streptococcal infection.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Boston man who received a double arm transplant in October is making remarkable recovery, just in time for Thanksgiving. The best part, he says, is that he is able to hug his loved ones again. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Will Lautzenheiser became infected ... continue reading


Dreaded cartel overlord Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez sentenced to 22 years in prison in U.S. Watch

Image of Top Sinaloa cartel thug Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez has been sentenced to 22 years in prison in the U.S. for planning the delivery of more than 600 pounds of cocaine.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Top Sinaloa cartel thug Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez has been sentenced to 22 years in prison in the U.S. for planning the delivery of more than 600 pounds of cocaine. Some of the damning evidence against him was provided by twin brothers Pedro and Margarito ... continue reading


Here's 3,000 reasons why Obama just made illegal immigrants more attractive to your employer Watch

Image of Due to a loophole in Obamacare, the president's new amnesty plans mean that employers who hire illegals don't have to cover them with insurance, and won't be fined for doing so.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Obama's new amnesty plan is going to have some drastic effects that most American's aren't aware of, one that may just get you kicked out of a job because of all things, Obamacare. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Under the Affordable Care Act, ... continue reading


Fr. Randy Sly on Thanksgiving and Our Roots of Faith

Image of Ceremonies and periods of thanksgiving are woven through the entire tapestry of history. We find them in the Jewish Calendar of Feasts, in other world religions, in European cultures and native practices of North America, South America, Asia and Africa.

By Fr. Randy Sly

Thanksgiving Day has become a time when we watch parades and then take in large amounts of food and football. According to some calculations, 46 million turkeys-around 550 million pounds-will be consumed during Thanksgiving this year. But that's not how it began! ... continue reading


Thanksgiving Day: We are Still One Nation - Under God Watch

Image of The sincere sentiments expressed by this extraordinary leader, George Washington, should inform our response to all of the challenges we face today in the United States of America. We are still one Nation - under God. They should also inspire us to pray for great leaders to emerge in this our great hour of need. Leaders who can help us see this as an hour of opportunity and an invitation to reaffirm our reliance on God.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

This week the people of the United States of America struggle to find a way through the trauma we are experiencing in the wake of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Too many self-appointed "experts" seem all too eager to tell us what divides us. However, even in ... continue reading


Acknowledging Unknown Soldier over known soldiers: Over 1.2 million veterans lack health insurance Watch

Image of As a culture, many of us feel more comfortable honoring the tomb of the Unknown Soldier --

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

As many leave laurels at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the United States refuses to acknowledge the health and benefits of known soldiers. While most people assume that veterans automatically receive health care coverage through the Veterans Health ... continue reading


Ferguson in flames as policeman who shot, killed teenager found not guilty Watch

Image of Police claimed they came under heavy automatic weapon fire. Some buildings were left to burn because of the danger.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

People have responded to violence - with violence. After Police Officer Darren Wilson was been cleared of all charges in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in August. His surrounding community of Ferguson, Missouri has responded with widespread ... continue reading


Priest in Ferguson reports deep mistrust between groups fueling tension Watch

Image of Police in Ferguson move detain a protester.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Catholic priest assigned to Ferguson, MO, spoke with Vatican Radio about the "festering" mistrust between the populace and police. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Vatican Radio shared an interview with Fr. Arthur Cavitt, a parish priest who was asked about the ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9
1 After this, I saw another angel come down from ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 100:2, 3, 4, 5
2 serve Yahweh with gladness, come into his presence ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:20-28
20 'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 27th, 2014 Image

St. James Intercisus
November 27: James was a favorite of King Yezdigerd I of Persia and a ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter