It was Tuesday morning and I was tired. I still had the nasty morning taste in my mouth (despite brushing) of the previous evenings celebratory cigar after my nephew's baptism (Trinitarian formula). I was looking at a flight and then a 6 hour drive. Needless to say I wasn't thrilled to see every TV flashing the recent Pew poll regarding religion in America. As the comments scrolled across the bottom of CNN or FOXNEWS, I could feel eyes turn to me, the priest. I was in no mood to think.
Thankfully, a few days of clean living, some good exercise and lots of rest of helped me recover from travel and baptismal festivities. Now I can think.
I'm not going to address commentary that the U.S. Bishops' immigration stance is tied to pinning their hopes on Hispanics to fill the pews. Amy Welborn and Ireneaus handle it pretty well already.
Rather, I wish to address on the following statement from the NYTimes article that crunches the Pew Data has the following to say about Catholics. "The Roman Catholic Church 'has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes'."
Faith and Culture
Certainly alarming to anyone, especially if anyone is a Catholic, Catholic priest, or Catholic Bishop. I want to address Ireneaus' post on this issue, where he refers to a Tony Campolo speech. Of note: "Then he brought up Vatican II. In his most excited, sweat-drenched, spittle-producing tones, he lamented how Catholicism had fallen apart. It wasn't a matter of theology or politics, he said. I remember his exact words, seared in my brain: "They changed one thing. They changed the liturgy." And, in Tony's view, that's what precipitated the post-VII Catholic decline."
Ireneaus agrees with Tony, saying his analysis is "spot on." What Ireneaus isn't sure of is how it happened. Let me venture where the saintly and intelligent haven't yet elucidated...
When the external expressions of the Catholic faith- not simply the unique liturgy but the devotional exercises- were stripped away, U.S. Catholicism lost its sociological weight. I'm not a sociologist, but they seem to view religion in terms of human gatherings, distinct identities, and culture. Yet the Catholic faith cannot be reduced to culture. This was a guiding principle in a speech by Blessed Pope John XXIII at the eve of the council: "One thing is in fact the deposit of faith, that is the truths contained in our venerated doctrine, and another thing is the way they are enounced, maintaining nevertheless their same meaning and scope"
So Pope John separates the realities of culture and faith. Pope Benedict XVI recognizes this in his, now famous, "Hermeneutics of Continuity" speech in December of 2005 (see section on 40th Anniversary of Council). This separation is not easy, we are not angels but souls united to bodies who live and communicate in physical realities. BXVI recognizes this, "In this sense, the plan proposed by Pope John XXIII was extremely demanding, just as the synthesis of faithfulness and dynamism is demanding...The nature of true reform lies in this combination of multi-levelled continuity and discontinuity."
I am beginning to think we are firmly in the depth of this demanding reform, awash in the turmoil of discontinuity as we strive to hold fast to continuity. BXVI continues, "We had to learn how to recognise that in such decisions only principles express what is lasting, embedded in the background and determining the decision from within. The concrete forms these decisions take are not permanent but depend upon the historical situations."
So what about Pew?
From Pope Benedict XVI illuminative speech, we can understand that the Council has wrenched us out of our comforts of form. Why? We must return to Jesus Christ in a truly radical way. Radical, meaning root. The crisis of these past 40 years is returning to our roots- Ressourcement. It seems that the Council forces us to let of the faith as sustainable cultural identity: I'm Irish so I drink Guinness, I'm Catholic so I go to Mass.
The source of our exercise of the forms of Catholicism needs to the real, personal, and life giving encounter with Jesus Christ who invites us to union with the Father through the Holy Spirit. Then faith becomes Faith and not simply a topic for the Sociology Department. When Jesus is wholly the center of the individual Catholic, then their external exercise of their faith becomes authentic and ennobling.
So my response to Pew and NYTimes and Campolo becomes: Yes, we've lost some of our flock. God have mercy on us and them. We have the opportunity to enter into a Season of Lent, stripped of the familiar comforts of the external exercise of our faith, to return to Jesus Christ. We may again embrace those external expressions as an authentic expression of our response to the saving work of Jesus Christ. As Pope Benedict said "we had to learn" the difference between expression and principle but now we must invite to those principles.
While we follow our Lord's example and abandon the 99 for the sake of the one lost sheep, I ask this question. Are our loses loses of true disciples rooted in Jesus Christ or loses of those who clung to the cultural expressions? I don't know. I know I must seek them both.
Finally, for Tony Campolo, who spoke to Ireneaus about prophets and priests, you forgot one aspect Mr. Campolo. Pastors. Shepherds. "At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved for pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt. 9:36 "Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes Lord, you know that I love you.' He said to him, 'Tend my lambs...'" Jn 21:15ff. Shepherds guide sheep, steering them clear of rocks, wolves, and thistles so they can eat, grow, and play. Christ has given us shepherds to guide us so we may be formed to Him and invite others to follow Him.
Jesus has left us with shepherds to lead us through this, and what shepherds! I think I'll go reread the 2005 Christmas Address on the 40th Anniversary of VII and thank God for his Shepherd.