10 Years Later. Still a Gem.

Musings on ordinary Catholic culture, from Sherry Weddell…10 years later, and this tongue-in-check writing from real-life mission work is still a gem:

When it comes to talking about eternal things. Jesus. Holiness. And more…we have:

Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion”…Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

A don’t ask, don’t tell [culture] because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it–but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

Because, “we’re all saved and we’ve all earned it, but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.”

Here’s the full post (from the Catherine of Sienna Institute’s not-currently-available blog site): 

We Are All Saved and We Have All Earned It But None of Us Are Saints Because That Wouldn’t Be Humble.

10 years of nearly continuous travel from parish to parish and thousands of personal interviews have given us a fairly good sense of typical ordinary-Catholic-in-the-pew’s worldview regarding intentional discipleship and our ultimate salvation — at leastKristin Thiel Embarassed among Anglo laity in the US.

(The worldview of the clergy is naturally very different but many clergy share in the assumptions described here in surprising ways. Priests are remarkably like human beings in this regard.)

The American church is huge and very complicated, so the culture I am about to describe would not include those groups of Catholics heavily influenced by evangelicalism (such as in the deep south), the charismatic renewal, traditionalism, lay movements or third orders, parishes that regularly do evangelism, groups with a strong social justice orientation or Catholics in “hotbed institutions” like Catholic universities or seminaries. Neither would this describe Hispanic Catholics, Vietnamese Catholics, etc.

The worldview I’m describing is common among ordinary-Anglo-cradle-Catholic-laypeople in ordinary parishes in the west coast, midwest, high plains, intermountain west and east coast.

Caveat: I am writing in a hurry and my tongue is rather firmly in my check. But I am also really describing attitudes what we have encountered over and over again in the field. There are remarkable exceptions everywhere but there is also, in our experience, a startling consistency across dioceses and regions.

The major premises could be summarized as follows:

We are all saved and we’ve all earned it but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

A fascinating, if unlikely, mixture of practical universalism, Pelagianism, and work-a-day Catholic humility seems to have been absorbed by Catholics across the country.This homespun version of universalism runs something like this: *Decent* people are automatically saved because of their decency, and almost everyone is essentially decent or at least means well, which is basically the same thing as being decent. God would never condemn a decent person. Salvation is pretty much yours to lose and you can only do so by intentionally doing something really, really, not decent like mass murder and then not saying you are sorry.

Pelagianism was an early 5th century heresy that held that original sin did not taint our human nature and that human beings are still capable of choosing good or evil without God’s grace. Pelagius taught that human beings could achieve the highest levels of virtue by the exercise of their own will.

The contemporary American version holds that human beings can attain acceptable levels of *decency* by their own efforts. We earn our salvation by not doing the really, really bad things we could do if we chose. In real life, it is pretty close to impossible for most people not to attain the minimum decency requirement. (See caveat above).

Since basic decency suffices for salvation, holiness is completely optional, and is the spiritual equivalent of extreme sports. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place. They do not pretend to be something they are not (see point #2 below).

Note: the role of Christ and his Paschal mystery in this view of salvation is extremely obscure.

There are two basic Catholic “tracks”:

a) The “ordinary Catholic track” which includes 99% of us. Your parents put you on this track by having you baptized as a baby. This track can be divided further into 1) “good” or practicing ordinary Catholics; 2) “bad” or non-practicing ordinary Catholics; and 3) pious ordinary Catholics.All ordinary Catholics, good, bad, or pious, are saved through their essential *decency* or meaning well and nor screwing up horribly. (see #1 above). God does give extra credit for visible devotion or piety.

b) The “extraordinary Catholic track”: priests, religious, and saints (.1%).

God plucks a few people out of Track “a” and places them on track “b”. That is what the Church means by having a vocation.

Priests and religious are also saved by being decent but the standard of decency is a bit more rigorous for them because they can’t have sex.

Sanctity is reserved for the uber-elite: When someone becomes a saint, it is the mysterious result of spiritual genius or an act of God and is not expected of or related to salvation for “ordinary” Catholics (see #1), because God decreed they should be on a different track. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place.

c) There is no “disciple on the way” track. When many Catholics hear the phrase “intentional disciple”, they immediately think of the only known alternative to the “ordinary Catholic” track in their lexicon, which is that of the saint and is supposed to be reserved for the uber-elite. They naturally presume that the aspirant to discipleship is pretending to have been plucked out of the ordinary track by God and is, therefore, an arrogant elitist (see #1 above).

Corollary A: Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion” because it violates #1 and #2. Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

Corollary B: don’t ask, don’t tell because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it–but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

The Christian in Christian Leaders

“If, therefore, those called to office and leadership roles in the church remain content merely to organize and manage the internal affairs of the church, they are leaving a vacuum exactly where there ought to be vibrant, pulsating life.

Of course Christian leaders need to be trained and equipped for management, for running of the organization. The church will no thrive by performing in a bumbling, amateur fashion and hoping that piety and goodwill will make up for incompetence.

But how much more should a Christian minister be a serious professional when it comes to grappling with scripture and discovering how it enables him or her, in preaching, teaching, prayer, and pastoral work, to engage with the huge issues that confront us as a society and as individuals.”

–N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, 138-139

The Call, The Loss, and a Disciple’s Vocational Integration

Fr. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, on the essential relationship of connection between loss and response to a call, to any true vocation:

Grief and loss are inseparable from the call.

If we accept the call but not the loss
we will live in a contradiction.

When people make a decision, for example to live in l’Arche,
but do not fully accept the consequences of their decision,
it is a cause of great distress.

They constantly feel sorry for themselves,
sorry that they do not have a  higher salary,
or more time for themselves,
shorter working hours, etc.

There is the call
and there is the loss.
But who wants loss?

When I left the navy more than fifty years ago,
I sold everything I had,
which wasn’t much, and gave it to the poor.

Today I do not have much to sell
and I doubt if anyone would want what I have!
But the call and loss continue.

Excerpts from Vanier’s Befriending the Stranger (2001), p. 20

Living this Paschal Mystery (h/t Joyce Donahue) is part of any healthy discernment of a call to a particular form of work, life, or oftentimes–both. As Vanier alludes to, if we as disciples seeking to follow Jesus in the Holy Spirit fail to integrate loss and call early on, the effects will linger. “Distress” will simmer beneath the surface, negatively impacting our relationships with God and others.

The degree to which this “distress” appears outwardly negative will vary by individual and situation. I know that I have been guilty of making decisions about following the call without fully accepting the consequences–and yes, this led to interior self-pity, to regret–even as my life was filled with genuine joy. It can be an odd mix sometimes.

But, a healthy, wholesome integrated life of discipleship avoids this temptation, as this temptation ultimately harms our relationship with God. We can be joyful for a time, but it is difficult to authentically sustain this joy from the Source if we have not fully accepted the consequences of our calls as disciples.

Theology Teacher Problems [as Gift]

This is why designing theology curricula and syllabi is hard. 🙂

When wading around in matters liturgical, one has in fact stepped into the headwaters of a river (lex orandi) which can be followed downstream into any number of channels (lex credendi). Liturgical theology involves ecclesiology, because the Church is the people that this ritual creates; and ecclesiology involves Christology since that is whose body the Church is; and this requires triadology for an ontological Christology and soteriology for a functional Christology; and redemption outlines a doctrine of sin, which assumes knowledge of what it means to stand aright, which is a doctrine of creation. (David Fagerberg, On Liturgical Asceticism, “Century List” #27).

 

Happy evaluating and planning this summer and beyond!

Practical Advice to Reform Your St. Francis Misquoting

Time after time, I hear this repeated as a quote of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Preach the Gospel always! When necessary, use words.”

Quoting canonized saints is good. This quote, however, does not come from St. Francis (see here and here). And this shouldn’t surprise us. It’s certainly not how we understand evangelization in our modern world.

But, I get why it’s an appealing quote to many. It contains some truth (preach the Gospel always!) but lacks the nuance to explain the relationship between witness and words–both essential for a Catholic understanding of evangelization.

So, I’ve got a new offer for all of those committed to [deliberately] erroneously attributing a quote to St. Francis for the sake of making a theological point. Next time, try this [actual] quote from Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross:

p.s. today is Blessed Basil Moreau’s birthday. So seriously, stop using a made-up St. Francis quote and start using a more nuanced and historical one! 😉

Eucharistic Homily: To Sanctify and Glorify

The Catechism states that “the Eucharist makes the Church” (CCC 1396), but also that the Eucharist is inseparable from the Word of God (cf. CCC 1346).

Because the homily is an integral part of the liturgy, it is not only an instruction, it is also an act of worship. When we read the homilies of the Fathers, we find that many of them concluded their discourse with a doxology and the word “Amen”: they understood that the purpose of the homily was not only to sanctify the people, but to glorify God. The homily is a hymn of gratitude for the magnalia Dei, which not only tells those assembled that God’s Word is fulfilled in their hearing, but praises God for this fulfillment.

–Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,

Homiletic Directory (2014), §4