Friday, July 11, 2014

Those who say the Church needs to do more ... need to do more themselves.

The importance of the laity.

Years ago, the NCR posted 'vocation ads' - I'm sure they still do - I don't receive Catholic newspapers and rarely read the online versions unless I run into a link to a subject I have an opinion on.  I get the news I need and avoid the superfluous that way.  But I digress.  In the 'personal' or 'want ad' section, start up religious groups sometimes advertised seeking vocations.

Among these ads were those maybe classified as, "Women suffering from the effects of abuse from this or that religious order support group" - a sort of recovery program and nascent religious congregation offered for the rejects.  Likewise, from time to time I recall ads for a new Benedictine or Franciscan community - strictly contemplative of course - organized just for gay/ssa men.  I always wondered who these people were, had I ever met them when I was discerning or living a quasi-hermit-monastic-contemplative life myself?  There always seemed to be a ton of start up contemplative groups - wearing habits with a nunish horarium - although a couple I actually encountered always struck me as maybe just a little too "comfortable" - and maybe a bit off their "rule".  Which may help explain why I'm usually rather skeptical about new religious groups.  In retrospect, I'll admit I have been too critical, since a few I mistrusted are still around.

The "contemplative" status always made me suspicious.  Especially the inner city attempts.  Getting by with the witness of the habit, preaching without words, and engaging people in conversations about the faith, then just returning home to their comfortable apartment monastery or an old re-habed convent.  Not that it's a bad thing of course.  Although they wanted to be poor and minister to the poor, there always seemed to be funds for beautifying the chapel, for travel to this conference or that religious gathering, as well as pilgrimage/vacation/retreat, and so on.  The homeless or mentally ill were left on the margins where they found them, and the contemplatives went home to sleep in a nice comfy bed.

Frati Minori Rinnovati
Doing it right.
This is their 'house' in Naples.
Railway cars as their friary.
I stayed there in the mid 1970's.
It hasn't changed and the order is thriving.

"Contemplatives" in the world.

Yesterday I mentioned something to the effect that we, the laity are the Church - that we actually have a role to play rather than cultivating the sense of expectation that the "Church" has to do something all the time.  I said:
So many people seem to believe they need a degree to do any sort of work for the Church or the poor.  So many people attracted to religious life think of contemplative life as opposed to serving the needs around them, completely unaware that the active life can be as contemplative as cloistered life.  The Missionaries of Charity demonstrate that.  But we do not have to be consecrated religious to follow a vocation.  Jean Vanier and L'Arche is a wonderful example of that.  

You don't need a costume or a habit or a degree or a title to help the poor, the marginalized.  The Church needs to do more?  You are the Church - we are the Church.

Ordinary life.

Today I remembered something Madeleine Delbrel wrote - I came across it in Magnificat as a meditation for the day.  She expressed the very same sentiments I came to understand as God's call in my life.  Albeit my interpretation is quite idiosyncratic if not eccentric, and I haven't been at all the 'good and faithful servant' Delbrel exemplified, barely even able to manage the 'only doing my duty' part.  Again I digress - but what Delbrel wrote expresses what I often try to say.

"To be people immersed as deeply as possible in the midst of the world, with no rules, no vows, no habits, and no convents separating us from the world; to be poor, but just like people you find everywhere; to be chaste, but like people from every social stratum; to be obedient, but just like people of every nationality.
We will not be the Church, and salvation will not reach the ends of the earth, unless we help save the people in the very situations in which we live.  And we will not be working toward salvation, we will not let it pass through us, unless in their very midst, we remain purely and unchangeably the Church." Magnificat, Wednesday Meditation, July 9, 2014

“Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, 
but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don't talk about it; 
they are the ones who make a community live.” 
― Jean Vanier

Presence - our real presence mirrors the Real Presence of the Eucharist.

Over the years, this is what I have come to know as true.  Our lives witness to the truth of the Gospel.  If we are faithful, the Holy Spirit attracts those around us to the Church.  The Church waits with open arms, Catholic teaching is recognized as lovely and true.  The Church's ministers are there to reconcile those who return.  Evangelization is not about 'fixing' people or seeing success - it is about living - a living witness, even a silent, loving action at work in the midst of them.  "He walked in peace through the midst of them."  Without thinking of them as 'them' however, as if we, or I am different from  'them'.  As Delbrel explained, "To be people immersed as deeply as possible in the midst of the world ... just like people you find everywhere."  Christ dwells in our midst.

It's like that.  I just have trouble expressing it.  My apologies.

Pride goes before the fall.

I don't go to gay parades or raise Rainbow banners.  I'm Catholic.  All my friends know that.

Many of my friends are gay - a few are faithful Catholics, some not so much - other people I know may like me, but not the Church.  Others acquaintances are 'spiritual' but not religious.  Most are older now, but some are younger.  My doctor is gay, my barber is gay, my lawyer is gay.  Several of my neighbors are gay.  I have gay-bisexual friends married to women.  I have gay friends and professional acquaintances I'm in contact with who are sexually active, a couple are legally married, and so on.

Over the years, whenever I'd see these friends or socialize with them, I've never ever told them they are embracing a sinful lifestyle. Why? Because they already know what the Church teaches. The entire world knows what the Church teaches. If anything, Church teaching was clarified whenever they chided me for my Catholic faith and being in a Church that they enjoyed telling me hates me. Gay people already know what the Church teaches - which is why gay activists militate against it - therefore I have no need to repeat Catholic teaching to them.  If they ask - that is a different matter.  When they tell me the Church hates me, I explain to them why that isn't true.

I think that may be what Pope Francis means when he says things which confuse many good Catholics: what he may be saying is that we don't have to try to pound it home or make 'them' accept it.  Therefore, going out to the peripheries does not mean wearing Rainbow flags or marching in Pride parades.  It can never be about suspending Church discipline or the commandments, or working towards the development of doctrine to make the Church more inviting or to make people feel welcome, or worse, tell them conversion is not necessary.

"We will not be the Church, and salvation will not reach the ends of the earth, unless we help save the people in the very situations in which we live.  And we will not be working toward salvation, we will not let it pass through us, unless in their very midst, we remain purely and unchangeably the Church." - Servant of God Madeleine Delbrel

St. John Bosco - he worked the streets.

Song for this post here.


  1. When praying, the one most important desire of mine is for personal conversion. I remember St. JP II stressing that over and over and it has stayed with me all of these years. I know that when I am converted, by God's holy grace, I will be a true witness for Christ and His Church. I will have all I need from Him alone, to do His will and to do it with love and grace and humility. I will truly love my neighbor too without any pretense. That's all I want.

    I won't have to dance the dance of back and forth anymore.

    1. I edited the text a bit for clarity. Lately I've been writing in the midst of distractions and rush editing - and when I publish, the edited text seems to get lost or something. It may read a little better now. I edited yesterday's post as well. It must have something to do with saving my work?

  2. You always write the best posts. You'll be greatly missed when you hang it up.

    I watched Matthew Kelly on EWTN and he was very patient while callers kept assuming that change in the Church (the New Evangelization) begins with Father doing this or that differently. EPIC FAIL. It's going to be hard to change that attitude.

    I'm a little worried that the Church is out-of-touch with some of the money issues. Mr. Kelly is in Portland this week, and if my wife and I wanted to go to his talk it would cost almost $80. I had sticker shock--I live in the same gritty neighborhood I do my ministry. Now Mr. Kelly generously supplies his books at like $2 each, and so I actually have a stack of them to give away free during my ministry (thanks to my parish). Similarly, there's a big faith/ministry workshop with some familiar names here one of these weekends, and the price is almost $400. Sometimes it seems as though the assumption is that we're all middle or upper middle class. NOT.

    As an alternative view to the approach you take to your gay friends, here are a few thoughts. Somewhere Georges Bernanos wrote about the insanity of going skiing for the weekend with your atheist friends while doing nothing to plead for their conversion. Sometimes pleading works--especially if you can speak with conviction about the spiritual reality that underlays the flimsy material reality. The poor suicidal swinger whom I mentioned a while back, I gently but honestly told him about the reality of demons and hell. I never even mentioned the word 'hell'--I didn't need to since he understood what I was saying. There really are two camps, two cities; some homes and souls are full of Christ, the angels and the gaze of the saints, and others are the "property" of the devils. I was the property of the devils before my conversion, and those thousand demons I saw were demons that I had invited into my life through my mortal sins. Obviously just because someone is in the wrong camp right now doesn't mean they will be damned, but their choices have a profound spiritual effect right now. I think if Catholics better understood that, then they'd be bolder in evangelization. Holy boldness. All that being said, timing is everything in evangelization and God has perfect timing--if we only pay attention.

    1. My non-religious friends know that "after Mass" is a time in my schedule and will vary depending on whether it's a weekend, weekday or holiday (which they don't in any way connect to holy day).

      It's difficult to pay attention to God when you're not accustomed to the concept.

    2. Hi Nan,
      Sorry for the ambiguity--I meant those who witness need to be attuned to God's perfect timing--when the door is cracked open.

    3. Thanks Scott - actually a lot comes out in conversation. They read my blog - which pisses them off and the conversations gets boiling. One act they found offensive is that I didn't go to their weddings and they took that as a statement of sorts. So I'm not as passive as I made it sound. Likewise some are designers and into the arts, so they know my art and they get the narrative from a more candid point of view than I would post online. If I simply hung out and blended in that would hardly be a witness now, would it. As I mentioned, their contempt for Catholic teaching comes out rather frequently, then I am able to 'lightheartedly' and 'friendly' explain things. I can only recall becoming angry once, when an attack was made regarding something spiritual - I can't recall what it was. It helped, because after that, this particular couple were much more respectful of sacred persons and the Eucharist. Whenever they traveled to Europe I had them visit Marian shrines for me and they always came back edified.

      I have many times found openings - when the door is cracked open - but it is usually when they are close to death. Because of viagra and ciallis, older gay men just do not want to be chaste.

      Alas, I've also been 'unfriended' by quite a few former friends and colleagues.

  3. One other thought. One reason witnessing can work in our post-Christian culture is precisely because it is post-Christian (at least Portland and her sister cities on the West Coast). Therefore, the person who witnesses is on the defensive, defending a strange and seemingly embarrassing worldview, and so the person who is being witnessed to does not feel "judged" or on the defensive as long as you do it with humility. So when I talk to people, I say things like "I know it sounds crazy...", and so I am the one who is in the "subordinate" position, I am the fool. Now if you "preach" to people the positions are switched, you put on the air of an authority and preeminence and they clam up, and you won't help a single soul.

    1. I do it exactly the way you do. I'll say - I know it sounds crazy or I know I sound crazy - but this is what that means. Or I know you disagree - and that's fine - a lot of Catholics do - but someday maybe it can make sense to you. And so on. People can't be coerced - and arguing never works - except to maybe help me understand where 'they' are coming from. Listening is more important that speaking sometimes.

    2. Scott - Your life seems quite a bit like Delbrel's ideal. God bless you.

    3. One more comment, then I'm done. It's the same way with my family. No one ever went to church save for a wedding and baptism and funeral. No one has any interest in Catholicism. Friends and family always get the same treatment. Occasionally I'll remind them of their duties - and then I get - "If religion is so great why aren't you better?" LOL! They know me and what the Church teaches.

      So far, three have had death bed conversions.

  4. I vainly wrote here about my 'gay friends' to demonstrate that I'm not so distant from my past involvement as to have not been aware of changing attitudes and lifestyles within that milieu. I get a little annoyed when critics insist things have changed so drastically that it is no longer the same world I came out of. Never the less it's a vanity and trap I can fall into and I'm really sorry I fell into it once again, just to prove I'm still in touch. I have no love for the gay lifestyle whatsoever..


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