Friday, August 2, 2013

Division and Change

Austrian Fr. Helmut Schüller is a representative of many priests in the Catholic Church.  He is currently on a US speaking tour.  He is organizing priests and laypersons to make a grass-roots change.  His group thinks all Catholics should have greater participation in the running of the Church and that married men and women should be able to become ordained.

Several bishops have disallowed Fr. Schüller to speak under their jurisdictions.  Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia apparently thinks his appearance at a local college on July 19 was dangerous to Church unity.  Does Archbishop Chaput actually think that the current Church is united?  Perhaps he doesn’t count all the people who have left it in recent years or those crying for change.

When the Pew Religious Forum did an extensive survey in 2008 of Religious Affiliation in the US, it found that Catholic Church has the most losses percentagewise of any denomination.  In the past few decades here, around 25,000,000 people have left. As the survey says, if it were not for the Latino influx into our country, the losses would be much higher.  The bishops may hope for Latinos to change the order of things here, but these people are also leaving. There may have been an enthusiastic World Youth Day in Brazil, but in another Pew Forum study, the statistics show people are declining in Catholic affiliation there, especially the young.

Ever since Pope Francis has been elected, he has talked about change.  He wants Catholics to “get outside themselves,” to dialogue with others and to care for the poor.  I have linked to a specific article here which gives the flavor of what he has been saying. If you follow this Vatican News website which gives daily updates on his homilies and other activities, you will see the themes often.

The people who leave the Catholic Church go to various ends.  Some join Pentecostal churches, some mainline Protestant, some lose their faith altogether. Even within the Church a wide range of opinion is seen, from liberal to conservative. So is there any hope for unity at all?

The Catholic Church has been through all kinds of tough times.  Past popes were involved in wars and belonged to corrupt political families.  During Inquisitions, heretics were burned at the stake.  The child sexual abuse travesty has apparently been around for a long time but not as widely known as it lately has been (and we hope that this coming to the surface will lead to permanent cleansing). Women are totally excluded from leadership.  People ask why members stay. 

I do not want to minimize our responsibility to try to solve our problems. Fortunately, things do change and we hopefully try to evangelize heretics instead of burning them at the stake. In my blog I have had many articles concerning the inequality I feel is imposed upon Catholic women. Though some Catholic women are not insulted by the traditional way of men-only clergy, in this day and age many women are indignant about the differences. Though some people hold there are reasons for distinctions between genders, this theology has obviously been put forward by an all-male Magisterium. Would a group which included women in the decision come to the same conclusion?

However, getting back to the point, I along with other Church members have priorities.  I saw a comment on the Internet where they were discussing grievous wrongs of the Church. The person said he can answer why he stays with two words: the Eucharist. 

In a word it is the Word for Whom we stay.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2, NABRE.) When we receive the true body and blood of Christ at each mass, the encounter is awesome. Most Protestants and a large number of Catholics think that the bread and wine are simply symbols, so I suppose I should speak for myself.  One way I will try to put it is that even though I accept, as Christ promised, that He is with us always, there seems like an added or maybe clearer dimension in this sacrament. It reminds me of a Scripture verse from the King James Bible: "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end" (Isaiah 9:7, KJV). It's like when you think you've had a peak experience with the Lord, it can get even better. Those of us who experience this mystery want to invite others to come to Him too.

People are sinful and sometimes very badly sinful.  But you don’t get away from evil by leaving the Church.  It’s all over the place.  We come to the Lord because He is our protector.  He is our Savior, and we surely need one.  Through the ages, no matter how bad it got, people realized this.  Though they may have disagreed with their leaders and each other, this is the focal point from which they carried on. This is the power that is greater than evil.

Many Catholics agree with Fr. Helmut Schüller in his first priority: to ensure that there are enough priests to provide the precious gift of the Eucharist for all who desire it (along with time for those priests to adequately serve their parishes).  Christ told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17.) It is good that Pope Francis cares about the poor--I'm glad he does. But he must especially care for the Catholic flock.

Another commenter I read in a different discussion about disagreements among Catholics declared, tongue in cheek, he will change the name of his blog to “I alone am the True Church.”  I think we all feel this way at one time or another.  But we pray for the grace to move forward, and that we may all do our best so that Christ’s body and blood can be given each week to all who believe it is real.