Bitterness never healed anyone. But repentance and a deepening of the faith in ourselves has. Recently we read of a conservative Ad Hoc Catholic meeting conducted in a school auditorium during the United States Bishops Conference at their June Meeting in Dallas. This group of mostly good men and women, “burdened by the grim news from the conference,” got together and bitterly spoke of that conference, indulging the temptation to despair so much that, if the reports and comments can be believed, they sounded as though in the grips of an agitated depression. Even none other than the conservative Bishop from Nebraska, Fabian Bruskewitz, indulged what sounded like gallows humor as he proceeded to join those who would blame the Holy Father for the appointment and perfidy of some sad bishops through the years (which is about as logical as blaming Our Lord for appointing Judas one of the original Twelve).
To indulge an orgy of such blame may be perversely cathartic, but it is a long way from a constructive program toward healing in any Christian sense. Clearly, new policies are not enough. To that extent these friends are correct. But the answer may include unexpected challenges for them also, as well as for the dissidents who have tragically made a living mocking the Holy Father and the truths that the Church teaches.
We believe that there has been a failure in two major areas: catechesis and praxis ( the works of mercy ), each of which are spiritually oriented to, and proceed from, both liturgy and the sanctifying fruits of liturgy and Catholic social teaching. That is not to say that certain groups and persons have not exercised these chrisms as an admirable witness to us all, here and there, but the flame must be fanned into a new fire if we are to regain our Christian, Catholic, credibility here in the United States; especially after so great a scandal; not as a cover for our faults, but as a penance to atone for them!
To this end we urge so-called “progressives” who have emphasized social praxis, good works for the poor (soup kitchens, shelter for the homeless, etc.), to consider whether or not they have consciously or unconsciously used such praxis as a substitute for the Church’s teachings, for proper catechesis, rather than as an expression of that traditional Faith which the Church has not invented but “received” from Jesus Christ and His Apostles. If so, then such good works are as empty as clanging cymbals, mere noise, as St. Paul said (1 Cor 13). (If one, after long reflection, does not believe the Catholic Faith it is no good remaining in it. Simple honesty requires belief and Faith, not a privatized religion with a new Christ, a new Spirit and a new Gospel; cf. 2 Cor 11:4.)
And to that end we urge “conservatives” who have admirably emphasized proper doctrine and catechesis (the Catechism of the Catholic Church and proper liturgy) to consider whether they have not sometimes obsessed on these matters to the exclusion of the works of mercy, to the exclusion of those works which show that “preferential love for the poor” which the Church teaches is “pure religion” (James 1:27).
Faith without works is dead. Works without the Faith, which only pretend to be Catholic, are vain, empty, a lie. How then shall we regain our credibility in the American Church? By joining together what God never intended to be torn asunder. And by joining these together in every local Catholic church as a witness that the Church is not just a bureaucracy, not a club for the comfortable and the rich, but a shelter for the poor and for the poor in spirit (Lk 4:18-20).
When the world hears of multi-million dollar settlements for the relatively few priests (compared to the many who have been faithful through the decades) a picture is conjured of a Church of and for the wealthy, even for the decadent wealthy. This must stop.
In almost every local church and parish there is often much under-utilized space which could be put to use, not by new state or even church funded elites and bureaucrats, but by laypersons, women and men in the parish, young and old, space to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, places to console the lonely, the aged, the rejected, even the addicted in our society; and, yes, places to shelter the homeless.
Why should this under-utilization exist? Why could not the basement of most every church and parts of every rectory be put to such uses for the poor while every church proper / sanctuary is used to provide a place for Mass, for quiet contemplation and adoration of Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist (not for noisy bustling and commotions)? For the Stations of the Cross, for Bible meditation, for the Rosary, the Jesus Prayer, devotion to the Divine Mercy and for the other devotions which are not opposed to, but are the very spiritual fruits of the liturgy? A sanctuary for the poor and for the poor in spirit. Especially for silent prayer and adoration in a world increasingly assaulted by a million techno-images, all heavily message-laden, day in and day out, and endless noise. We do not need trained committee-approved lay specialist leaders to manipulate this process for us. The centuries have sketched the process of prayer for us already. We need only the Eucharist, the Tabernacle, the Crucifix, and a heart in need of healing and love. A place to discover ones soul again; and a heart ready to obey the teachings of the Holy Father and living magisterium. Jesus said His Father’s House was a House of prayer. We need only combine such contemplative prayer with a great program of love and the proper utilization of space which exists already, often enough.
If every Church and parish began to so live the faith as a witness—-not as any substitute for what the Church teaches—not just Catholic “charities” and bureaucracies, then we would see the fruit of the laity who are traditional by both instinct and preference. The People of God do not want a false choice: either the faith OR the works of mercy and the opportunity to love; they want BOTH the faith and the works of mercy, spiritual and corporal. In every parish we can fan that flame into a great Fire of the Holy Spirit if we choose!
In this way the world may once again look and say, as they did of the early Christians, “behold how they love!” In this way the scandals of the past may be eclipsed by a great brightness, the brightness of a faith lived, existentially, a faith believed, not questioned…. And a scandal atoned for.
Mr. Stephen Hand is the Editor of “Traditional Catholic Reflections & Reports.“