Saturday, July 26, 2003

Who is to blame?

I was reading the following article in First Things when a particular section captured my eye. I thought I'd share it with you guys and comment on it a little bit.

True and False Reform by Avery Cardinal Dulles

The call for a new evangelization strongly issued by Paul VI and John Paul II has fallen, it would seem, on deaf ears. The majority of Catholics have little appreciation of their mission to spread the faith as a precious gift intended for all. In some cases they behave as if faith were an unwelcome burden. Members of fundamentalist churches, Mormons, and Pentecostals commonly exhibit a stronger missionary thrust than Catholics.

Liturgical laws are often flouted. The sacraments need to be celebrated with dignity and reverence. The Mass should be seen not simply as a communal meal celebrated by a local community but as the sacrifice of the universal Church performed in union with the whole body of bishops and the Bishop of Rome as its head. As Pope John Paul II reminds us in his recent encyclical, Holy Communion cannot be worthily received except by persons who are in union with the Church and free from serious sin (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 36-37; 44-45).

Religious practice is falling off. Many fail to attend Mass on Sundays. The sacrament of Penance is neglected by the vast majority of Catholics. There is a serious dearth of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.

The immoral behavior of Catholics, both lay and clergy, is a cause of scandal and defections. Under this heading I would include not only sexual abuse of minors, which has been so extensively publicized in recent years, but sex outside of marriage, abortion, divorce, alcoholism, the use and marketing of drugs, domestic violence, defamation, and financial scandals such as falsification of records and embezzlement. The morality of Catholics all too often sinks below the standards commonly observed by Protestants and unbelievers.

Mark Shea has commented many a time that we have the bishops we have simply, if for no other reason, than because they are for the most part, the bishops we deserve. The clarion call issued by Avery Cardinal Dulles should wake us up to the fact that things will not get better until we personally begin to take responsibility for our own actions. I do not think that Avery Cardinal Dulles is shifting blame in his comments, I really don't, at least not from the Bishops onto the laity. I think we all deserve a piece of the blame though. If we are lax in our own spiritual progress, how can we hold our bishops to a higher spiritual standard? They cannot get us into heaven, they can merely show us the way, it is our own responsibility to adhere to the teachings of Christ. The bishops cannot force the flock to listen.

When I read those paragraphs, I began to understand what it is that I personally, need to do, the areas I need to address. It's my opinion that until I can hold myself accountable, I cannot hold someone else accountable. For if I don't know what accountability truly is, how can I exercise it? We Catholics are an evangelical people, but we don't practice it. We Catholics are a liturgical people, but we ignore it. We Catholics are a spiritual people, but we shun it. We Catholics should be morally upright, but we refuse it.

So when we find ourselves waist deep in controversy and scandal, and find ourselves ministered to by pastoral nightmares, why should we be shocked? We have done nothing right, we have accepted the "easy road" for our spiritual development, which isn't development at all. And then we turn around to see that the shepherds have followed the flock down the same path. Is it really all that surprising?

That article I've linked to is a good one. We, as Catholics here in America, need reform. But we need solid reform, reform based in the teachings of the Catholic Church. Reform tempered by obedience, strengthened by Tradition.

Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which she is always in need insofar as she is an institution of men here on earth. Therefore, if the influence of events or of the times has led to deficiencies in conduct, in Church discipline, or even in the formulation of doctrine (which must be carefully distinguished from the deposit itself of faith), these should be appropriately rectified at the proper moment. (Unitatis Redintegratio 6)

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